By Annahid Dashtgard, author of Breaking the Ocean.
We all yearn for home, that four-letter word encompassing for each of us what it means to belong — to a place, to a group of people, to an idea. Home is a felt sense. The drop of shoulders when we walk through a door. The odour of love in a crinkled shirt. That moment when buried in a new book. Home is where we experience ground in the midst of chaos, experience our deepest sense of self.
I thought a lot about home — the place and the feeling of it — while I was writing Breaking the Ocean. Home surfaced in memory, home surfaced in putting the past to paper, and home gradually seeped into more of my daily life as I completed the book. More than anything else, this search has defined my life.
When I was ten, a year after we moved to Alberta from Iran, I remember visiting a new acquaintance about an hour away. The grandmother was a crocheter, and before we left she handed me a single square of pastel pink, purple, and yellow hues. She suggested in her aged rasp that perhaps “you could wash dishes with it.” Instead, I slept with it curled in my right hand every night for the next five years. This random gift from a woman I had never met, and never encountered again, became the object without which I couldn’t sleep at night. Many a bedtime found my mother wrestling with sheets, engaged in some bizarre game of Twister while searching for the missing square as I stood idly by barking directions.
At that point, I was hanging on by threads to who I was. Immigration, racism, and social shunning hammered away at the girl I had been in Tehran, re-working me into a marginalized version of myself in this new land. In the midst of all this, I clutched at those crocheted threads for comfort in the terrifying dark. Often the generous loops mopped up my tears. Sometimes, as the square scraped against my childhood skin, it was a physical reminder that, yes, I was still visible. Alive.
Like many childhood loves, this cloth soother was discarded in the transition to adulthood, sitting in a box in my mother’s house, forgotten but for its pull towards the past — a collection of threads representing the fabric of my childhood. Yet its memory also reminds me what home is, how simple it can be, that its possibility exists everywhere. And that sometimes it can come from a stranger’s unexpected generosity, handing us the next thing that will help get us through.
Read more about Breaking the Ocean and Annahid Dashtgard here.