There is so much more room there

There is so much more room there. Wider footpaths, wider streets, thick berms of grass separating the two, roots bending knees through the concrete and gutters full of fallen flowers. I never though twice about that grassy stretch that broke up road and pavement, on both sides of the street, on most of the streets. It seemed a normal way to keep pedestrian from road, to protect the small families from the fast cars, and now I wonder at the wide, stretched-arms of space, and the decision to give it to spikes of grass, and yellow flowers, and bees, and not to another lane for another car, or a thicker intrusion of concrete. After all, it’s not used for anything useful. Garbage bags collect on it, or spiny dumps of inorganic rubbish awaiting collection. Clumps of school kids wander along it at angles. Why would you leave so many spare cuttings of your carefully-planned, barely-considered city?

Sometimes I think of how the house I grew up in had an entire spare room for the washing machine. It contained that old, humming hunk of metal and plastic, vibrating across the concrete as it churned muck and sweat from three sets of school uniforms, and one large sink, used for overspills of laundry, or hand-washed silk (rare, but there, sometimes, black from Moochi, amongst the Glassons). An ironing board that stood always, because why would you collapse it and keep it in a cupboard, ready to trap your fingers upon next erection, when you could leave it perched, unplugged iron balanced, for the next collar, hem, pleat. I don’t even own an ironing board. Sometimes I think of buying one of those very small ones with very short legs to be used on very small tables in very small flats, and then I remember being 17 years old and buying a white shirt to wear at my waitressing job, and my mother telling me never to bother buying anything that needs to be ironed, and me buying them all those times since, and all the times I’ve never, ever worn them. The one, crisp white Cos dress that hangs off me like a lost costume for a nursetenniscoach, stuffed at the bottom of a bag of winter clothes. 

The house I did the majority of my growing up (sleeping over, heating up, showering off, sneaking out) in had too many doors, the sliding plastic kind with the dark metal frames and the long silver locks with black tips to flick up for locked and down for unlocked. More door than wall, all open to the sea and wind and seagulls. A house on the end of a peninsula, all doors and no walls, is something out of a novel where a widow paces an upper balcony and waves pound at the cliffs, but my childhood was all kayaks and bunny rabbits and dishwashing liquid on the trampoline. 

Working my way around: one set of sliding doors from my parent’s bedroom, one from my sister’s, two from the computer room, one from the dining room, one from the lounge, the front door, and another from the garage. Now I have two front doors (one ours, one shared) and one back door, and the back door gives me pangs such that we might need to get a security camera so that I can look at it and see that it is shut, shut, shut. The wall of our garden backs onto an estate, and sometimes they throw food over. Yesterday, a peach with a big bite taken out of it. 

I didn’t give a shit about the separate laundry while I lived there, a laundry big enough that one year, when we renovated the kitchen, we cooked in it for six months, a microwave and a slow cooker, living out of one bedroom and the garage while they ripped up the floors and knocked down walls and put in a thick silver crooked finger of a kitchen bench, which we loved, and which was the first thing they took out when the house was sold. In London it would be a double bedroom with natural light and rustic floors. It even had a huge built-in cupboard that was filled with old leaflets and bike helmets, not fit for protecting skulls. 

There is no inorganic rubbish in London. It’s not even a concept. Instead, people leave things on the footpath with signs scribbled on paper, Free, Take Me. Our nice neighbours are moving out and so they keep leaving plastic bags full of items in front of our shared hedge, Free, Take Me on plastic plant pots and bags of cutlery. The cutlery is gone. Halfway up the road there is a big wood and glass cabinet, with inlaid doors and carved handles. One leg is broken, all the glass is smashed.

I can recreate my whole childhood in one long moment inside my skull, recently stuffed full of parks in sun and beers in pubs and mornings in office buildings, but more permanently, padded all the way around with a lock snapped open, and a door slid wide, bare feet on rings of brick, warm toes on pricking grass, down concrete steps imprinted with the steps of children, a muddy, stone slide of a path, new wooden steps, concrete, rocks, mud and the sea.

On Moving

As a slightly weird, overly well-read child growing up in New Zealand, I was about eleven when I realized that I wanted to live somewhere else. Clutching my little red British passport, I realized I could.

I can’t really pinpoint where it came from. It might be from bullying or not being good at sport, or not really having the competitive edge that honed my whole family. It might be from my British immigrant mother, who pined, palpably, for museums and history and old friends. It might have been Enid Blyton. All knew was, after university I was out of there.

I left for Japan less than one month after graduating from my law degree without much in the way of a backwards look. I had a family home that I could pile all my books and abandoned notes into and a family who I knew would travel to see me, so boarding the plane didn’t feel as momentous as it could have. Maybe more to the point, I had a devoted boyfriend of four years who was ready to follow me, even though I had savings and a job and security and he had none of the above. I sat on the plane and watched the entire first season of Glee. I thought “I’ll watch the second on the way back”. And then I realized I wasn’t coming back.

I spent my first three weeks in Japan without him, lying in my underwear in my first apartment without flatmates, in the 30-degree heat, listening to the crows. I went to the supermarket and wandered down aisles of kimchi and brown sauce in brown bottles, then returned to my house with beer and Frosties. Japan was inimitably, amazingly foreign, and nothing prepared me for the sensation of having that foreign-ness turned back upon me in the form of thousands of pairs of confused, interested and hostile eyes. I had thought, before arriving, that I was toying with the idea of Japan, but I was the toy. Boyfriend arrived, my job started, I settled in. I made some friends – very few Japanese people – I took lessons in the language, I diversified in the supermarket. I made it my home.

Japan isn’t a country that accepts foreigners easily. I loved it there; I couldn’t love it more, but I had an expiry date. It didn’t come up when the earthquake struck Tohoku and hundreds of messages from people flooded in, convinced I was among the thousands of dead. It didn’t come up when someone stole my bicycle or when I accidentally ate mushroom and prawn custard, or any one of the tens of times I slipped over on the ice. It didn’t happen when my boyfriend broke up with me, and left.

It happened when I realized that two years of teaching was enough for me – that for me, the learning I was experiencing just by living wasn’t enough. It happened when I looked at my bank account and realized that I could handle a few months of unemployment in my holy grail, London. And yeah, it happened when I got a British boyfriend.

I live in London now – I’ve been here for nearly two years. Moving here proved more of a shock than Japan ever was, because it was so familiar, so culturally like my homeland, and because I was so, so lonely. In a city of millions of people who could talk to me, so few of them wanted to. I found a job without difficulty, and a place to live, but friends came slowly. Now, settled, with friends of my own and suburbs I know, I feel at home.

When I write it down, I know how it looks – these aren’t the movements of an intrepid traveller. Breaking it down, where the hell is the bravery in moving across the world when you do it with someone who would move worlds for you? Leaving people and places behind hurts less when you bring someone you love with you, even if that love, and that person, changes. But it still hurts. And parts of it still feel brave. The realization that I will never again know the feeling of being in a room with everyone I love is hard. It’s the hardest thing I have to deal with, and I have to re-swallow it daily, and I know that makes me lucky, ultimately.

Nowadays, I think I know where I belong, but I’m not sure. Everything I know is spread across three continents, in almost even proportions. And I’m no nomad – a nomad is someone who can pack up and leave and create a whole new life wherever they are. I’ve never completely managed the packing up part. I’ve left pieces all over the place.