There’s a poetic resonance that six-years-ago a journey began, a chapter of my life started with my chronicling my packing to leave a flat, and here, a gauntlet of twists and turns later, a similar act appears to be concluding it. Here, far in time if not in distance, I find myself surrounded by my worldly possessions, the material worth of my life, packed neatly into boxes, sealed, and waiting departure*.
Peering round at these boxes, I find it strange my life fits so easily into such compact spaces. My mind has been less easily arranged; how much simpler this endeavour would be if I could pack my emotions away, secure them with binds tight enough to hold them, at least for a time. Honestly, coming to terms with the transition I will have to make has been one of the most tumultuous things I have ever had to do. A storm in a cup. An endless wave of to-ing and fro-ing. But then, I never have been great with true uncertainty. Too many possibilities weaving through my head, I suppose.
The reality is reaching me, like ice running down my back. Seeing all my life packed away makes the truth of the matter unavoidable. There’s little I’m actually sure of in this new venture, little to hold unto as the earth becomes unsteady beneath my feet. So much is unknown**. It’s a bit like standing on a tall cliff, peering down into a dark well, unable to see how far the ground is from your face, or if there is a ground at all. Bleak and unwelcome as the cliff face may be, it’s certainly feels better to linger than to leap into the possible abyss***. Yet, I know in just a matter of days, I have to jump, straight into the unpredictable mouth of reality.
And thank Goodness for Chris, who has, in this time of storms and trepidation, been a constant reassurance; who has paced forward with all the mastery of the officer he is, and hired vans, and hauled boxes, and uttered a string of reassurance. His patience has been extraordinary.
“Tell me again, please, that it will be alright. That this is the right thing to do. That I will be okay,” I’ll say.
“It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. This is the right thing. You’re strong.” Again and again he will answer.
“I don’t feel strong,” I’ll admit when the fear is bubbling, a kettle raising to boiling.
“You are. You could have stopped, but you’re soldiering on. Your head is at war with your heart.” He will say.
I’ve spoken about his ability to methodically assess these large undertakings without batting an eye. He compartmentalizes, evaluating what needs to be done, when and how, and who is best to do it^. All I’ve really had to worry too much about is packing; I’ve been trying to avoid contemplating life beyond the actual move, because my head racks up too many ideas about what will happen. But Chris has been thinking analytically on my behalf. Somewhere in his planning he came across the issue of my getting around, and, without prompting, purchased a bike for me^^.
His kindness continues to astound me. It makes me sure about him, if I am sure of nothing else; it makes me trust his words, his intentions and his being enough to keep venturing on. Even when it feels like teeth sinking into my heart, and the idea of leaving is just too much. Even when I can’t trust myself, I at least can trust him. There’s a lot riding on that right now. Where my feet are unsteady, his are firm, and he allows me to lean against him when I stumble. A situation becoming more frequent by the hour.
There were times when I was stowing away clothes and ornaments that I genuinely worried where I would be taking them out again. The hardest part was the books. The hardest part is always the books; the items in my life which hold the most importance, the most memories, the most value. I don’t like them shut away. I don’t like them to be far from me. That must sound strange to those who are not bibliophiles, those who have no love for words and stories. Perhaps, though, those of you who can understand, sympathize with me when I say books have souls, paper ghosts which energize a space. It hurts to condemn them to darkness in boxes – to shut their spirits away, again. They were sad. I could feel it. Without my books I am most assuredly not at home. That’s why I cannot picture releasing them from their prison, because home is a concept mush adrift. Possibly it lies at the bottom of that abyss, but also, possibly it does not.
Home is an odd idea. A house is a place where we take our boxes, if we are lucky and have wealth enough for shelter (a luxury I am aware many suffer without), but a home is more. For everyone, a home is different. I’ve never much settled long enough in one particular abode to gain a true idea of what exactly ‘home’ is. Family? Perhaps, though mine has long since scattered^^^. Personal space? This seems a materialistic idea, but independence and creative expression have always been of value to me. Somewhere to put the books? Yes, but there’s more to it than that; more a place where the books can be free. Where I can too I suppose.
