I’ve been quiet, I know. Thank you for your patience. But I’m back… And after sampling the alternative for a couple of weeks, I realise I want to be the person who writes and publishes something new every day much more than I want to be the person who doesn’t, however bumpy the ride might get when you’re driving in the dark. So that’s that: I’m back.
I’ve been thinking a lot about home.
On 7th July, it will be exactly eleven years since I moved into this house with my then husband. I’m sure we must have looked at about 40 before we settled on this one. We knew it was a winner as soon as we walked in: not only was it full of light and bookshelves, but on those shelves were many of the same books we owned ourselves. Even Jonathan Dollimore’s Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture. Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble! We couldn’t believe it. It seemed meant-to-be. As we looked around, we talked about books with the owners a lot more than we talked about all the other things you’re supposed to discuss with people you’re buying a house from. By the end of the viewing, we were sold.
Although it’s a pretty modest little terraced house in one of the less desirable parts of South Manchester, we were buying at the top of the market and could only manage the mortgage by getting it at 100% over 35 years. Even then, the monthly payments stretched us quite far beyond what we could really afford. If I had known then what I know now… But we never do, do we?
I remember the day we moved in. I stood in the kitchen by the sink, looking out at the tiny back yard. The ivy and the bright yellow flowering bush were overgrown and lush, climbing the walls as they are today and I marvelled at how it was all ours.
Even the sink and the taps!
Even the water in the taps!
The window frames and the glass.
The yellow flowers and the climbing ivy.
Did we even own the air that we were breathing in here?
Ownership was thrilling and I responded with love and my customary enthusiasm. With love, I stripped back a century’s worth of toxic gloss from the woodwork. We owned each and every layer of it! Filthy stuff. I recklessly stripped swathes of ugly woodchip from the walls before realising it was the only thing keeping them from crumbling. Before we got the floors sanded, I got down on my hands and knees to check every board in every room for nails to hammer back into place. I read this house like braille, learning its stories inch by inch and by the time it was done, I belonged to it as much as it belonged to me.
I remember the song that was playing as I looked out the window that first day. It was Simon and Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy in New York and, still, every time I hear it I’m transported to that spot by the kitchen window and the feeling of belonging is so present I can smell it.
The song later came to take on new meaning. The house was followed, as convention dictates, by a wedding and a baby and then, less conventionally, by an affair and a divorce, all within a couple of years. My husband had fallen in love with a woman he’d met in New York and was to spend the best part of his time for the foreseeable not here, but there. And now, when I hear the song, layered on top of my vision of home and belonging there’s something else: a vision of him, there, then. Wandering around and wondering, as he must have done – as I hope he did – what the hell to do for the best. The only living boy in New York.
If ownership had been thrilling in the beginning, it was nothing short of terrifying once I was on my own. The sink and the taps, even the water in the taps, the window panes and the glass: all mine. I was responsible for it all and yet I felt so small.
Although the terms of the divorce dictated that I would take on responsibility for the house, my ex’s name remained on the mortgage. I tried for years to apply for one in my own name, but even though I was making the monthly payments, I didn’t earn enough and the house wasn’t worth enough for me to make an application.
Until now. I finally made it. It went through today. The house is all mine. Properly, now. It’s felt strange, like a big thing. Even though I’ve been doing it all along, really.
I realise I haven’t written much on this blog about how difficult it sometimes is being a single parent. Looking around the house now, taking stock, I can see how it’s written on the walls. I’ve tried my best. I’ve worked hard. Anything I could do to improve the house myself, I’ve done. I’ve decorated. I’ve scrubbed things that really just needed replacing. There are cushions and rugs and fairy lights and plenty of nice things to eat. My son sleeps surrounded by his books and about 500 soft toys. And we are fine. But the pane in that kitchen window is cracked now and I’ve never been able to afford to get it fixed. The others are so old and broken, in winter it feels as though there’s no glass in them at all. There are gaps between the floorboards you could drive a bus through. The boiler gives out hot water, but a couple of weeks ago stopped delivering heat to the radiators. The shower trickles out approximately four drops of water at a time and not one of them is at the right temperature. The stairs carpet has been half-eaten by moths.
And it’s all mine.
But I’m in a position, just as of today, and for the first time in a long time, to get it all sorted. To be better, I hope, than just fine.
Ownership feels different this time. Not thrilling. No. Not terrifying. Something else that I haven’t yet found the word for. What I do know is this:
I’m a very different woman from the one who stood in front of the window eleven years ago.
And if I had known then what I know now… I wouldn’t change a thing.
Tonight, before I go to bed, I’m going to take a moment. I’m going to stand in my kitchen and look out the window. I’m going to think about this house, its stories and mine.
So much time has passed.
The cherry tree I planted the week I moved in is now taller than the house.
I never thought it possible for something so small to grow so much.
I’m going to listen to that song. It’s accrued a new layer of meaning. Listen. Listen to how it gathers and swells on that last line, says everything in just three words:
here I am.