by Happy Lee Del Canto.
I was ten when I was forced to leave the only home I knew thus far.
“Chile?” I asked, my eyes big and wide.
“Yes, honey, we’re moving to Chile. Our home. Your mom’s home, my home.”
“But, Daddy, … why?” I wailed, not sure that this was a good thing.
But my father had already scooped me up in his arms. He smiled and kissed my forehead. Reassured, I placed my head on his chest and thought no more of it.
I found out, at ten, that I was not American as I had always thought. I was Chilean. Chile was supposed to be “my home”, but hadn’t Los Angeles been “home”? My school, the little stray Chihuahua dog that we had adopted, my bed with the pastel comforter … hadn’t that been home?
A new language I didn’t understand just couldn’t be home. A new school and new classmates certainly didn’t feel like home. The cold that didn’t seem to end was a far cry from the warmth of the home I had known…
Yet, the new house I liked. It had a huge stained glass window, right on the landing that connected the first and second floors. The ledge looked promising. It was wide enough to sit on.
I learned to open that window, crawl onto the ledge overlooking the tiny roof of the landing and just bask in the dwindling sunlight while I listened to music.
That window felt like home. It sure did.
The tiny jigsaw pieces began to fall into place: I eventually learned Spanish, got rid of the American accent, got myself some friends, some newly acquired musical tastes, tastes in books and film and suddenly … the big house became Home for the next seven years.
I was seventeen when my father faced bankruptcy.
And “Home” was sold before the bank foreclosed.
Home became a tiny apartment we moved in, were we could barely fit … but we were together.
Home was apricot-colored brick walls and antique wooden furniture.
Home was the tiny kitchen mom cooked in and the queen-sized bed that was far too big for my parent’s bedroom, the same bed my brother and I rested on, while my father read Time Magazine.
But the money soon became even scarcer and we were forced, once again, to give up “home”.
Home then became two tiny rooms that were given us at my grandfather’s house.
Some months later my father died.
And for the first time in my life I felt truly homeless.
The years passed. I found God, or rather, He found me.
He held my hands through sleepless nights. He walked by my side and cheered me onwards… but broken dreams have a way of singing angry songs.
Voiceless despair set in. Sorrow, longing. Angry words spurted by grandfather. We had become burdensome and he let us know it.
My mother began to work as a maid. I would go visit her every day, after class.
Home then turned into those afternoons I spent with my mother at a house that wasn’t ours.
Home was helping her work, watching her work. Sharing a cup of coffee, commuting back to my grandfather’s house together.
Home was the silent space between my mother and me. Or the bubbling conversation, the hope of a better time. The smile and the laughter that came, sometimes few and far between, other times rising out of our bellies, our hands to our hearts, because life goes on and God is good. Home was the embrace we dwelled in, the shoulder I rested my head on, the images that came to me in dreams… sleeping in a tiny bed, clinging to my mother.
When I turned twenty three I finally managed to rent a place of my own. I barely made the deposit and the first month of rent, but provision came in the form of furniture and appliances given to us as presents. Nothing matched anything. The black couch was a stark contrast to the green curtains, the wooden dining room table was too big for the living room, and the brown of the chairs in no way matched the red faux Persian rug.
But it was Home. The tiny dog we had adopted thought as much, and my mother and brother, a sense of pride bustling within, smiled while they walked around the kitchen, inspecting cupboards, and marveling at the pantry.
Home lasted three years and then we moved on to a bigger house on the same block, one that had more sunlight and grass.
This new Home lasted four years.
Unemployment came like a strong wind, tearing down everything we had managed to build. Unemployment also came with a notice to vacate.
Grandfather had passed away. When Grandmother volunteered to take us in, we thought things would be different, she had always been kinder.
But Grandmother wasn’t as kind as we thought. And I stared out the window, with doleful eyes, the eyes of a thirty year-old wondering where the strength to start again would come from.
Once again, Home was Here, Home was There.
We walked the streets of the neighborhood, for hours on end, sitting in parks, my mother and me … eating sandwiches we carried in bags, all this so we wouldn’t have to spend time at our grandmother’s. Home became a park bench.
And Home became talks of hope and deliverance by God.
I prayed one night, looking at a stubborn cross outside my window. It was part of a small church building that seemed to be shrouded behind neighborhood houses, but the cross remained, proud and visible, always there, always … softly looking at me against the mountain backdrop.
So I prayed, looking at that cross, asking God to grant us another Home. One where my mother would find solace. One that might help my brother get back on his feet.
Four months later I was offered a job in the south of Chile, and given money to start over.
My prayers for Home had been answered.
I rented a small room that was near Ocean Avenue. I walked along the coastline, wondering if this would now be my new Home. My permanent Home.
But the feeling did not come. Home eluded me.
The months went by and I managed to save enough to bring my mother to live with me. It was two years later that I finally bought my mother a house.
A house she could call Home.
Then my brother arrived and he called it Home, too.
Many nights I woke up at the most outrageous hours. The dawn would find me sitting in the living room, staring at the walls of the new house, a silent feeling of awe and gratitude washing over me.
But the feeling still did not come.
It was supposed to be “Home”, wasn’t it? After thirty plus years I had finally managed to acquire one for my mother: this Home with another little dog, a Home filled with laughter, with music, with reveries, and the smell of tiny Barbeques my brother and I hosted in the tiny front yard.
My mother was happy.
I was happy, yet Home still didn’t feel like home. It felt like gratitude for God’s good gift … but not like home.
Perhaps Home wasn’t a city.
Perhaps Home wasn’t reduced to six walls or furniture that matched.
Home wasn’t a mortgage.
I stood at the door while I watched my mother work on the garden.
My brother hurriedly passed by, his shoulder crashing into mine. I smiled while I ruffled his curly locks.
I walked over to the wooden bench and sat in the sun.
My hand slowly went to my chest and I listened to the regular beating of my heart. Tu-tun. Tu-tun. Tu-tun.
I closed my eyes.
Yes, that was Home.
That was Home.
That was Home.
Happy Lee Del Canto has spent the larger part of her life writing. She’s been awarded second place in three major national Chilean short fiction contests (DUOC-UC 1995 and 1996, and Intendencia de Santiago 2005). Fluent in both English and Spanish, she feels comfortable writing in both languages. She currently resides in Puerto Montt, Chile.