A home is a place where you gain something. Energy, love, safety, closeness, experiences, peace, a sense of self. A home comes with time and feeling; you can move house, but a true home is constructed with the mind. In all the places I have lived in Plymouth, I’ve gained something. Even the homes which broke around me, and the ones I knew would be temporary. I can pack away possessions; I can remove pictures from walls, and wrap glass figures carefully, but I cannot box my emotions, my self, things I may lose. I can’t box a home and take it with me – I must dismantle one to create another.
If I could box all those experiences, all that love and chaos and heart-break, all that closeness, the friends I’ve made and the wisdom gained, the late nights thinking, how many boxes would I have? If I could take them and box them, or pull them into a Pensieve, I wonder just how much there would be sitting before me, how much I may have forgotten^* swirling in pictures before me.
If I could stack every lesson learned the way one stacks plates, how high would the tower reach? If I could witness the pieces of my heart each time it was broken, laid out before me, how long would I be stepping on jagged pieces? If I could paint every kindness granted me, every instant of human love and compassion granted, how large would my gallery be*^?
Packing up my belonging hasn’t been fun. It’s never been an act I have enjoyed, for many reasons. I don’t know if being able to turn the abstracts real and pack them instead would be any more enjoyable, but I’m willing to bet it would be illuminating. I can recall a fair lot of it when the situation calls; a great sum must have lodged itself into my sub-conscious, retained as part of my instincts. Yet, I do ponder the idea of being able to see ten years of my existence physically before me, to see the shape and colour it all takes, to witness the sheer size of it all.
How much space would ten years take? How many boxes?
However, I am left with only the memories which are linked to the items and pictures I am packing away. Those in the books I have collected in my time here, and in the ornaments gifted me for birthdays and Christmases. In the smiling faces frozen in time.
And as I sit here among my belongings, knowing soon they will be somewhere else, contemplating, I’m really not sure how I feel about any of it, only that it all meant something, being here, only that the next place will come to mean something equally as vital.
*This time around at least, I have been much more organised. So prepared am I, this laptop is seated on a box as I write. Twenty-one year old me would be proud of the robust organisation skills I have managed to gain recently.
**As in the unknowable, not the second (third?) generation Pokemon. You know, the ones which looked like letters? …. It might have been third gen. Come to think of it, I think it was spelled without the ‘k’. These ones in any case.
***Gosh, sorry about that metaphor folks – kinds long and forced, but makes my point I feel. I promise, when my life is more settled I’ll think of better similes, like a writer who’s better at this…. Life a leaf on the wind of knowledge…. Oh nevermind.
^He’s a warfare officer, so this stuff is somewhere in his blood now – but I’m told this is Logistics work, which encompasses a different department of the Navy. I think he would be good at it … but don’t tell him I said that. He’s pretty awesome at the navigation thing too.
^^Dubbed Peddle Pony. I’ll explain later.
^^^ The five of us now reside in four different locations, spanning three countries. I may someday calculate the hours and miles undertaken for us all to reach each other in a given year, though I think the number would be most daunting.
^*Though I’m not 100% sure if that’s how a pensieve works – can you record and take memories you don’t remember having??? … Probably not. For the sake of this post, let’s just say you can.
*^Enormous. Gargantuan and marvelous and going on forever.
The last few weeks have been busy. The nice kind of busy mostly; the travelling, catching friends for dinner, hiring wedding people kind of busy. In the space of a week, Chris and I ventured to highest Scotland for a wedding, visited Louth to house hunt and wedding plan, dine with friends and family, and then parted ways for respective Stag and Hen parties (same couple, due to marry next month) which would require me to car pool down to Derby for the weekend, and then finally take the train back home to Plymouth.
Did I mention we’re moving? We’re moving. It’s part of the previous blog about big changes. I meant to write a post. When I tried the words tripped over themselves. The emotions are hard, and turned chaotic on the page. I’m sorry.
