With my return to the UK less than one month away I’m thinking a lot about what I left behind. ‘Not much’ would be the simple answer because I sold what I could, gave away a lot and the few things dearest to me got shoved in cardboard boxes to gather dust in my mothers’ loft.
I vividly remember the day I packed up my one bedroom, ground floor council flat in West Gorton, Manchester. Those walls, with their textured wallpaper, had witnessed a lot. They’d seen me arrive at rock bottom with nothing but a suitcase and a mental health problem, joined me in my marijuana and tea addiction, heard my crying at my most desperate hour, been my comfort as well as my prison, and seen me emerge at the other side of it all as an almost-functioning human being with £5,000 and a ticket to Australia in her back pocket. I took a paintbrush, dipped it into a tin of leftover magenta paint and wrote “I ❤ West Gorton” on the wall. Did I ‘heart’ West Gorton? I don’t know, but I certainly felt an attachment to the place for whatever reason. The feeling of closing the door for the last time sat heavy in my chest. It seemed rather fitting that the council would arrive in the next few days, board up the windows and doors and tick it off on the list of properties ready for demolition. Buildings absorb feelings and I think it’s best that what I felt in there, stay in there. I was tempted to get rid of everything I owned, all of it. But instead I carefully selected what I wanted to carry forward in my life and what I wanted to leave behind.
My mum and I cried as we drove the motorway back to Hull.
I can’t quite remember what I decided to keep up there in the loft. A selection of 1970’s kitchenware including a fairly decent selection of Hornsea Pottery; Oranges, creams and browns in geometric patterns. A mirror with a tarnished ornate frame and speckled glass that has been directed towards the rubbish-tip by several members of my family, much to my disapproval. A diary that I’m scared to revisit. An oversized pink corduroy sofa with huge cushions – the comfiest sofa in the world. The jacket I handed to my mum in Hull Paragon Station as I waved goodbye, 2 years and 4 months ago. A half used bottle of perfume because I was convinced I wouldn’t be away that long and thought I’d leave it to come back to. Jewellery. Boxes of letters and photographs and gig tickets and, stuff. I wonder how thick the layer of dust is on top of it all – what exactly does 2 years and 4 months worth of dust look like?
I wonder if these belongings will still feel like mine. Will I sink into the sofa like I only left it yesterday? Will the weight and shape of my favourite mug still feel just right? I’ve changed so much it’s hard to imagine that everything will feel like it did all of that time ago. In fact, I imagine it’s going to feel like rooting through the belongings of an old relative that has passed away, uncovering old treasures that hold vague, sepia stained memories of years ago.
It’s been a relief not having surplus belongings, just carrying around what I need. A self confessed hoarder, I think I needed to make a break from having excessive ‘stuff’. Although saying that, my journal is stuffed with token souvenirs; whatever I could fit between pages and under the front sleeve – postcards, train tickets, plane tickets, letters from home, coins, stamps, wristbands, photographs, beermats, stickers. When I get home I’ll box them up and shift them from loft to loft and discover them in years to come when I arrive back from Vietnam or Canada or India or Wherever.
I need these dust covered cardboard boxes of ‘stuff’. I don’t need them all of the time, I don’t need to carry them with me, but I need to re-visit them every now and then. I need to check-in. See how I’ve changed. See what’s the same. I need to choose what I’m carrying forward and what I’m leaving behind.