I had to post a letter today so I popped it under my arm as a reminder. I remembered it was there five minutes after I passed the post office. I looked around for a red post box. Then I spotted one. At the end of the street I used to live on. I moved back to England two years ago but I haven’t walked down that road since I’ve been back.
I lived on Brackley Road from the age of 18 months to almost six. As I walked up I thought back to the day we moved out. It was Charles and Diana’s wedding day. I was distraught when the TV was unplugged to be packed in the car. I knew I was missing out on a national fairytale. We were going from a home where my Mum, Dad, sister and me shared a room, to one where me and Lisa had our very own bedroom. I remembered consciously trying to have a reasoned response to missing out on the celebrations. As we were making that last drive over to the new house I peered out the car window to see murals commemorating the day and people out in the middle of the road with BBQ’s, party hats and drinks.
As I turned the corner of the small tree-lined street I felt tall. At 5 foot three I don’t have that feeling often. I wanted to crouch down to see the road from the perspective I remembered. I looked at the cracks in the pavement and carefully avoided them. I could almost hear mum’s voice telling me to ‘Get a move on’. I was often distracted by the floor. My childhood OCD came flooding back. It wasn’t enough for me just avoid treading on the cracks. Back then I saw invisible elastic bands stretching out from every corner. The edge of a car, a front gate, door ways and post boxes would all have them, most often two or more. It could take me a while to walk, between navigating cracks and stepping high enough to cross over the elastic bands. I believed that if I ignored the bands one day they would stretch to full capacity and catapult me backwards.
The trees are now taller, the gas station on the corner has been turned into an obnoxious glass bank with luridly bright lettering and many of the houses are freshly painted, but when I squinted I could see how it used to be. I looked down and saw my brown round-toed shoes and socks with a pink frill. I could look up to see my mum’s young face.
Mum said that when I was born my Dad didn’t let her go out without me for five years. She had to take me with her when she had cleaning jobs. She worked hard for me and then for my sister Lisa, who she was born when I was 4. My Dad was a chauffeur slash body guard. In the living room he would teach me ‘how to kill a man’. Unfortunately I forgot how to do that but do remember hanging out in Karate kid poses wanting to learn how to use numb chucks. Dad wouldn’t go to work until I was in a state crying and begging him “don’t leave Daddy”. Once out the door he would come around to the window where I would slam myself against the other side wailing. Once he had gone and my acting job was over I would calmly go back to playing with my toys. Mum said later that I seemed to understand that’s what he needed.
Dad took me to McDonalds on days Mum wouldn’t have. He taught me to say that mum’s tea was yucky. He wanted me to say I loved him more than Mum. Even though I was four I knew I was being used as a wedge in their relationship so when mum was angry with me, I felt guilty. One night I had a dream that I was using the bathroom but of course I was actually wetting the bed. Mum was furious and said I was lazy. She accused me of doing it on purpose. She said I didn’t care that she had to clean it up, she added that I was not just lazy, but selfish and lazy. I believed her.
When Dad gambled the money for our food and bills, Mum made sure we were fed.
I wanted to walk down that street and relive unbridled happy memories. I wanted to feel a connection to my mum, to see where she lived as a 25 year old, to maybe understand her. I wanted my grief to be uncomplicated.
As I walked towards Number 5 I thought about an alternate reality where things had gone to plan. I would have been pregnant at 36 and right now my little girl would be almost two. I would be walking down this street while on a visit over from America with my daughter, showing her where I lived when I was her age. We would take pictures near the Charles and Diana mural. Maybe mum would be with us. Maybe she’d share some light on why she both loved and hated me. Maybe she would have stopped despising me. Maybe that would have been enough. Maybe we would have grown closer like my mum and her mother did later on in life.
Because of cancer I don’t have a daughter, ovaries or reassurances of a long life. Because of cancer my mum isn’t here at all. Because of cancer there is no more time with my mum.
I stopped stepping over the elastic bands at around eight. Even though I got as far away as California, I have been catapulted back.
Back to where it all began.