In preparation for the New Year, I decided that cleaning out and getting rid of old stuff wasn’t enough. Our flat still lacks basic furniture that makes it difficult to find a home for the remaining things – shelves, bedside cabinets and even kitchen chairs were missing. So a trip to our local furniture shops was promptly organised and Saturday night between Christmas and New Year found us busy assembling the new acquisitions.
The next morning the second biggest city of my home country appeared – reconfigured – in my sleep. As often happens places look completely different in that state of mind. It’s as if the brain reconstructs a city with an already existing name for my visual pleasure only. As I was walking its streets I came across an old friend. And we walked and talked together.
Being homesick in these dark winter days is not a strange occurrence. It has been happening to me every single year that I have been away. However I have noticed that homesickness, most explicitly demonstrated in my sleeping condition, also occurs with a certain, exceptional forcefulness at times when new things happen in my life. When new furniture appears and makes a claim in my living space arrangements for example. I hate to decorate. And I hate buying and owning things, I’m just too bad at identifying with objects (books are a notable exception). But what is it about acquiring new furniture that triggers a dream of such appeal, such an unconscious desire to be elsewhere? Is it the act of setting up home that signals a distancing from home and inevitably a longing for the home that is lost?
The lost home is not a real home however. It has never existed. My modified cities, my mum’s reconstructed house, the re-imagined friends and relatives are only loosely based on reality. They are as fictional as places and characters invented for the purposes of a novel. And they are very rarely unpleasant. My first years of exile enabled me to successfully deal with painful events of the past. Now they are all sorted and gone and what has taken their place is colour and abundance of joy and sunlight.
I miss this sunlight even when I travel to new and exotic countries. Being in a place that calls for discovery also triggers these dreams of nostalgic homecoming to an imagined never-land. I love travelling and I do not know why this act is always accompanied by re-imaginings of home where everyone is happy and the sun is shining, luring me back and away from the new, no matter how seductive it may be.
As I woke up on Sunday morning I wondered whether it is the coming of new things, in any shape or form, that brings a sense of loss. New furniture, a new place or the New Year all have the same capacity to induce nostalgia for that which never was. But maybe what is perceived as lost is not really lost, it is a welcome new addition to the gallery of imagined pasts. As I progress through life and try to recapture the past I realise that this is no single, well-defined entity but a myriad of blurred memories whose contours become fainter and fainter with time.
The end of last year brought memories of places and people and these didn’t come effortlessly, I had to give birth to them. And this becomes increasingly harder to do with open eyes.
I wonder what shape people’s memories take after having experienced trauma. I wonder if people who have experienced catastrophe and fear also dream of sunny homes when they come here. Or are their dreams of a darker tinge? How does my Syrian neighbour reconstruct home when his family is still stuck in Aleppo, amidst ruins?