I spent years counting the days until I could leave my hometown. It’s not that I particularly hated it; my friends were there, my family, my childhood. But very little else. You know that place old people go to die? That’s my hometown.
And I left. It’s still the best decision I’ve ever made. I don’t want to be back there. The incredible adventures I’ve had since I’ve left show me there’s no room left to grow in that world.
Yet it’s at times when I think I’ve completely forgotten the boredom, the expectations and the claustrophobia, that I catch that strong smell of a forest breathing after a big downpour or that song comes on my shuffle and I’m dragged right back to that sand dune staring at the vast ocean, that street corner being a hooligan with my adolescent friends, or my couch in that house that raised me watching my brother play playstation.
But I guess that’s nostalgia. Something Jedidiah Jenkins said comes to mind. He said it’s funny how nostalgia “baptizes painful times with some sort of cozy scent, and changes the truth in to something charming”. I think that’s fascinating. Our brains take it upon themselves to shield us, to feel protected from that time of hurt and confusion. Maybe it wasn’t all bad; my childhood certainly had many happy moments. But it twists memories in to fairytales and daydreams, blankets our experiences in a sepia tone.
And I totally get it. Who wants to remember living paycheque to paycheque when you could think of the games you made in the supermarket, with a smile, to keep below budget. Who wants to think about your wheels slipping on the gruelling, north English morning temperatures whilst you froze your fingers delivering papers when you could be thinking of that time your brother learnt to ride his bike and then promptly crashed in to a fence. Who wants to relive the destructiveness of alcoholism and its consequences that tore its way through your loved ones when you could remember the earlier, simpler times as well as the better times you know followed.
But I think it’s hindsight as well. We’ve learnt to live with our past. I can see the beautiful moments now without a hint of sadness. This time no longer defines us but in some ways it will always be a part of our future. It’s not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. It’s what will always draw me back to the place I first called home.
It’s a place where every turn has a memory, a good story. You remember where you picked up that chair and carried it for hours because it literally said ‘take me’, where your determined, if not slightly mis-guided, self had your first drug deal (marijuana, of course), or where you stood with your sister in torrential rain sipping your first sugar free Redbull.
I’ve had our landline number engraved in to my brain for so long that I doubt it will ever be forgotten. Even in this world of the internet. Those eleven numbers just continue to roll off the tongue, they convince my mother of our safety. It’s better she not know. I’d leave the house with a parting ‘be sensible’ retorted with a cocky ‘I’m always sensible’. She didn’t need to know my friends and I were off to drink hard liquor on the streets.
And you can take new people back to this place, give them the guided tour of adolescence and heartbreak. And it might even feel normal. But mainly it feels like you’ve inserted a character from another movie into your script. Worlds colliding. This place is for you, it’s a treasure trove that you almost don’t want to share. Now it just lives in your memories. The magic is shared with only the people who experienced the same thing. The same childhood. It’s a secret that can’t be spoken or articulated.
It had to be lived.
You could be the greatest storyteller in all of the land but something about being there physically in that moment will always be missing from the retelling. You joke about that time the police stopped you and your brother whilst driving without a license and how they never found out. But your audience can never really understand the absolute fear that was radiating from your body, how with that one millisecond of a look you and your brother together telepathically watched the end of your lives, how you thought of all the places in the world you could have been and that police car could have been yet you managed to collide in to each others day. They won’t understand it simply because it cannot be articulated.
But then how can we ever experience ‘home’ in later life?
The idea of ‘home’ is personal. It’s a blanket term yet it means something entirely different to everyone. To me it means safety and love. No matter what harshness or heartbreak life threw at us we faced it together. Us, the six. In a way, we’re a single entity, even now that we span four cities. It’s the beautiful ties of family and I think you either have it or you don’t. It was easy with us, we were always simultaneously so similar and so different. We argued like there was no tomorrow. We took care of each other when we were down. We simply existed together, and still do. It’s because of this that I’ve come to realise home is not necessarily a place. Yeah, that might sound like a Hallmark card but it’s true. Home is people and experiences. Something as materialistic as a tree or a pub can’t stop that force, only enhance it. At its core home is whatever you want it to be. And I think it’s important to have that foundation.
It makes us feel less alone when we’re so deeply lonely.
So now when you return to this physical place it is not for the fun ambiance because believe me there isn’t one. No, it’s for the people you consider your home. It’s for the walks you and your sister endure in the pinewoods even though it’s raining because you both live so far from the coast now that it’s nice to remember the smell of pine mixed with the salty sea. It’s for the friends you’ve known longer than you’ve known yourself because your lives often only find time to overlap at holidays now. And it’s for your parents who will never stop worrying about you whether you’re thousands of miles away or right in front of them.
You return because despite your better judgement, this hell hole will always be home.
Take Me Home – Jess Glynne