Today I said goodbye to the house I grew up in and I’m trying to figure out exactly what that means. I’ve been thinking about movement again. Of little feet running up stairs and peeling paint. The rocking of the train and the passing houses leaves me pensive, pushing me back into the past. Home has always been an intangible for me. It shifts under sinking sands. I try and grasp for a concrete concept, some semblance of words or meaning, but my hands keep coming up empty.
I’m reaching down into myself now, clawing out memory and sinew. There must be something left between my synapses. Some memory I haven’t completely picked apart yet. I remember, I remember. Of wolves and witches and climbing the apple tree in my garden. Those endless summer afternoons spent shoving sticks in the bubbles of tarmac boiled by the August sun.
The longing, the boredom, the long evenings and sunshine as orange as the ice pops we sucked on. I try to think of it now and I can’t hold it, can’t picture it. It feels so far off and far away. I can still taste the ice on my tongue, though. I can still feel the cold water of the brook creeping up past my ankles.
It’s hard coming home because it demands to be felt. Like passing through a veil or stepping over a threshold; it’s as though by arriving I should feel different, as if some sleeping part of me should stir and twist. But I am saying goodbye now. I have always been someone attracted to ritual. Here I am stood in front of my old house taking a photograph, my father in the doorway and rain on my face. I am covered in paint and feel entirely muddled. But just how should I feel, anyway?
I climb the stairs to my old bedroom. I feel heavy and conscious of how fragile it all feels: the banisters we once swung around on our sprints down the hallway now feel feeble, as if I hold too tightly they will crumble or snap. Everything feels far too small. Dwarfed by time and usurped by memory, I try and picture how it once felt.
I think of the day my parents were distracted and my siblings and I took a mattress out of the attic room and slid down these stairs like a lumpy sailing boat. I remember the floating fabric of my fairy house in what would become our dining room. The green of the fields and turning back my watch to get just give more minutes outside.
Should I feel more or less knowing the house I grew up in is no longer my own? But it hasn’t been mine for a long time now. It feels more like an echo, a dream. There once was a time when walking its halls filled me with a hunger. But my home does not exist anymore. It does somewhere, I’m sure — trapped in time.
My friend said it was remarkable that humans could have such a profound connection to a building. That we can make a home out of almost anything. Give me a collection of rocks and wood and I’ll build something better, something beautiful.
We attach ourselves to a neatly organised pile of bricks. We mark our heights on doorframes and live inside it, crying and laughing and leaving our grubby fingerprints all over the walls. But what remains once the last of the boxes are packed? What is left after the door closes and the lights are turned off?
Empty homes have a haunting quality: once devoid of human inhabitants there is only room for rats and ghosts. Maybe it is because I am always moving that I have such a morbid fascination for the places we leave behind. I’m caught on the gloomy greys, compelled to explore their moth-bitten walls, the books stained by rain and the piles of congealed photographs of a person’s life long dead and gone.
There’s a quality of colour that appears only in these forgotten spaces. But I am in love with this melancholy: enraptured with the decrepit and damp and desolate. With leaning walls and rotting wallpaper, sagging roofs and floors you can’t quite trust. You’re alone but not alone. There’s a loneliness beyond humanness.
There’s something almost magic that arises from this liminality: as if under the moss and memory there’s a secret only you can uncover. So, you creep over decaying wood and piece together the remnants of life now summed up by a collection of leftover objects. It is not death that hurts. It’s the forgetting. It’s the collective amnesia of a world that just keeps going. I feel exhausted by the indifferent march of time.
I climb into the car. My father is taking me to the station where I’ll begin my four-hour journey home. My new home, my now-home, I suppose. My flat is the first place that has felt truly mine. It is a space that belongs to me and only me. I have a fireplace filled with books. My walls are covered with my paintings and photographs. Every inch is covered. It is an external expression of my inward condition.
And I cherish the feeling of returning that it gives me. The weight that falls to the floor as I type in the code for my building. That great big sigh that comes out when I step through the door and into my bedroom. Letting go of my old home is easier now because I have my own to come back to. One I have made for myself.
I have left my old self chasing shadows in that house. Somewhere she is still making mud pies in the garden and constructing worlds out of sellotape and paper. I love her with all of me, because she is me. But I put my key in the door and turn it. It is over, it is ending — and I do not lift a finger to prevent its destruction. Instead, I climb into my bed and reach for a book.
I reel back to that unmovable truth. Wolfe was right — you can’t go home again.