As I mentioned away back at the beginning of this blog, my mum died in January. My dad died about 5½ years before that. That means two things. One is that I don’t have my parents around any longer. I’m actually ok with that – it’s sad, but they both had health problems that meant they’d basically stopped being themselves before they died. Both of them would only have had lives of steadily increasing suffering to look forward to, which makes it very hard to want them to still be around, how ever much I miss them.
The second thing it means is that my family (with a very little help from me) have been slowly clearing out their house. They’ve basically finished now, so we’re just waiting for a house clearance company to come and take away all the stuff we’re not wanting to keep. Then the house goes on the market, at some point it’ll sell, and at that point it’s all over. I’m surprisingly not ok with that.
My parents bought the house a few years before I was born. I was brought back to it as a shitting, screaming rug rat of a few days old. Except for holidays, and a couple of brief stays in hospital, I didn’t spend a night away from it for the next 18 years. All my memories are there.
The old carpet in the living room that I would make lines on with my fingers, and then push toy cars up and down the roads I’d made. The sandpit in the garden where I was eaten alive by creepy crawlies because my dad didn’t realise you have to line a sandpit, you can’t just dig a hole in the ground and tip in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of builder’s sand. The nasty neighbour who shouted out of her bedroom window if she thought you were making too much noise playing in the garden. The nice neighbour who’d always stop and smile and let you stroke his dog. The swing by the washing line. The cupboard door I used to hide behind during the scary bits of Dr Who and Blake’s 7. The kitchen where I watched my mum make pastry. The garage where I watched my dad swear at the car and try to work out why the rusty pile of junk wasn’t starting this time.
Every childhood birthday and christmas (and a fair few adult ones too) were there. I can remember christmases right through from the one where I was so excited I nearly wet myself, to the ones as teenager where I tried to put on an attitude of “Me? Having fun? As if!”, to the last few where I took over cooking the dinner. I can remember the bedroom where I’d sit on the edge of the bed while my mum taught me to read, because the local school had decided I was too thick to ever master literacy.
To be fair, I was a very slow starter all round. I can remember crying with frustration because I couldn’t understand why 1 + 1 = 2; it’s just a 1 and then another 1. I can remember thinking about it when I was in the bathroom cleaning my teeth, and the feeling of sheer blinding revelation when I realised that 2 was just a shorthand way of saying “a 1 and another 1”, that 3 was “a 1 and another 1 and another 1”, and so on. I must have been about 10 years old when I suddenly “got” that, and I can remember the six long, painful years of homework at the dining table that followed that moment and eventually led to a C in the maths exam.
I can remember standing in the garden while my brother and sister, with the patience of saints, threw a ball to me and tried to explain that to catch it you had to start moving your hands before it hit you. I can remember them letting me play badminton over the washing line with them, even though my only discernible sporting talent was for falling over (which I understand can come in handy in professional football).
I can remember standing on a chair in the kitchen to “help” my granny with the washing up. I can remember the strange feeling when I watched my nephew stand on the same chair to “help” my mum (his granny) do the same thing. Even the fixtures and fittings of the place have memories. I could take you there now and point out the tap my granddad changed the washer in. I could point out which rooms I’ve painted twice, which ones I only painted once, and which ones I never painted. I can tell you which of the battered old armchairs came from my granny’s house, I can tell you which of them came from my other granny’s house, the one who died before I was born, even though I never saw her house. I can tell you the different pattern stretch-covers they’ve had on them down the years. I can tell you which ones my dad tried, with more enthusiasm than practical ability, to re-upholster, and had to be finished off, with more practical ability than enthusiasm, by my mum.
I could take you into the garden and point out the roses and daffodils I planted. I could show you the gap where the flowering bush I planted died. I could show you where I sat down and tried not to cry as I thought about the fact that my A level results weren’t good enough to get me the degree I wanted, or the job I wanted, and that the whole, beautiful life I’d planned for myself had just crumbled into dust.
Everything about the place has memories, and that’s part of it, but it’s not the whole reason I’m upset that we’re finally getting rid of it. The memories will still exist as long as I exist, and I don’t care what mumbo-jumbo psychotherapists spout, you can never change your experience of the past, for good or ill. What bother me is the fact that I can never go home again.
It seems to me that home is more of an idea than a place. More than the people you expect to find there, or the things you expect to find around them, it’s a way of thinking about the place, and the people, and the things. It’s where you feel safe. I think that feeling is at its strongest for the place you grew up. There’s never any home like your first home.
It’s strange to be thinking like this now. I haven’t lived at “home” for something in the region of 15 years. The people I’d most expect to find there – my mum, my dad, my gran – are all dead. I’ve never been the kind of person who has a huge sentimental attachment to possessions or objects – they’re just things at the end of the day, and things don’t really matter. But here I am thinking like this, and all because in some deep, fundamental way I can’t really explain, I feel like I don’t have any roots anymore. That from now on, whatever happens, I’m on my own. That no matter how bad things get, there’s nowhere I can run away to, and nowhere I will feel safe.
Like I said, from here on in, I can never go home.