Being back is weird. Not least because I went from balmy warmth to freezing cold weather in a matter of days upon first arriving in the UK from Melbourne. But the weirdness is a ham-fisted way of describing how it feels to be back and not really ‘back’. In one way yes, I’m from here, I grew up in this country, in London; but the idea of a ‘home’ or a ‘base’ has always eluded me. Plus I’ve moved house more times than I can count.
And this time around, I was coming back to Essex, the place where I finished my secondary school years, before running away to university in North Wales. The last years of my teens involved a number of house moves that resulted in our family home, the place my mother now lives, becoming a place I’ve never actually resided in.
And the last time I lived in Essex I was 22 years old, freshly returned from a spell in the US where I did a sum total of nothing but watching films, keeping a (somewhat depressing) diary, and scribbling poems on random pieces of paper. At the time I was still trying to figure out what life was all about. It took me just a handful of months to move out of Essex again, into a one-bed flat with a friend in east London, each of us paying £250 a month after turning the living room into a ‘second bedroom’.
That was a different time though, when I was young and unsure and looking forward to the poverty-stricken excitement of living in London as a twenty-something. And I desperately wanted to be as far away from Essex as possible, with its slow pace and grey skies; it felt like going backwards, when my life in London was just itching to start.
But today, ten years later and at the ripe old age of you-figure-it-out, it no longer feels like the worst place to be. If anything, staying in Essex, in a family home I’ve never actually lived in before, provides a very apt background to the strangeness of being back.
When referencing home in my mind, I would think of London, of the place as a whole. I thought of the city as my living room, my bedroom, my back garden; where as long as I was a resident of it, I felt like I had roots. But it just doesn’t feel the same as it used to. It hasn’t changed on the surface of things, but I have.
Still slightly jet-lagged, I took the train into London from Essex for the first time, and I got a twinge of excitement at seeing it again, a flash of fond memories and laughter carrying me along on the tube, as well as an over familiarity at its roads and people. And for a brief weekend, it all felt so normal to be there, in the city, it was as if I had never left. And that, for some reason, was depressing.
To feel such a passage of time with everyone, knowing so much about yourself has changed and grown and reshaped, is a thing in itself. But it’s almost like old routines don’t have a place in that experience anymore. So when I got back on the train to Essex, I was suddenly, somehow, very content to be separated from my old life in London. I like that I get to visit it from time to time, but I don’t want to stay there for too long anymore because, well, things are different now.
In conclusion, the first few weeks are about rebalancing yourself and reframing what you know to be home and routine and the person you were before you left versus who you are now. You’re not going to want to do the same things, and sometimes you’re going to feel beside yourself with the grief that comes with being in-between two versions of yourself. Things are going to feel weird and people are going to want you to be as excited as them that you’re back, which is hard. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
Image credit: live in a bubble by Claire Jones from the Noun Project