Home: who your heart’s with (part 2 of 2)

“I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”

― Jon Katz

Amigo/Amiga de corazón. Friend of the heart.

This phrase was one of the first I learnt in Spanish. It’s a beautiful way to refer to one’s true friends.  

The girl with the big laugh in the picture above, is my amiga de corazón, Nicole. We met in the Matrix in Perth, but staying with Nicole for several months before I left, I unexpectedly found myself feeling completely at home somewhere, for the first time in many years. Fellowship, safety, silliness, and the incredible comfort of simply being, around someone who did the same, was an unexpected gift.

I never thought I’d make close friends as an adult. As a kid/teenager, time was of little essence aside from the nightmare that was school. We could simply be, talking for hours about nothing and everything, becoming life-and-death mates, blood on blood. I remember long afternoons hanging out in strange places, from communal basketball courts, to random street corners, to various void decks. Shoulder to shoulder in a line, the three or four of us in our inevitably grubby school uniforms, sharing life force, questioning the universe, dreaming about escape.

Home was wherever we happened to be, because that little bit of the galaxy belonged to us completely, in the time that we occupied it.

That is still the best definition of home I have – where the friends of my heart are.

Karlos, magic corner, Mexico City

As i grew into adulthood, I learnt not to wear my heart on my sleeve, and wondered why people around me seemed so distant, so untouchable, so opaque.

Then after a very long time (because I am not the sharpest pencil in the case) I realised that I had so many barriers in place, I wouldn’t have seen a welcome if it was dropped on my head. So I learnt to remove those filters.

Flemming, Alamogordo, New Mexico,
Flemming, New Mexico, USA

And the universe smacked me on the back of the head and rolled her eyes, but still sent some wonderful people my way.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Ok, I jest.

Mauricio, home, Mexico City

In the process of removing mental and emotional barriers, I am also slowly discovering what it means to be honest with myself, and consequently, with others around me. I’ve spent so many years throwing all my energy into keeping an even keel, that learning to feel again is very interesting: half the time I can’t identify what it is I am feeling, the other half of the time, I am surprised at my reactions to things. I’ve learnt things about myself during these last couple of months in Mexico, some good, some bad, others, just bizarre. It appears I’m not quite the person I thought I was.

David, Teotihuacan, Mexico
David, Teotihuacan, Mexico

But the vague idea of “home” hasn’t changed. Geography is largely irrelevant (so far anyway) to whether I feel safe, comforted, well. I leave Mexico City in a few days, and while I am looking forward to getting out of the big city into some wide open space, and catching up with a dear friend, I find myself thinking that I am leaving far too soon. I’ve been pretty sick for about half of the eight weeks I’ve been in Mexico City, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for this place (though 3 days without water might…?), and the people that have made the experience how stellar it has been so far.

Pablo, home, Mexico City

Two and a bit months into a trip I never thought I would take, still unsure what or why I’m doing what I’m doing, I am deeply appreciative of the people who have crossed my path and shared their life force with me over the years. Old friends (I rue not having made it a habit to make portraits of everyone important to me until recently) and new.

This post is a long overdue expression of gratitude to all of you. You have taught me the real meaning of “friend” and enriched my life immeasurably, and I will miss you all till I see you again.

Where or who are you most at home with?

Elsewhere: Legal Nomads writes an absolutely brilliant piece on home sickness when one has no home. Check it out here


  1. My husband … I feel most at home with him in Cornwall, England or where ever we are. As for location, I feel most connected to the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. I have to say that it’s tough to make close friends after a certain age and moving to a new country makes it even more difficult.

    1. charlene says:

      I find myself agreeing with you on both points about making friends Elizabeth. I left the place of my birth to live somewhere else as well, and I’m presently taking a big chunk of time to wander around halfway across the world, and it’s been an eye opener so far! What is it about the Isle of Skye that draws you (love how lyrical that name is)?

      1. Skye has jaw-droppingly dramatic wide-open spaces and a beauty might be best described as stark and evocative. There’s moodiness to it that makes it seem as if you feel the weight of centuries of souls who struggled to survive in place known for fierce fighting and harsh living conditions.

        I know I’m not making Skye sound like a ‘must see’ place, but the only real way to experience it is to to go there yourself. I almost never go back to the same place twice especially when it requires a ticket from the US to the UK … as there’s too much else I want to see, but Skye and the rest of the western Highlands and outer Hebrides, called to me like a siren’s song across the sea, and I went back three years in a row before making my way to the UK permanently in 2008.

