Home is wherever I’m not. Home is Stirling when I’m on Bute. Home is Bute when I’m in Stirling. The peculiar irony is that home does not follow me everywhere I go — it only exists where I don’t. Home was once Lochgilphead when I was fifteen-years-old. Home was once Fauldmore on Bute’s Serpentine Road for the fifteen years I ran through its hallways and climbed its weather-worn brick-red stairs. Home was the quaint little cottage that stood at Townhead. Home has been anywhere that I’ve shared love. It wasn’t behind the cold steel doors of H H Donnelly when I began University nor in the towering townhouse of Causewayhead that I shared with a different set of strangers each year.
Emerging into my twenties, I could only reflect on why I’ve felt like a ‘rambling woman’ persistently throughout my teens. The Allman Brothers and Hank Williams could sing all they like about what it’s like to be a ‘ramblin’ man’, but I always wondered if my equivalent was a chronically ‘misplaced woman’. Perhaps I was destined to never find a sense of belonging up until now.
What if I was destined to be forever lost? And yes, reader, I say ‘now’ because the epiphany of finding belonging in oneself has meant that no matter how much I move, how far I roam and the distance that lays between me and where I always thought was ‘home’, I am eternally found— even if only by me. I carry it like a rucksack wherever I go and it’s been the lightest load I’ve ever carried. Finally my steps have faded from thick trudges into the echoes of light whispers.
I didn’t belong on Bute or at Rothesay Academy or at my job as a waitress in Stirling. I didn’t belong in groups who thrive off of pecking orders or behind the walls of rigid institutions. And I always thought: ‘Well, if I can’t find it there, where and when will I find it? When will I finally belong?’ But it started by experiencing everything at least once. It began in the things that fed my curiosity.
It was in the widening of my perception, not the narrowing of it. It was in knowing that I know nothing so that there is everything to learn. It was accepting that I was always going to be a beginner at everything but still turning my hand to it. It was in what I believe to be the greatest knowledge that one can possess — experience. That is the only hunger I’ve never been able to satiate and instead of winding up in the chaos of that, I have learned to embrace it.
At fourteen, I disappeared for a night off of the island to stay in Dunoon. A decision that left my mother petrified. It was one night of psychological torture for her and the real sad thing about it was that I had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I finally seen something in my short life that wasn’t limited to the confines of an island.
Forgive me for being so candid:
I watched people pass out drunk, take lines of cocaine on living room tables and get blowjobs in bathrooms. I watched people puke after a ride on the waltzers, blitzed out their heads. I watched jaws wobble. I watched unfamiliar faces disappear up alleys and crowds gather outside of late night takeaways. I watched grown men throwing young boy punches and young boys throwing grown men insults. I made my way around three different houses that night, two to drink and one to pee in. Each house showcased the home of very different familial backgrounds.
I slept in someone’s aunty’s caravan that night (which she had no idea about) on a fold out couch that smelled of dust and regret. I watched my friends cuddle to sleep on a wooden shelf for luggage storage because there was nowhere else to sleep. We had £16 between us to get home with no one old enough to have a bank card yet.
And the next day, we lay on the side of a pavement, waiting for a bus and ferry home — exhausted and desperate. And I loved it. I loved my first glimpse at mainland chaos, albeit arguably a little too early. Chaos was something I was used to. It didn’t scare me and I certainly never ran from it.
Shortly after, I then moved from Fauldmore to Lochgilphead and then two weeks later, to Townhead back on Bute. My ‘home’ turf got shaken up by the only thing more turbulent than nature’s own catastrophes— a divorce. A divorce that happened to coincide with a time where my identity was vulnerable. ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I?’ had been questions that went hand-in-hand from that day on and what a powerful duo they were. Untamed, they raged throughout my teenage years. And so formed the chronically misplaced woman. It was the ultimate battle of the internal and external world of Ailsa Gillies.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were times where being ‘misplaced’ ran with exuberance through my veins, pushing me in directions that the stillness of solitude had never placed me. I knew I didn’t belong here, or there or … anywhere — but it didn’t bother me. In fact, I wanted to be where I’d never known. Though sometimes that spiralled into risk as we have seen. On more than one occasion I found myself in dangerous situations that I soon wished I had never gotten into. On my quest to find my belonging in what can only be described as my free-spirited naivety, I, rather ironically, often became trapped. I was no longer ‘free’ at all.
So, I have now come to understand that there’s value in taking calculated risks. There’s value in being led by the threads of curiosity that are sewn with wisdom and courage, rather than rebellion and naivety. And only then did I become truly ‘free’. When I didn’t turn to the shoulder of someone else to cry on or somewhere else to fill me with happiness and I instead ran with that baton that I call ‘security’. That’s when I felt empowerment.
Power — It’s the one of very few things I will never share of my own with another. Why? Because I could be anywhere with anyone or nowhere with no one — but I still have the ever-growing and ever-changing me and that, reader — I decided —was always going to be enough.
I may be chronically misplaced in the external world — and I don’t think that will ever change. I will forever long to ramble and explore with my unquenchable mind. But for me, belonging really happened when I left the tangible idea of ‘home’ behind and started feeding the impalpable soul. That’s where home really is.
“I know only one thing: that I know nothing”Socrates