Now, however, is the period that always precedes a move, particularly a big one, when life becomes the stressy, bittersweet kind of busy, and requires advanced planning, and phone-calls, and ‘goodbye – keep in touch’ conversations, all of which I’m bad at, particularly the last one.
Chris has a processing time much faster than mine; his ability to simply take information and transform it into practical plans and reasonable motives is astonishing. I’m less geared. I need a scheduled slot to allow for emotional unwinding. Before I move I start to see the ghostly visions of all the important aspects of my life which have happened on a particular chair, in a room, in a cafe, in the city. And I’ve lived in Plymouth for nearly ten years.
Did I mention we’re moving out of Plymouth? We’re moving out of Plymouth.
During my childhood, I became accustomed to picking up and moving on. Being a RAF brat will do that to you; we never set roots for very long. Even as a young child I needed emotional end space. ‘This is where I played with Barbie, goodbye place I played with Barbie’ ‘This is where the Christmas Tree was. Goodbye where the Christmas Tree was’. Somewhere in the back of my head, I have a briefcase filled with snapshots of places. I suppose it was to ensure that I would always be connected to them when they ‘belonged’ to me. Memories are fragile. I’ve lost some. I’ve kept a great deal. I’ve done this for places I have lived for years, and places I have lived for months. I thanked friend’s sofas when I was couch hopping during the bad break up phase. It makes it easier to leave.
Honestly, I’m uncertain as to why. I have always done it, and perhaps I always will.
Now I find myself having to collect these mental Polaroids for an entire city. A city I have shifted through for ten years, longer than I have anywhere, at any other time in my life. The prospect of beginning, and thus seeing through, the negotiations of leaving is daunting and unwanted. I wish for a magic button with which to bypass to the difficulty, and be, through no effort, at the next stage. In a house at our new destination, settled and accepting, building.
Life doesn’t come with magic buttons. They would do us no good in any case. Nothing would be learned or gained from such an easy experience. But the childish, afraid part of me wishes it could all be so simple, practically and emotionally.
The key to the above is that I am afraid.
I. Am. Afraid.
Of moving, of failing to know what to do and when, of not doing enough, of losing who I am in this city, this space, and failing to grow into anything in the new one. I’m afraid of being alone in a small town, just south of nowhere, and becoming lost.
Yes, of course, it’s exciting and an adventure, but adventures are often adventures because they’re unpredictable. And unpredictable is also terrifying. I’m sure Frodo had his reservations about taking the ring to Mt Doom. He wasn’t exactly skipping the whole way there. I am willing to bet, Frodo was wishing for a magic button. And he had Gandalf.
Fortunately, I have Chris who is a wizard in many ways with methodologies and keeping things moving. I even have a ring. Let’s hope orcs aren’t on the way.
‘You can never go home again’
It’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times before, but not something I ever took the time to truly consider. Growing up, I didn’t have a fixed home, so I didn’t really understand. I’m not sure when Plymouth became ‘home’. I’ve lived in many places throughout the city – seven in total – and so no individual spot has been the bases of my life, but the city itself has been the constant. I have come to know it intimately. But even in the decade I have been part of it, the city has been in a state of constant change.
Shops have closed, people have moved to other towns in other counties, and the building which used to house my little studio flat, the place where this very blog began, was demolished to make room for a more modern, taller establishment. My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about having out-grown one of our old haunts, a shabby, quirky student favorite on the outskirts of the city centre where we once enjoyed pints of tea, greasy cheese based meals and monster size milkshakes. This was before we enjoyed a meal at another of our old favourites, which was redesigned some years ago when new ownership took over. There’s a blog post somewhere in the records where we are drinking tea there.
Everything is in a constant flux, shifting and altering with the stream of time. Nothing can ever be the same for very long. I’ve been present for all these changes, and in a sense I’ve been part of them. The girl who started this blog is not the same girl who writes it now. I got somewhat older, arguably wiser, I moved onward with the city. And now I am tasked with the step of moving away from it, knowing it will continue to bustle on.
