Where Home Was | Lydia Trethewey


Where Home Was

Lydia Trethewey

For The Hotel Diaspora Award


 

The motorway was an accumulation of weeds, streaking cirrus clouds and vibrations in the vinyl seat. It was a rental car, and Taylor sat in the passenger’s seat, her partner Glenn driving. She felt at home. She was in the wrong hemisphere.

The flat tarmac sigils, white lines and arrows, were slightly different in the UK than back in Australia – recognisable but unfamiliar, as if seen through the concave edge of a drinking glass.  All the minutiae of the everyday, burrowed just beneath the threshold of notice, rose back to attention through their slight differences – signs with alien edges and foreign soil. Taylor hadn’t visited England since the family holidays of her childhood.

Glenn wasn’t speaking, was focusing hard on the road; Taylor was thankful for the silence. She watched steel street lights approach and disappear, saw from a distance as billboards reared up with their deodorised, sanitised version of existence. Marc Auge wrote about highways as non-places, like airports and shopping centres, in-between zones in which real experience is negated by modern impermanence. Taylor disagreed; the transience of the motorway only heightened her metabolising of this new-old place.

“I got an email from work this morning,” said Glenn, keeping his eyes forward.

“Oh?”

“I told them to bugger off; I’m on holiday.”

“Good.”

Taylor had sent an email that morning too, to her supervisor in Perth. In communicatory politeness she had written about the week spent in Manchester with her aunt, the train that would take her and Glenn to London for the conference. And beneath that, typed out tentatively with cold fingers, was a personal revelation all the motorway travel had conjured: I have a strange feeling, like I’m home, even though I’ve never lived here. Recently I’ve realised that it’s travel itself that feels familiar.

It was an unusual, miniature kind of opening up that Taylor only ever did through email.

A slippery thing, home; Australia was flat and hot, filled with the dusk sound of cicadas, and England was cold and condensed, tasting like the oversweet hot chocolate dispensed from roadside gas stations. Perhaps Australia was only home because she’d been born there – it didn’t seem like enough. In the clustered towns and green fields of England was the history of Taylor’s family – but that wasn’t home either. She watched an expanding flock of birds in the white sky, not knowing what they were called. Taylor knew galahs, dusky moorhens and rosellas, but not the black points that wheeled about above concrete bridges. Her musing whipped away in the cars slipstream.

Travelling was a place, Taylor decided. Never mind Auge. Airports and car seats were an embodiment of waiting, and therefore daydream, memory and self-making through self-unravelling. As a child travelling with her parents, waiting had helped her become who she was.

Glenn tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “I don’t know what the speed limit is,” he said. “Those people are doing sixty, but those ones are doing eighty. I wish they had signs up.”

He sounded stressed. Taylor smiled and patted his arm. “If you’re not sure, maybe just do sixty.”

Weed-grown embankments flew by.

Yes, perhaps travel was home. Taylor settled back into this realisation and a sensation of sadness touched her edges. If transience was comfort, was no country really her own? She thought of her last trip, the solo journey she’d made to Bangkok. It had been stressful and frustrating, choked in unfamiliar air, constantly planning and doing. So then if travel wasn’t always sanctuary, why did she feel at home now?

“I think we have to get onto the M62,” said Glenn.

And there, in the slowly unfurling landscape of thought, was Taylor’s answer. It wasn’t travel that felt like home – it was being looked after. Last time she had come to England, it had been under her parent’s wing. It wasn’t the country, or travel, that had wrapped safety around her – it was family. And now, in this echo-moment, it was Glenn.

She had been secure because she was dependent – but now it was time to leave, to make her own home. She turned to Glenn.

“Do you want me to drive for a while?” she said.

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