        In fact, when I met my husband on Guardian Soulmates, my tagline was ‘ Reaching for Skye.’

        Here’s a link to a post I wrote about Scotland and Skye which might help explain my attachment. http://giftsofthejourney.com/2010/03/05/reaching-for-more/

  2. Erin Wilson says:

    Charlene, these are some gorgeous portraits. Each marked by a lightness.

    I hadn’t yet learned the phrase ‘Amigo/Amiga de corazón.’ It’s rather telling that that was one of the first phrases you learned. Grateful to add it to my vocabulary.

    1. charlene says:

      It could be a very Mexican thing. I had a teacher that taught me Spanish in a way that totally suited me, possibly because we found out pretty damn quick that we are kindred spirits and we both approach learning the same way. He is someone I consider mi amigo de corazon. I haven’t clicked with anyone quite in this way since high school. Karlos – 2nd portrait down :)

      Thank you re portraits – I have to say each of these people has been very patient with me practicing portraiture on them!

      1. Erin Wilson says:

        The photograph of Karlos is one of my faves. I think you won the ‘spanish teacher’ lottery!

      2. charlene says:

        I reckon I won that lottery too Erin!

    2. charlene says:

      Oh and Erin, amiga de alma – friend of the soul :)

  3. Charlie says:

    This really is turning out to be a journey of personal discovery for you isn’t it? :)
    I’m loving the photos too – very cool! They’re all going to add up to be pretty impressive journal when you’re done.

    I reckon a place is home when you have friends to call on. People who don’t mind you showing up at 5am for breakfast or staying late to drink and talk crap. People who you instantly comfortable with. You can live somewhere, but if you have no friends, that place is just a place.

    I have maybe half a dozen people like that back and England (so it always feels like I’m going home when I go back) maybe a couple of people in the US and a few people (and counting) here in Perth. And then there’s my wife, who makes the 500 metre radius around her, wherever that is, my home.

    Hope you’re feeling better – 4 weeks of feeling ill is not good :(

    1. charlene says:

      Nail on the head Charlie, nail on the head! On all of it. Perth was just a place to me for a very long time, because I simply couldn’t find people I related to or clicked with. Things started to change when I took a good long look at myself and what I was doing, or wasn’t doing, as the case was.

      And yeah it’s been quite a journey so far. And I’ve only been in Seattle and Mexico City. Sheesh!

      And yes I am feeling much better, thank you. Being sick for so long sucked.

  4. Redterrain says:

    This is such a beautiful post. I love the saying friend of the heart…I’ve got a few who I think will be with me until the end of our days. I’m so glad you’re meeting amazing people and absorbing your surroundings. Great photographs as well!

    1. charlene says:

      I absolutely love that phrase too. It’s so simple and so essential. Everyone needs amigos de corazones. Thanks Holly :)

  5. Radek Kozak says:

    Just catching up with your blog…Beautiful piece Charlene. I love both phrases : friend of the heart and friend of the soul. Both such simple yet they express and communicates so well about people dearest to one’s heart. I’m definitely gonna borrow those into my mother tongue. I agree on the notion of home where your heart is and with whom it is with. That being said i think there are time when this doesn’t resolve the issue of recognizing your true home either. Sometimes you just don’t / can’t know where exactly your heart is and standing in front of those lines can become even more taunting question you must ask yourself, that the original one. As to geography i think i agree with you – it doesn’t neccessarily matter (although it can very much) as long as you feel at home wherever you are.

    I’ll leave you with this excerpt of simple tautogram i spotted one day on the web

    Home is the womb that holds the soul
    Home is the place where one is whole

    Home is the glow you hold in your eye
    Home is the emotion that makes you cry

    Home is the place you know you’ll be heard
    Home is the pace where nothing blurs

    Home is all these wonderful things
    Home is the place you develop wings

    Home is the place that you’ll find one day
    Home is the place where your heart will stay

    1. charlene says:

      That tautogram was beautiful Radek, and very true. I think to some extent, we all search for that magical place called “home,” even if we (and by this I mean “me”) say it doesn’t matter at the moment. A comfort zone that is truly comfortable, that one can enter and leave without fear of it crumbling or disappearing.

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