Ever since I stepped through the door, a heavy suitcase in each hand, I’ve had the feeling that this house is no longer my home. Sitting on the rug, I look around my room, taking in the pale lavender walls, the tall bookshelf crammed tight with novels, the bed with its handmade quilt. It is only just evening, and yet the house is already beginning to quiet down, preparing for night. I can hear a rhythmic swish-clank coming from the kitchen, as my mother dries dishes and puts them away, the soft hiss of my brother’s shower upstairs, and my father’s intermittent throat-clearing and chair-scraping as he works late in his basement office.
Everything about this environment is so familiar, so normal — it is what I had experienced nearly every night for the first 18 years of my life. I can recreate every detail perfectly from memory, and indeed I had done so many times over the past six months, as I struggled with homesickness during my first year of college. I had never been away from home for such a long time before, and so as a break approached, I could hardly wait to return to the place that I knew so well. The little Tudor house at 5936 N. Berkeley Blvd., Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Home. Home was safe, comforting, familiar. Even if I wasn’t sure if I belonged at college, I knew I would always belong at home.
But now I am home. And I don’t feel like I belong. Somehow, it is no longer mine. Something has changed. My room itself is no different — all of my possessions are exactly as I had left them, though perhaps a bit dustier — but something has changed.
I cannot stop the phrase from repeating in my mind. This is no longer my home.
* * *
As the days pass, the feeling becomes even more pronounced. I cannot adapt to the peaceful rhythm that had for so long been my daily routine. In the afternoons, I wander aimlessly through the house, picking up books and putting them down, unable to settle. I am now surprised to find my family in bed by 10 o’clock, while I am wide-awake for hours more, sitting alone in the darkness and silence. We are not even in the same time zone.
Somehow, I don’t fit here anymore. Something about college, about living away for the first time in my life, has changed me. This is no longer my home. But then where do I belong? Where is my home now?
The ache at the pit of my stomach grows, spreading through my body, clogging my throat. I spend the days on the couch, huddled in a blanket, overwhelmed by a feeling that I cannot entirely comprehend.
My mother sits down next to me. I can see the concern in her eyes. She doesn’t say anything about how I’ve been acting, doesn’t try to make me explain the feelings that even I don’t understand.
“Let’s bake some scones.”
* * *
One of my most vivid memories from my childhood is the aroma of freshly baked scones. Whenever it was a special day — a holiday, a birthday, the first day of school — I could always count on waking up to find a plate of scones cooling on the kitchen counter. At Christmastime, Mom would make batches upon batches to give to our friends and neighbors; we would go through flour by the pound. My younger brother always joked that she should start a bakery: “Fallone’s Scones.” The baking process had entranced me when I was young, and as soon as I was able to hold a spoon I began to help, learning the old family recipes from my mother, just as my grandmother had taught her.
Yet that was a part of my other life, my childhood, when this house was still my home. I hesitate. Things are different now. I am not the same girl that had rejoiced in the act of carefully measuring cups of flour years ago.
Still, something compels me to stand and follow my mother to the kitchen. We work in silence, measuring out the ingredients. First, three cups of flour. I scoop it into the cup, brushing off the excess with the flat edge of a knife. Then the egg — two strong taps, followed by a satisfying crack. I coax out the yolk, throw away the shells, wash the slimy residue from my hands. My body moves almost of its own accord, easily falling back into the familiar rhythm. One-half cup of sugar, five teaspoons of baking powder, a bit of salt. I notice that our family recipe book is still sitting on the shelf, untouched. There is no reason for us to consult it. We know the steps by heart; they have not changed.
* * *
Later, we open the oven and carefully bring out the tray. We move the still-hot scones one by one in a basket to cool, admiring their perfect triangular shape. I smile as the kitchen is filled with a warm yeasty aroma. “I have always loved making scones with you,” I say, breaking our silence.
“I know,” my mother replies gently. “And you still can. I’ll always be here; we can make them every time you come back to this home.”
Come back to this home. The phrasing seems awkward.
My mother continues, “And then, someday many years from now, you’ll be baking them with your daughter, in your own home.”
In your own home.
And then I understand. “Home” is not singular, monolithic, unchanging. It is plural. There can be many homes, many places to belong. The addition of a new one does not detract from those in the past. It is so very simple, and yet overwhelming, a shift in perspective almost visceral in its impact. Suddenly I feel older, as if I have gained years’ worth of maturity in one small moment. It is a good feeling.
I stand in my home — my first home, that is, the first of many to come — feeling the warmth of the scones in my hands.