Most people have at least one special place, somewhere that they’ll never forget. The emotions a person experiences in such significant places play a part in the development of that person, and the place then becomes inextricably bonded to the person’s sense of self. Place attachment. I imagine it’s why humans have a sense of feeling ‘at home’ somewhere.
Except me, I guess. I never feel at home anywhere. When I was growing up, I was itching to leave. I felt like I was on holiday the whole three years I was in Nottingham, possibly because I knew I’d always end up going back to Grays eventually, and when I did return I felt like a cloud tethered to a slag heap. I knew I’d leave again, because it wasn’t a place where someone like me could actually thrive. I didn’t even feel alive in Norfolk, let alone at home. And now… is this it?
Sadly for me, the place that I have the deepest emotional bond with is the room in which I grew up and that is now totally inaccessible to me. I can remember it vividly, though. I can close my eyes and see out the window that I spent so many sleepless nights at, smoking and scribbling under lamppost light. I had pretty much every emotion you can think of in that bedroom, and probably some that most people aren’t even aware of. I can even conjure up tactile memories. I can remember the feel of the bumps in the old wallpaper that my grandad got pissed off at me for ruining with sticky tape and NME.
“If home is where the heart is, then we’re all just fucked.”
My most vivid memories are obviously of the last year or so that I was there, which just so happened to be my most productive year yet in terms of creativity. I was writing constantly, I sketched, I discovered I could paint, I made clothes… It’s obvious that I had a lot of time on my hands and needed a distraction, but I’ve never been able to achieve even a fraction of that since. I lost everything I created, unfortunately. Perhaps the problem is that I keep trying to recreate what I did back then, when I should just move on to something new. Perhaps I just need to rediscover my confidence.
It wasn’t just paintings and notebooks I lost though. I lost a part of who I am when I moved away, but I haven’t been able to work out exactly what it was that went missing. Maybe it’s because I’ve always struggled with my identity, or maybe it’s just that I left at a time when I was struggling to repress the grief and guilt that I was convinced would destroy me if I faced up to them. When I think about how I was back then, my mental image is of a sad and lonely girl trapped in a room with a little white bird, trying desperately to take her mind off everything going on around her and trying not to think about the life going on outside. I don’t know what she has that I don’t.
I’ve only been back to Grays once since I moved away and the only reason I went is because my friend’s dad died and she needed me at the funeral. It was the week between Christmas and New Year 2014, and we had to get the train to King’s Cross during a time when over-running engineering works had fucked all the trains up so it took forever, and she’s a total nutcase who travels with her cat. The cat smelled, I was blitzed on Valium, and we were stuck somewhere near Emirates Stadium for fucking ages. I was petrified I was going to bump into my mother when we finally got to Grays, even though she lives in the next town over. I even contemplated going in disguise.
I couldn’t bring myself to go back to where I used to live. Just being in the same town was messing me up enough. As I lay in my friend’s old bed, in a house I spent half my time in as a teenager, surrounded by cats I grew up with who are old and falling apart, I realised there was no point in sneaking off for a visit. It’s not like I would have been able to go into my old room. And the place no longer exists as I know it; why ruin my memories by looking at what it became after I went away?
After my nan died, my grandad scattered her ashes over a field near where we lived. He didn’t tell me he was going to do it. He snuck out in the middle of the night like a ninja in a flat cap and he only told me he’d done it when we were at the bus stop the next morning. He explained that he hadn’t been paying attention to which way the wind was blowing and when he let go of the first scatter-bomb it came back and hit him.
Eighteen months later, I found myself in the same field, dressed all in black, holding an urn. I did not check which way the wind was blowing either. His ashes stuck to the tears on my face, and turned me into the most accidental goth. And I laughed, because any other reaction to such absurdity would have just been fucking weird.