Home is Where You’re Asked for Directions

As I spring onto the city bus, wind in my hair and middle finger erect like a statue, I feel a sudden relief to be heading home. The man’s lewd comment and inappropriate distance combined led me to resort to a sign so universal any tourist would understand it in a heartbeat. In French we call it le doigt d’honneur: the honour finger. In Polish, I am not sure.

I think of a mental curse to send telepathically to the man as the dust settles. “May the sharks of this city devour you,” something along those lines, but much less poetic and much more livid. I feel like I am a character in a film, complete with a story unfolding in front of me, a backstory and a full palette of emotions. Except that my own backstory feels a little tedious, and, I am also not too sure of where I am going.

I am aggravated, but the bus is bringing me closer to my parents’ house in the sleepy suburbs of Montreal. Soon I’ll be home.

I drift back to my previous thoughts. Where am I going? And where am I from? I haven't found an adequate answer to either question yet. I have always felt a little bit like an alien, and have always had only one foot in the door. Home is nowhere, but everywhere at once.

Generally “It’s complicated” is a response that suits most situations, especially when time is limited. “I was born in Italy, my parents are Polish but I live in a French-speaking province in Canada” is the improved answer. It is still a bit of a tease. I could omit my European birthplace, having spent a whopping six months there, but not mentioning my birthplace would make me feel like a traitor. To make sense of my origins, I must acknowledge each of these places.

I just can’t imagine pledging allegiance (and my identity) to one city or country. If time and social conventions were more flexible and forgiving, I think I would like to answer this question in one long, breathless paragraph (with my indistinct-but-kind-of-present accent).

I would like to say that I come from a place of hope, a permanent honeymoon trip gone serious, a country of pasta and melodic dreams where my father had to make the heartbreaking choice between taking his old guitar or new baby to Canada (spoiler: he’s glad he chose my drooling, little self). I would like to explain in feelings and words my summers spent stargazing at a Polish scouts camp in Kaszuby, Ontario, where the first Polish immigrants settled and where they were adopted so quickly and lovingly, it was renamed. I would like to show snippets of conversations in a hybrid language built out of French and English that punctuate my daily life in a bilingual city and show the absolutely impossible choice to live my life solely in one language (even though clearly, I have a penchant for one). I would talk of the times where I misspelled my real name, Wiktoria, as something more palatable and easier to approach to avoid the avalanche of question marks that kept me pondering my identity for too long afterwards. I would like to address my luck and guilt, having the incredible privilege to live in such a country that allows some to flourish but mistreats and denies its own First Peoples basic human rights. To answer the question, I come from a place that is an amalgam of all this and more, and I have yet to make sense of it all. This tale of immigration, of place and of identity is both unique to me and also a very prevalent way of life.

Someone asked me for directions as I was on my way to my fairly new apartment in my fairly new neighbourhood recently, which holds a special significance for me. Whenever I travel, I make it a point to blend in and look like a local. Travelling light, no cameras and an air of confidence usually attracts a few lost tourists wherever I am in the world. I uncovered a small, personal revelation during these encounters: when I feel like I belong, I tend to look like I belong. I feel there is beauty in this kind of acceptance. Home is where you’re asked for directions and in the end, this is the definition that matters to me.