Two years ago today I did something truly terrible: I left home.
I had done it once before; as a very naive just turned 18 year old; taking off to the big city, well as big ad Belfast and the academic and social adventure that would be my three years at Queens. But I’d come home every weekend to my supermarket job and political debates with my Dad; to home-cooked meals and a washing machine that worked. This was different; this was not renting a room with friends and drinking partners; this was my own apartment, my own mortgage, this was it.
I had moved back home on a ‘through-the-week’ and at the weekend basis when my second teaching practice was assigned to a relatively local high school. But just before that teaching practice ended, my world collapsed; things fell apart and the centre really could not hold.
My Daddy committed suicide and my Mum found him. It has never been something I could properly articulate. I never wanted to create a language of acceptance that somehow validated the choice that my darling Daddy made.
In the terrible months that followed my little brother returned to Belfast complete his university degree; and my older sister moved back in. She had been on the verge of a round the world trip; ticket booked and paid for; plans made; but it clearly wasn’t the time. Part of her grief was the restlessness of not fulfilling those carefully laid plans; within a year she would be off to London pursuing career glory and forcing herself to ‘make-it’ in the big city.
My little bro pursued academic glory. His prospects moved him from Belfast to Dublin and beyond: while we waited at home for his infrequent visits and e-mails. They dealt with their grief by moving on; by putting space between themselves and the torment of memories home now represented; whereas I, for a long time, needed to be there: I needed Mum; needed to sit in Daddy’s chair and needed to hold on to anything I could consider a constant and a world turned entirely upside down.
With the other two gone; it was only Mum and me; and we got the routine down pretty well. A catch-up and moan about our days coffee when we first got in, she would make dinner; I would start my marking and we’d eat together; ‘meeting’ later in the evening for supper and TV. And yet after time I became restless; somehow stilted by my domestic bliss and horribly resentful that my siblings’ choices had meant that if I left Mum would be on her own again. What should have been a simple move seemed like total abandonment.
But she never stood in my way; she as always encouraged me to do ‘what would make me happy’; to live my life for me and to make my way, in a world of my choosing. So I did; feeling incredibly guilty with each step of the way.
As these things tend to be, the move wasn’t simple; when I first went to the bank, the snotty assistant manager snickered at my ‘wearing my interview suit’ and incredibly dismissive of my affording a mortgage given my ‘aptitude for frivolous spending’. It took some months before I approached a financial adviser who was much more forthcoming.
Having spent the summer on property websites and trolling the North Down area looking at flats that should have advertised themselves as ‘possible drug den locations for low budget television’; I found a place. Not quite my dream mansion; but the right size, a great location and more incredibly: within my limited price range. I visibly shook while on the phone to the estate agent; but it would be four months of legal manoeuvring before the keys would be mine.
As the time for the move finally approached I grew increasingly less assured. There had been not so subtle hints from my Mum’s side of the family that I ‘could have waited for the right man with his solitaire and half a deposit’- what was my rush? There had been fraught conversations with my brother and sister as to whether Mum would be ‘alright on her own?’ And there were nightmares in which I saw myself ‘Angela’s Ashes’ style, pregnant and destitute on the rainswept streets unable to pay my bills.
But the moment came; Mum and I had spent a week painting and me many months purchasing various cushions; candles; plates and wine glasses; feeling very much like the child who’d played ‘house’ with her large family of dolls. The day of the move was filled with the moments of slapstick comedy these occasions are made for: my friend’s “moving van” wouldn’t fit under the archway to the car park, making for numerous very wet journeys from van to flat. The physical struggle with my furniture meant my friend, usually chivalrous if witty gentlemen in the presence of my mother, were now using language she was actually more accustomed to hearing; and there was of course the joy of the flat pack assembly when even the most Oxford of graduates would feel dismayed by her lack of structural intelligence.
After a Chinese takeaway ‘last supper’ dinner; the moment had arrived. I was going to have to say goodbye to Mum, to climb into the van for the last time and drive away. There were tears of Niagara proportions; I felt like I was breaking her heart and selfishly walking away. It was less than an hour before I phoned for a chat..
And now two years later sometimes I think I made the right choice. Given the perilous and frankly ridiculous nature of the housing market; my now or never moment would have been just that. I can have nights where I have people round; days I can spend in my pj’s; eat, drink and sleep when I want to without Mum’s unobtrusive but seemingly ever watchful eye. But I get lonely; I resent the financial responsibility and the lack of scope having bought an apartment six miles from home and five miles from work creates. Opportunities still abound but it is more difficult to reach for them…
As for Mum, Big Sis is now back home (if only for a while) and she enjoys the opportunity of having someone to look after again. She is stronger than the world gives her credit for; and I realise now that I took much longer to accept our change in circumstance than she did.
It is perhaps time for me to make my peace with my decision; to give in to my decorating desires and to begin an IKEA induced de-clutter. Time to turn my moments of loneliness into windows of opportunity; time to embrace the independence I so craved; and time to turn this little house into my home.