So I’ve chosen #5, the second house I ever lived in, which is very timely as for some reason I’ve been dreaming about it lately, a lot. Maybe it’s all this thinking about moving, a yearning in me to make a real family home of our own where Kai can grow up safe and free with space for play and adventures and growth. A place which Kai will remember and dream about and that will influence his feelings about what feels like ‘home’ for the rest of his life.
We moved into my second house when I had just turned five, in the winter of 1987 and for the next fifteen years that house was my world. The place where I dreamed and cried and laughed and played and grew.
I loved that house. My memories of it are vivid and fierce and very precious.
So, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, I’m going to take a break from the jokes tonight and share some of them with you. After all, in three weeks my Creative Writing course starts and I’m going to have to get used to doing some ‘serious’ writing for a change! It’s a bit of free-association which I’ve not really done before so bare with me…
I am 6 0r 7. Sitting on the top step of the stairs in the dark when I should be in bed asleep. Listening to the murmer of my parents conversations, the hum of the television, the sounds from the kitchen as they boil the kettle or tidy up. Sounds of home, of safety and familiarity. I inch down, silently, one step at a time, wanting to get closer to that feeling.
I am 16. I am lying in bed listening to the rain hammer on the flat roof of my bedroom. I’ve decided I want to be an interior designer and mum and dad have given me free reign to decorate my room however I like. I often dream of a beach-hut hideaway so have crafted my room to make me feel like I’m by the sea. Holiday beach scavenges gift driftwood shelves, twisted sea-smoothed branches and endless stones and shells with which I fill my space. I’ve painted my favourite quotes from books and poems that I love straight onto the walls in meticulous, curving script. Tea lights twinkle – I must remember to blow them out before I fall asleep. I lie under the sail canapy I have hung over my bed, drifting on a sea of dreams. The world feels huge and full of possibility.
I am 9 or 10. The passageway down the side of the house is my own secret hideaway. In the hollowed out centre of the big shrubs that grow against the fence I have made my den. I can smell the damp earth, the peeling paint on the fence panels, and feel the rough prickle of the branches as I push my way through. There is a tin there, hidden under the foliage, full of secret things. In it is a piece of paper with the name of the boy I like at school. I haven’t told a soul, not even my best friend. I hope my brother hasn’t found it.
Christmas morning. Endless Christmas mornings. The rule is not to wake mum and dad before 7am. It is early but I am awake. I stick out a probing foot to prod the sack of presents at the foot of my bed and get that familiar rush of excitement and anticipation. There’s no way I’m going back to sleep now. I sneak into my brother’s room with my duvet wrapped around me and there he waits, equally awake and wide-eyed. We put our sacks of presents by the door and try not to look at them, filling the time till the promised hour playing games and talking in urgent whispers, muffling our giggles through our fingers.
Long summers in the garden. The paddling pool and water-fights with empty washing up bottles. Being given my own little patch of earth to plant seeds and forget-me-nots in. The heat of the greenhouse and the smell of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes and the compost heap. Swirling my fingers in the jelly soup of the frogspawn and watching the tadpoles in the pond grow legs and loose their tails. A plant by the Buddleia which was always, unexpectedly, covered in ladybirds. Writing in chalk on the patio slabs. Worrying that the initials marked in the cement by the previous owners meant that one of them was buried there. My shrine under the apple tree to Tabby, my cat, with the stone I had painted with her name on and jam-jars full of faded flowers and green water.
I am 19. It is September 11th 2001. I have come home from college and fallen asleep in a haze of fatigue. My Fibromyalgia is beginning to worsen although I don’t know this yet or what is wrong with me, only that I am tired and I hurt. My brother wakes me. Something has happened he says. We sit together and watch the TV in silence, shock and horror. I can’t believe what I am seeing. I cry but I can’t look away. Ant comes over after work and the three of sit and watch the same clips repeated over and over. Time stops. Pain and fatigue is forgotten. All I can feel is their pain, their loss. I do not sleep that night.
I am 7. We are sat eating tea. My brother will not eat his food. He is chewing the same mouthful of meat over and over until it is grey, tasteless ball that he cannot swallow. Mum is cross, “Just swallow it!” she says in her best pretend ’I'm not cross’ voice. But she is cross, and we both know it. She tries to get David take sips of water but still he will not swallow his food. He cries and has to spit it out. We have been here many, many times before. I kick my legs under the chair and feel smug that I am not the one being told off. We finish at last andI recite by rote “Thank-you-mummy-for-my-dinner-please-may-I-get-down” in one long drawn-out breath.
It is raining and the water is dripping through the bay window. We spring to action with tea-towels and margarine tubs to catch the drips. Christmas Cacti adorn the window sill. I have an overwhelming urge to twist off the tops, and draw smiley faces in the square panes of the window. Both are expressively forbidden. But thinking about it makes my fingers twitch.
We have been playing out in the snow and have come inside damp and rosy cheeked and smiling. I sit in front of the fire to thaw out. I can’t feel my finger tips and my ears buzz with cold. I rest the edges of my double-socked feet on the marble surround. Getting as close as I can without burning. A black and white ceramic cat shares the fireplace with me. When it’s my turn to dust I am extra careful with it, scared I will break it and get in trouble. It has yellow, glass eyes.
It is Sunday afternoon and I sit and doze on the sofa. Dad has the cricket on and the soft lull of the commentary makes me sleepy. I am full of dinner and memories of Sunday school.
I am 19. The contents of my room are packed into boxes and are being put in the removal van, ready to be unpacked in my new room at my mum’s partner’s huge and beautiful house. I sit and say goodbye. Dad hasn’t lived here for two years and somehow that makes it easier. This house isn’t home anymore – I am ready to say goodbye. After all, I am an adult now. Already dreaming of a home of my own with my boyfriend of nearly two years already. Thinking about him makes me burn with a fierce love and longing. He is my home now, somehow I know this. But still the tears come as a thousand memories tumble forward.
Goodbye 2nd house. Thank you.