Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why I'm Redefining "Home" Again: Is It Really Where the Heart Is?

Yesterday I had another one of my random, unexpected realizations. Make that two of them.

1. I'm about to be homeless for the second time ever. It's been a long and torturous road -- six months of treacherous highway, which included seven weeks spent negotiating bumpy, aggravating terrain in Buenos Aires -- and the end of it is finally in sight. Yesterday I received an email from the person who is about to assume ownership of my apartment in Buenos Aires telling me that all of the t's have been crossed and the i's dotted -- only one month to go until it's officially a done deal.

He also wrote something about why it took so long: We can blame it on my status as a foreign non-resident. I'd been so busy cursing Argentina's notoriously slow and ineffective bureaucracy, and all this time it had been my fault? Indeed, another sale in which my buyer was involved that was only in the beginning stages when I was in Buenos Aires in May was settled last week.

My initial reaction was mixed. On the one hand, I was thrilled to finally have that albatross off my back. For the last year and a half, since the apartment was broken into for the second time, it's been truly a beast of burden. After my experience with this apartment and with the one in New York City that I sold in 2010, I'm not sure I want to ever own real estate again -- at least not unless I'm planning on living in it full-time and permanently. Managing an apartment from abroad is just not an endeavor for which I'm cut out.

Then after doing a guardedly enthusiastic variation of the happy dance on the inside, I panicked. Why? I'm about to be homeless for the first time in almost exactly 23 years. The last time was the summer of 1990, between my junior and senior years at the University of Florida in Gainesville, when I spent one week between leases basically living out of my car. Though I slept on the couches of several close friends, for roughly seven days, I was calling my little white 1980 Toyota Corolla Tercel home.

Aside from that rough week and my first month and a half in New York City, during which I stayed with my uncle in Co-op City in the Bronx, from the day I signed my first one-year lease in 1988 -- when I moved out of Hume Hall on the UF campus and into the Oakbrook Walk apartment complex nearby -- I've either had a long-term lease, or I owned an apartment (or two). Though I've been living in short-term rentals month-to-month for the last two and a half years, I've been strangely comforted by the fact that there was a place I could call my own back in BA -- even when it was putting me through hell.

2. Home now is apparently New York City and Melbourne. After I updated my Facebook status with news of my soon-to-change real-estate status from homeowner to homeless, my friend Vagner reminded me of something: "Home is where the heart is, remember that!" It's an old cliche, but I felt like I was experiencing it for the very first time. Just because I don't have a house doesn't mean I am without a home. It's not a particularly revolutionary thought -- Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Leona Naess, among others, have written and sung songs about the very concept -- but it arrived just in time to sway my mind.

In January of 2012, I wrote a blog post titled "Home Is Where The Mind Is," and at the time, it was an accurate summation of how I felt. But for most of 2013, I've felt particularly rootless, in body and in mind, especially the last few months, which have seen me flit from city to city, country to country, continent to continent, driven by wanderlust and something bigger. I'm at the halfway point of my month in Berlin, and I'm already anticipating my next stop (Venice, though still tentative). If this is my search for home (that something bigger), I clearly still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Or maybe I already had without even knowing it. What a comforting thought: "Home is where the heart is." That would give me two of them: New York City and Melbourne. Though I don't have a lease, a mortgage or any other real-estate claim in either place, chunks of my heart are in both.

It's easy for me to understand why New York City has a piece of my heart. I lived there for 15 years. Although I haven't been based there since 2006, it's still the city of my dreams -- literally. Whenever my dreams are set in a specific city, it's almost always New York City. Just yesterday, in fact, I had a dream in which I was torn between two ex-lovers, who, in the dream, were composites of actual exes in New York City, the town where I have the most exes.

The climax of the dream took place on the Upper East Side, a neighborhood that I rarely frequented unless it was to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when I stood facing both guys at the same time near the entrance of an apartment building that looked a little like the one Charlotte York lived in on Sex and the City before she married Trey McDougal. I was meeting up with one of the guys there, and the other one happened to be passing by. It was almost like the SATC episode in which Charlotte was caught double-booking dates. I thought about pretending the latter was just a casual friend and tending to his bruised ego later, but I decided I'd invite good karma into my life by telling the truth. That's when I woke up.

I wondered if my strange dream means an ex is about to re-enter my life. I've been thinking about my first one a lot lately because he's German, and I'm in Berlin, which, incidentally, has yet to enter any of my dreams. But then, neither has Buenos Aires -- and I lived there for four and a half years.

To be honest, the only dreams I can recall having that involved Melbourne were not about the city itself but rather my only ex in it. Time might simply not be on our side, Melbourne's and mine: Since I discovered it in September of 2010, I haven't actually spent more than four consecutive months there. But since the moment I first pulled into it, Melbourne has owned a space of my heart that's gradually increased in size. It's a combination of things: cool people, a beautiful city, awesome running tracks, quality friends and one great love.

And apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks of it as my home. This morning I received a message from Tobias, a guy I met in Melbourne during my recent three-month stint there, posing a question that I truly didn't expect to be asked today: "Are you even planning on coming home?"

To Melbourne? If nothing else in my life is so certain right now, on that you can always count.
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