Friday, 1 January 2016

The Outside

I hadn't been home in 9 months. It was Christmas afternoon, and I was finally making my way back to the house I had lived in, but never belonged in. 

The drive had been difficult, with wind pushing the car across carriageways and empty bridges. I switch radio stations every few minutes until sounds are familiar. I know this drive like the back of my hand, and slip into autopilot. It was only when I reached the outskirts that I realised how long it has been since I had been here, and only because one house has changed colour since my last return. This time it is a shade of maroon. 

The road curves in the same way it always has.

I used to brake sharply on this hill, but now I let the car roll. There is no one on this road, and I'm free to do as I please.

Everything looks the same, but nothing quite is.
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There's a thick For Sale board posted in the wall that guards my house. I should say "their house," because I've never quite managed to refer to it as my own. They too are starting to leave a small part of this place behind. When my parents put their house up for sale, not one person asked why. No one asked where they were going, or if they wanted to leave. Nobody cared, although I can guarantee they've Googled how much the house is worth. I expected this, but I'm not quite sure they did. They were aware that over the last few months they had become pub gossip, due to no fault of their own. People believe what they want to believe, and my family never had the chance to tell their story.

One day I'll tell it for them, but today is not that day.

I've never been able to tell people where I come from. This is not due to shame or unwillingness, but due to the fact that I've never been able to call somewhere home. When prompted, my answer is always "My parents live in Broad Haven. It's in Pembrokeshire." I never quite say that I'm from there, because it never felt like I was. 
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I abandoned the village on a whim. At first, I would return often. I would come back on a weekend, and when my dogs got sick. I would come back to work for my mother, and for Christmas. Last year, I went home once in March. I forgot all about the park where my dogs would escape to, and the green where my sister cracked the bones in her leg. I forgot how the sand looked after a rough tide, and the grooves in the grains.

When I come back here, it feels I'm remembering something from a distance, like a hitchhiker of someone else's memories. Photographs seem strange, with a girl I don't recognise. This small village by the sea is another life to me. There are imaginary things and invisible places, and these things I remember might never have happened. Memories orbit in strange patterns, but these little houses and people were never part of my design. 

My mind is built of metal and skyscrapers, of taxis and strangers. I am not made of old bricks and bonfires, or of small town idiosyncrasies. These things work well for them, which is good for them, but not for me.

This corner of the world was always a bad fit. It clung to me in the wrong places, it scratched my skin and my hands. It made me restless, and resentful.

I don't feel the same sense of dread that I used to. I'm unmoved by the empty fields, by the salt water and wide sky.

It's like walking in a dream when you know your way around, but it all seems so foreign.  
Textures are strange. 
Sounds are echoes. 
Voices are vibrations.
This dream talks to you, and reminds you that you can look but can never touch.
Suddenly your memories feel like a dream within a dream, fraudulent and broken.

This place doesn't belong to you, and you don't belong to it.

Like every small hometown, everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame. Thankfully, mine was long ago. I am just another ghost of another sad place, and I'm quite content with my insignificance.

No one knows me here, at least not anymore. Either they've left, or they've forgotten. Maybe I've forgotten them. 

I never made a lot of friends here and I never had any treasure or souvenirs to take with me. I never ran with a pack, or hunted on horses. People here were suspicious. I never quite found the same things funny, or understood the rule of fitting in: Do as I say, not as I do. People here misunderstand each other, and the most they know about me is that I say things I shouldn't and have thrown up publicly one too many times. But that was the girl who left three years ago, the girl who became brand new.

My old bedroom is empty. Everything is in boxes, and hidden where I can't see them. There's an empty bed, and an old bedside table covered with the same rose pink tablecloth from when I was a teenager. It's the same room where I read Wuthering Heights for the first time. It's the room my dog used to sit outside of, and wait for me.
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My parents' house feels safe. It smells like cinnamon candles and fire. I know where to find the TV remote, and I remember the knack to locking the back door. There are two old cats buried in the garden, along with a guinea pig. There are holes in the wall from where cocky drivers have smashed headlights into stones. I know this house. 

Sometimes I think I know this place. I know it's empty store fronts and the way cliffs shape into lions and faces. I know hiding places and colours. I know the things any observer can find with a critical eye.

I have a small life in Cardiff. I have a little home with lots of things, and I have a handful of people in close quarters. I forced my own evolution, patch-working a history that is flawed but still my own. These walls and these roads, they feel safe. It took me a while to get here, but now I know that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Cardiff frames the mosaic of the people I've been, the people I've known. It is where I learned what jobs I hated, and what I deserved. It's where I've repaired fractures, and woven tales in the breaks.

It's where my trauma lies, but where my recovery waits.
I have new secrets now, new hiding places.

Broad Haven beach looks the way it does before any kind of storm. It's angry, and grey with defeat. The wind makes it's way in, and the water hit high concrete. This place looks perfect from far away.

After three days, I pulled the car out from our house and I let the windscreen wipers push away the sand and crumbs of dirt. I drove around that same curve, and into the town. I stopped checking the rear view mirror long ago.

I pulled up at the same petrol pump, at the same filling station. I handed a crumpled twenty pound note to the same cashier, and threw away the same receipts. 

It's just about time to leave, and I know that it's time for me to go.

There's an empty room, an empty bed.