The memories I have gathered here will join the box in my mind, they will be as they are, unchangeable, but the places they occurred will continue to be sold, occupied by others, closed, demolished, come under new management or become something else. It is the inevitability of all things, all places at all times. But the saying is right. I can never go home again. It won’t be be there anymore.
So, for a little while, I will be without a home, save my own skin. Then will begin the task of creating a new home. Before all that comes leaving, and endings, and changing of chapters. That’s another popular phrase – it’s not the end of the book, simply the beginning of a new chapter. But the pages have yet to be turned, the content unfolded, as yet unwritten. And soon, Plymouth will be a once upon a time – something I tell my children, show them perhaps on a holiday south to see the sea. ‘This is where I did this,’ I will say, ‘And that happened to me there. This was once a that.’ I’ll draw the Polaroids from the box and share them briefly, looking back on today now, when everything was so uncertain.
So, now commences the ending before the beginning; the final visits to favourite places, fond farewells to companions. Peering back in the rear-view mirror of a life passing out of time into memory.
For now I am simply afraid and excited about the adventure to come.
Chris has returned home after.
It’s been a long six months. Although eased by a brief, but wonderful holiday to Dubai two months ago, the time apart has been challenging and a very steep, unrelenting learning curve, I think for both of us. This is our first real deployment situation, and certainly the longest away, and with the least contact. I knew the basic principal of entering into a military relationship; my father was an engineer in the RAF for much of my childhood, and I have worked for families who bore the weight of loved ones in dangerous places. I knew to a degree what to expect, and I knew the emotions I would have to encounter, but in these situations you can only really be relatively prepared at best.
We’d encountered the dreaded deployment separation before, of course. In the year and seven months we’ve been together, the Navy life has steadily but certainly been letting itself in by the back door. At first it was days, a weekend perhaps without contact. Deployment whisked him to European shores in not so far flung countries like France and Belgium. I knew he was close (relatively speaking) and I knew he was safe, and more often than not, we remained in regular contact. The build up was a blessing. In many ways, it was like wading into the realities of a military relationship. Eventually though, you hit the deep end.
At that point, you either start swimming, or, well, you know the rest.
From day one I knew this was a strong partnership and not in the hazy daisy new romance way. As people we connected honestly. I didn’t set aside his faults and he didn’t ignore mine – we knew these differences, acknowledged them and found ways to circumnavigate them. It seemed only natural. Just a bases we both happened to work from, and made simple by the fact we enjoyed our better aspects so much. So, I knew we had it in us to beat this too. However, naturally I suppose, doubts and fears crept in, mostly about myself and the lifestyle that comes with the Navy.
Questions started small and grew unwildly the closer we came to saying goodbye. I never once pondered if I should be with him, but I queried a lot how I was going to cope. Either our relationship was about to prove itself, or it wasn’t, and I was acutely aware of that. Mostly I worried I would get some important issue horribly wrong. What if I couldn’t support him in the way he needed? What if I let my own head and needs get in the way? What if I got angry at him even though it wasn’t his fault? ‘What if’ ‘what if’ ‘what if’. It felt traitorous to doubt our relationship so unnecessarily, yet unhealthy and unhelpful to box them up somewhere in my head and hope they went away.
Even I (and trust me I had some incredible skill) couldn’t have foreseen half of the problems with only being in touch with your other half 10% of the time at best. I thought I had prepared myself for most things. When that floodgate opened it poured in all kinds of crazy waters.
Letters. What do you do with their post? I had been given permission to open some things, but not others. They could be important, but confidential. A company or bank might need information. Okay, well, that’s simple enough, but will the bank accept information from me, the unmarried partner? No idea. Hadn’t even considered it. And that’s not even the beginning.
