Graphic C/O Razan Samara
I have a theory that there is a ghost in the house I grew up in. It’s not a scary ghost that lives to haunt, but a benevolent entity that loves to play tricks. My house ghost has a penchant for stealing, making you wonder how the object you had on your person mere seconds ago has somehow vanished. The items always turned up later, underneath couches or beds.
I just moved out of my childhood home in Mississauga and left my ghost behind. A few weeks ago, it stole one of my slippers and I couldn’t help but think that the ghost wanted to keep a piece of me. Because as much as that house built me, my family built that house.
I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of home. Not only because I left the one I grew up in, but also because I have lived more places in the last year than I have in the previous decade. I lived in Edwards Hall in my first year and have spent the school year in a student house. I have wrestled with the question of where to call my home base. Is it the place where I spend the majority of my nights? The place where the people I love the most are? The place that challenges me? The place that comforts me?
My adulthood up until this point has been the loss of constants. Schedules that change from week to week. Different places to lay my head. I feel nomadic sometimes, always living half in and out of a suitcase. I’m always leaving somewhere soon, whether by the end of the day, week, month or year.
I am picky about what I call “home.” I don’t like to say “let’s go home” on vacation because we’re returning to a generic hotel room, not a place where I have grown and changed. I called Edwards Hall “Eddy” instead of home. I call my student house “the house.” But I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t need to discriminate between homes and houses, because even if a place doesn’t change me, I changed it.
Shortly before I moved out of Edwards Hall, I discovered the names of past residents written on the wall above the bed. Before I left, I added my name. I forgot my over-the-door hook in the room and now someone else probably uses it.
And there are others that left a mark. The residents that wrote “Traphouse 5” under the room number. Whoever broke my closet hook. The people whose push pins left holes in the corkboard. Those responsible for the nicks in the desk.
We leave marks wherever we go. My housemates and I turned a trashed student house into a semblance of a cozy space. When I leave my room, I might leave the curtains behind, or at least the rod. I am the person who chose pink for the walls.
In my childhood home, we left marks too. I made the hole in the basement wall. We changed flooring and light switches, put in shelving and backsplash and bushes. We tore out all the grass on the property. My father built the deck. My mother picked the bright colours with which she painted the walls. Despite the repaint, you could still see the reds and yellows where the ceiling meets the wall.
But I think there are other, invisible ways that we change the spaces we occupy. There is a legacy that we leave with the way we moved, the way we loved, the way we hated. Maybe the friendship that my roommate and I formed in Edwards Hall blessed this year’s occupants. Maybe the laughter of my housemates and I will echo there when we’re gone. Maybe my family’s undying love for one another will make my childhood home a happy one for the young family that moved in.
I would be naïve to exclude the bad. Maybe unkind words whispered behind backs, fights, disagreements, lack of communication — maybe that strains a home, makes it weary and old. Maybe the tears shed when hearts are heavy makes the roof sag. Maybe the lives mourned makes the floors creak.
However, it is more than just houses. It is streets and cities. The wear on the sidewalks from all the times my sister and I walked to 7-11 for Slurpees. The words swirling in the air as I wrote bad poetry at my elementary school bus stop. My fingerprints on the Mississauga city buses I don’t ride anymore. The pennies I’ve thrown in mall fountains. Our memories change spaces.
I have spent the last seven months writing about the artists, entrepreneurs and activists in Hamilton. Before I got to do this work, I would have never even suggested that Hamilton was home. But now I know its art and its culture. Now that I have left a record that won’t be erased, I would be remiss to say it isn’t a home.
When the year begins, we talk a lot about how McMaster and Hamilton will become home for us over time. For some people, that is true and for others, it is not. But if you want to claim this campus or this city as your own, know that it’s yours. You changed it because you were here.
As the school year comes to a close, many of us will be leaving places; our residences, our student houses, our campus, this city. Our childhood homes for smaller homes, our permanent houses for hotel rooms. In transit, it is easy to feel like you have no base, no where that you belong to. But the ghosts that keep parts of you will remember you were there.