It’s mid-semester break here at UoA. At least, so we are told: I think most of us have so much work to do that it doesn’t really count as a proper break. This didn’t come as a surprise to anyone though. Even we naive first-years have cottoned on to the grim reality of student life – that the work is ceaseless, never-ending – and we shall never quite get our innocence back. I don’t mean to whinge, though: it’s not all bad. It’s really important to choose to study something you’re interested in so you can be stimulated by your work and so you don’t have to battle your way through it. I find that when I apply myself I’m fascinated by much of what I’m learning, and while this doesn’t mean I’m jumping up and down, eager to crack on with my next essay, it does make life a lot easier.
I can’t claim that my break has just been study, either – I’ve just come back from a few days with my family in Christchurch. It was really nice to see them again, and just to be back at the place I grew up, having some of my favourite things for dinner. Annoyingly I caught a cold which forced me to spend the last couple of days in bed, coughing and spluttering. But then, this gave me an excuse not to work and to binge-watch two shortish TV shows. And it didn’t change the fact that I was back in the house I’d spent most of my life.
That house has been much on my mind recently. I’m wondering if I still get to call it home; I’m not sure if I do. There’s my parents to think about: they may not want me calling it that any more. I would understand why. And it’s also a matter of being honest to myself. Does that 1930s bungalow still feel like home to me? Do I still feel somehow rooted there? These questions are difficult to answer. I still feel that Christchurch is my home city; I get little pangs whenever I hear it mentioned in conversation. But the house itself is another matter. It evokes so many memories for me, and it was good to be back, but “home” felt undeniably different this time. The wallpaper, the paintings, the creaking floorboards – they didn’t feel quite the same. There was a feeling of distance, of everything being familiar but no longer meaning what it used to. In some respects it was like walking through a museum of my own past, if you’ll excuse the melodramatic phrasing. It was a very strange thing.
This wasn’t simply a consequence of the time spent away. Sure, that probably had something to do with it. But I’d been away for this length of time before – I’d been on holidays, on exchanges. And coming home felt much more like a homecoming than it did now. Those earlier times, I was able to take up from where I’d left. This time I couldn’t so easily pretend nothing had changed. Because it had. Changed. I no longer fitted into home the same way I used to.
The fact is, when you move away from home an emotional link is severed. You move on in your heart. This doesn’t happen instantly. I know that in the last few days before I left for Auckland I tried to mentally say goodbye to everything then and there. But I couldn’t really mean it at that time. It wasn’t fully real for me. It was only about a month into university that it finally hit me: this is not just a temporary thing. This is my reality now. There’s no going back. I think that was the moment I truly started to move on. The hall increasingly begins to feel like a safe haven – it is somewhere I can return to, relax after a busy day of lectures. But as lovely as the people are here, and as cosy as my room is, I know that the hall will never replace home. Not fully. I don’t think it’s supposed to. I don’t think it’d be possible.
They say that it is only after you lose something that you can appreciate what it meant to you. I haven’t truly lost home – it’s not the kind of thing that you can easily lose. I haven’t ever heard of a house getting up on two legs and running away – well, I have, but I’m not a Russian witch and to the best of my knowledge my house doesn’t have chicken legs. The point is, my home still stands. While it’s physically still there, though, home as I knew it has already gone. It went along with my previous life. This is undoubtedly a good, healthy thing: change is necessary, all part of life and growing up. But very quickly you come to miss what you’ve lost. I miss home’s warmth, the security it brought to my life. So to those of you readers who are still at home, I have this to say: make the most of it. Try to appreciate the small things. Because it’s gone before you know it.