Thursday, 21 March 2013

How am I supposed to leave?

We all have to leave sometime.

I have lived in this village for as long as I can remember. It is too small to have a train station, and the buses to the nearest towns only come once an hour. It is big enough to get lost in, but I haven’t for a long time. I have lived here for seventeen years and I don’t know the names of most of the roads. Once, on the day of my first driving lesson, my instructor asked me where Fish Street was.

Fish Street? No, I don’t know Fish Street; it’s The Common, which changes names halfway down for no apparent reason. It’s the little curved apostrophe of a road where all the terraced houses have window-boxes full of cheerful pink carnations, and cars parked in front with two wheels up on the pavement. It’s a road I can describe with my eyes closed, but I’d never paid any attention to its name. I saw the road name on a sign every day, and it was so obvious that I never noticed it.

When someone says “home” to me, I think of the High Street in the summer, when hanging baskets adorn every lamppost and shop front, suspended on fragile chains beside the door of the chemist or the chiropractors’, and the whole street smells like a garden centre. Home is the gravel path of the church I used to walk up every week as a child, before my creeping antipathy for religion rendered me an atheist. My mother still walks that path every Sunday, and the nave is where we sat the last time we said goodbye to her own mother. It’s a safe place for her.

There’s the bench next to the needle of the war memorial, the criss-crossed paths cutting across the Common that are surrounded by a canopy of trees, the cratered road my childhood best friend lived at the other end of. Driving down her road was an exercise in how to ruin your car’s suspension and her parents always used to mutter darkly about how extortionate it would be to repave it. But I loved it, and loved how running over the bumpy surface could make it feel like you were flying, never quite sure where your legs would land.

My hometown is affluent, a microcosm of suburban paradise where children play in the river and climb trees, and where my elderly neighbours still stroll with impunity. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me here was when I got honked at by a passing car when I was walking home from the shops at age fifteen; it’s that sort of place.

And with each day that passes, I get closer to leaving it. I’ll be flying the nest. I don’t yet know where I’ll be going, but it’ll be two hundred miles away or more. I won’t be living in a place where I can go for a walk at 2am, on my own, and feel utterly unfazed. I’m excited for the city, for the new people, for a room that is mine and a place where I get to be someone new. My village is dull, but it's safe. It won't surprise me or hurt me. It seems inconceivable this place could ever change: it's going to be the same forever. I know I've outgrown it.

But I’ll miss this. I’ll miss holding open the door of the post office while a pensioner closes her umbrella and we share a knowing smile about the weather. I’ll miss the white gates of my house and the feeling of being anchored, to a specific place in a specific moment of time. I suppose that moment is coming to an end, and something new is about to start.

I don’t want to go. I can’t wait to move away. I could stay here forever. We all have to leave sometime.

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