I became a PA and base point for Chris from every family member. I didn’t mind; I like his family. They need information about insurance policies and bank details and car documents, and on and on. I’m fairly organised. I could win awards in keeping folders filled and filed with relevant information in relevant places. I have a system nagdabbit! But 99% of the time I was faffing and searching for bits of random info I didn’t even know existed.
Then there is the prominent and predictable lonely aspect.
It. Sucks. My. Writer’s. Behind.
This is not a regular type of lonely. I know what that is, and I know a quick phone call or a whole lot of chocolate and reading will cure it somewhat. This is nothing and no one will do, kind of lonely. For the first week or so I was acutely aware of the not-there-ness of him. There was a space which hovered wherever I went, where I knew in any other life in any other time he would be there, but he wasn’t. Nights were lonely, days were lonely, people came and went, and always this lack is with you. It’s like the sea has stolen his being, but left you with the moments when he would not speak – just a quiet presence always with you, but just beyond sight. There is no way to really express that to someone who does not know; I tried. Much of the time I hid away more than I should have. And the questions were always with me.
Still I anticipated our reunion with excitement. I pictured many a romantic and emotional scene, which played out and offered comfort when things started to turn dark. How long would I hold him and not let go? We would kiss and dance, and lament the sufferings of our separation in poetic words and heartfelt speeches. Perhaps our celebration would be wild and spontaneous. We might whip away to some private spot in the country, with floral bedspreads and handmade soap, and not leave our quiet solitude for days. Perhaps I would meet him at the train station and the flurry of travelers would gaze at the weeping pair in the middle of the arrivals area. There was many an unrealistic expectation. I knew it was all a coping mechanism, something my heart played on loop to appease my head, but there was some real hope in it.
What we would say and how and why. These were important to me. I just hoped somewhere in all that distance the line hadn’t broken between us, and I needed words to show me it hadn’t.
So when the moment came this afternoon, I was excited, but I was anxious.
The key turned in the lock; I approached the door to great him, and our hellos were gleeful. After dragging in three heavy bags, he didn’t even remove his coat to embrace me, and there we stood for a few silent moments in each others arms, in our home, for the first time in half-a-year. Instead of beating faster, my heart rate evened out.
We said two sentences each:
“I missed you.”
“I missed you so much”
“I’m glad you’re home”
“I missed you”
There was no romantic fanfare, no sobbing with glee or whirling around the room. No poetry or dancing or lamenting, or hiding away in a secret place. Just fifteen words between us, and in that everything that needed to be said, and everything that needed to be felt.
After that we slipped back into us; we fell into relaxed conversation about work, and odd facts and bad movies. Nothing had changed in who we were, nothing had turned to chaos. There was no more given or taken. Just us, and who we are.
And Chris is home, and so too am I.
Four years ago, when I first started this blog, I was preparing to move. Back then, I had just finished University and was departing from student accommodation. There was no plan, not really. Several life ideas fluttered in and out of existence, dreams and hopes and desperate chances. Here I stand, now 25-years-old, on the cusp of moving again. The last bits and pieces of my life are all that’s left here now, fragments sitting on empty shelves in an almost empty room. Usually I don’t dig my heels in so hard. I get contemplative sure (let’s face fact, I do that often regardless of situation), but I’ve never found myself sitting in a space, genuinely grieved by the notion of having to say farewell to four walls, a door and a window. Upon departing the studio flat I honestly didn’t cry. There have been tears for this place, and deep, real ones, too.
I turned 22 the day after my leaving, and that’s when I came, through kindness and luck to live in the Buddhist Centre, in a cozy single bedroom on the basement level, underneath a busy cafe kitchen. In all honesty, I took it because I didn’t have many other options. There wasn’t any chance on earth I was moving back in with my parents, not where they were and not being who I was at the time. I didn’t want to leave Plymouth if I could help it, but I only had a part-time gig in retail where I was lucky to get more than eight hours work a week, so I needed somewhere cheap and I needed it fast. Having been coming to the Centre for about a year, I inquired as to available rooms only to be told by the then director that currently they were all taken. A tad defeated, I received a call the next day from the same man saying that if I still needed a place, he’d consulted the other staff and they’d agreed to merge the offices to create an extra room for me. I was warned it wasn’t an ideal living space. Apparently, the reason it had become an office in the first place was because residents had only lasted about a month before having to vacate due to the noise from above. None of this registered. I had given in to pure joy at the news I would actually have somewhere to live. My mind was preoccupied demolishing the cardboard box I had resigned myself to. I accepted without hesitation.
