Going home with Gone Home
I am standing outside the train station with my bags at my feet, painfully aware that I do not own a key to my parents' house. My arrival is unexpected and comes on the back of a transatlantic flight. I am exhausted but almost home.
I am standing in the front porch with my bags at my feet, painfully aware that I do not own a key to my parents' house. My arrival is unexpected and comes on the back of a transatlantic flight. I am exhausted but almost home.
I lost my keys three years ago in the snow after a friend's birthday party. Most were replaced immediately but the one to my parents' front door was always tucked away at the forgotten end of a to-do list. An unnecessary hassle and entirely my own fault.
I don't have a key yet. This isn't the house where I did most of my growing up. My parents moved about an hour's drive away while I was travelling through Europe and tonight will be the first time I see their - our - new place.
This house is not the one in which I did most of my growing up - that one is about an hour's drive away. A long spit of a building from whose windows I would climb down to watch the sunrise from the rolling slope of the municipal graveyard when I couldn't sleep. My parents moved house while I was at Glastonbury one year. I returned to an interim home and then joined them in their - our - new place.
I am looking forward to seeing my sister. I've been away for a long time and wonder how much has changed. I've sent back postcards picking out the cool things I've seen that she might want to share in somehow but missed out on the everyday and the mundane. She's changed schools and must have made new friends or lost older ones. Maybe she's different now?
I am looking forward to seeing my sister. I haven't been away long but in the time since we last saw each other her baby daughter has begun to crystallise from a warm wiggling morass of need into a tiny person. Maybe she's very different now?
I find the key under a tacky but well-loved Christmas duck ornament and let myself in. The place is dark.
I sidestep the key problem as my mother is home and rushes to the front door to let me in. I can see my sister in the brightly-lit front room pacing with her daughter, chatting singsong nonsense.
I move methodically from room to room, my family's life gradually being revealed to me in bursts. Each follows a cinematic trajectory. My sister - unhappiness, isolation, connection. My father - success, rejection, the glimmering embers of a career which may yet reignite. My mother - frustration, distraction, resolution.
I sit in the car and absorb slices of conversation, my family's life gradually easing into focus. My brother's academic work, my father's travels, my mother and my sister's involvement with the baby. I drive from place to place accumulating the impact of the thousand minor disappointments and triumphs; the abrasions of daily life.
The story my sister is unfurling through her diary entries becomes a tentative exploration of first love and I'm unsure as to whether I should be reading it even though all the entries are addressed to me. Through each one I hear her gradually arriving home; not physically but emotionally.
Nursing a mug of coffee I listen as a friend catches me up on seven years of her life. It is the day before I play Gone Home and the story she chooses to tell is a love story - one which starts in the ruins of an older love story and gradually swells into something beautiful. A place she can finally call home. It is sweet, mundane and monumental all at the same time. Her pain is recent enough to seep through in places but her joy is palpable. It is the same story as Gone Home although I don't know it yet.
Later, as myself and as Kaitlin, I listen to Sam describe her relationship. Together we scout out scrappy notes, magazines, pictures and mix tapes which describe who Sam is now and the flavour of her nineties teenage world. There's an X Files poster on the wall and a listing for the show circled in the TV guide, Riot Grrrl zines pepper the basement and badges are sprinkled throughout the house.
My own mother has asked me to go through my possessions while I'm at home including some boxes never unpacked from the house move. Three X Files guides and all my punk rock music CDs sit in the charity shop pile while the zines are destined for the tip. A handful of button badges hide away in a tiny box inside a wooden ottoman.
I climb the attic steps to Sam's safe space while sitting on the bed in my own attic room. My eyes drift over to the wall panel which gives way to a crawl space in the eaves of the house. It is here where you will find the notes, the letters and the jumble of collected junk which would allow you to piece together my own teenage life. Loneliness and connection alternate and echo in-game and out.
I was Sam. You can still find shades of her in the attic paper trail, the smattering of possessions to be jettisoned and the stories which bubble up on the rare occasions I see school friends. But Sam herself is gone and now I am Kaitlin. Kaitlin makes the past an easier place to visit but as the game nears its conclusion the loss of Sam is suddenly a keen one.
As the credits roll I burst into tears. I have Gone Home and I have gone home but I am not home.