They weren’t lying about the noise; the bedroom is in the middle of a five way sound junction. Between two kitchens, a garden and a hallway which has a natural draw for congregations, I was a little noise battered in my first month. I think they expected me to vacate once I found a better option somewhere, that I had taken the room while I pondered other options. Like I said, until I found a better form of employment I was pretty much stuck. However, I never felt stuck. I became quickly accustomed to the noise. Actually, it was soothing in some regards; I’d been living alone for a year, and the presence of others, the peopleness of the place was reassuring. At first, I just kept myself to myself. I had some bonds with the other residents, but I hadn’t so much joined the fray. My mind was settling into a routine and a lifestyle beyond the security of an educational structure I’d been part of since the age of five. Fortunately, other people can be amazing.
Suddenly, I found myself in a place where I couldn’t escape becoming close to others. I would run into them in hallways and kitchens and the laundry room and conversations would grow more and more friendly. Not only was a welcomed, but I was fixed in as a cog, part of how things worked here. Slowly but surely, they drew me into their world of humour and co-existence, and though I often got it wrong (often!) they were gentle and they were patient, and I got better at being a person comfortable around people. I helped where I could and tried my best, and I think they understood that. Gradually, the room became home and these other beings residing inside became a family, an odd family. Though I’ve seen people come and go in my time here, that never altered; it doesn’t take long to fit into the dynamic. No matter what, I always felt wanted and included in the day to day occurrences of the house. There have been blackouts and floods and midnight fire alarms, and we’ve laughed and cried on shoulders.
At the same time, I had the sanctuary of my bedroom, something that was entirely under my jurisdiction. I worked hard to pay for my living and still keep food in my stomach, something which felt very grown up. I struggled a lot just holding a life down, and relied on unexpected gifts and food appearing in my fridge, but I did it. Eventually, I was able to leave retail and find work I had interest in, and though I still struggled, I did so happily and with less frustration. I hope and I think I have changed a lot in all that’s happened. I’ve gained experiences which have taught me lessons in patience and self-respect, and I’ve been shown incredible kindnesses in many aspects, which I wish to emulate and pass forward whenever I can. I’m not the girl who moved in, and it’s vital to remember that. This place has seen possibly the greatest change in who I am.
I grew up here, in this little corner of a little corner. I feel nothing but gratitude that it was created for me, altered to accommodate me in a time of great need. I didn’t just need a roof over my head, I needed an accepting home, able to allow me to grow emotionally and spiritually, and I got it. Despite its size and faults, I’m so proud to have called this room home. Being here was an adventure. There will be days, much later down the line, come whatever the Universe throws my way, when I will peer back through time and remember this place. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to tell my children about the three years I spent in the wonderful madnesses of this place, of the jobs I had and the relationships I lost during my stay, but how I always had a place to cry and recalculate, to focus and get my bearings, where you could bump into a comforting smile just about anywhere.
There comes a time, always, when we must move forward; such things are part of the great inevitability of being alive. So now I must accept this plot twist, a time when I’m being told it’s time to step out beyond my limits again and stride forward into the unknowns of life. I’ve learned how strong my legs are; being here has shown me that. I’ll place one foot before the other again and again further and further away, because it’s all I can do. Right, left, right, left on and on. But every once in a while, I’ll smile and remember, and I’ll be happy, because for a short time I was here, where I am now, doing everyday things which meant so much more than I realised at the time, and I was safe and living. And I’ll be thankful again, because this was my little corner of the world. Just for a while, this was home.
Goodbye, little corner.
Today, sounds something like this: