It has been one year. One year since the day that started in England and ended in Toronto, Canada. One year since I woke up in a hotel room in a gigantic shared bed with my sister and fell asleep alone on a mattress in the middle of an empty room in a place I didn’t know. It was the only furniture I had.
I found the apartment a little under a month before. Will and I had broken up and he had left the country for a few weeks leaving me to get myself out. Pack it all up and leave. We had lived together for almost four years, and over two in the basement under a Starbucks on a busy Toronto street. Our first home together was over 3,000 miles away. A studio apartment in an only slightly dodgy area of London. It had a wall that separated a bedroom the size of a Queen mattress from a kitchen and living room with no space for an oven or a table. The London real estate dream.
Our Toronto apartment, albeit dark, was much bigger. I loved it because it was where we had made our home, but I missed the light. This time I wanted light. I was a seedling ready to grow and I needed it.
I was making one of the scariest decisions of my life, ending a six year relationship at the age of 29 and going it alone, so it seemed important to me to live alone too. I was sad. I was worse than sad. I couldn’t deal with having to fake a smile over my cornflakes in a shared apartment with people I didn’t know, knowing full well they had heard me screeching and crying into my pillow the night before. “Yep, I’m great thanks Jenny, how are you? Amazing. Have a good day at work! Ha, yeah, see you later !” End scene.
The small talk. The sterility. No. I had to get through this alone.
You had gone and I had planned to take up your spot in England when you got back. A cross over. Five and a bit weeks without seeing each other. Time. Space. But I knew I had little time to find my own space so I spent a cold Saturday traversing the West End of the city looking for a place to call my own. With a heavy heart and a painfully light bank balance, I was prepared to settle. But then I found my new home.
It was still a basement, but it’s only half sunken and the bedroom has a huge window looking out into street. Light. I’ve spent Saturdays and Sundays laying in bed reading in the light and thanking my lucky stars to be alive and in the sunshine. There is also a little living room for entertaining around the corner from a small kitchen and a dining space as well as a little bathroom with a bath and shower. Perfect for just me, and just me was going to be perfect, wasn’t it? I’ve always had hope.
It was more than I could afford, it still is, but the sacrifice for my own space seemed worth it. I’m lucky that I review restaurants as one of my many invaluable side hustles so I assumed I would just about still be able to eat and live and laugh, even though at that point in February 2018 laughter seemed as distant to me as Jupiter.
So I got it. I had a move in date. A move in date that coincided with my return date to Toronto. What now? Momentum has always been something I am excellent at summoning up but I find the bit afterwards, after the propulsion, after the flinging, after the landing…the bit when it’s over and you have to sit still…that bit…that is the bit I find difficult. My mum always says I can’t sit still. She is right.
I had been in England escaping my problems and crying into different pillows for over three weeks and it was time to come home, time to move out and time to move in. And time to move on. All in one day.
My last night in London was a grand affair. We had been celebrating my mum’s 60th Birthday with a trip to the capital. We had been on a pilgrimage up The Shard. We drank a glass of champagne in a white out as snow fell over the skyline. 3000 miles for more snow. When the clouds finally shifted the view was breathtaking. It’s a hard feeling to describe. Looking over your old city, a place you lived for 8 years but is now mythical to you except in the one or two days a year you see it in the flesh… It’s a feeling that to me moves from the legs, to the gut, to the fingers. Make of that what you will.
We had had a three course dinner and had been to see the Lion King on stage. When it was over, Julia and I climbed into our shared hotel bed like we were kids again and giggled until we fell asleep. But the next morning came and I had to go. Fuck. Please not yet.
We had breakfast at a Wetherspoons in Gatwick airport and mum tried not to seem too concerned that my day was going to involve a 8hour flight, a final goodbye with my ex boyfriend and a night alone in a new house. Her performance was unconvincing. “Do you have to do this all in one day, Bex? Couldn’t you stay with Ruth tonight.” I could but I wouldn’t. Momentum, remember. I was full speed out the final chapter and into my new book that I hadn’t thought too much about what that new first page would feel like.
God I hate the security gate. The point of no return. I had never cried in front of them when leaving before. I’d always saved it for a private moment in the toilets but on this day I wept. Despite all my best momentum I knew deep down I didn’t want to go. My family, the people I love stood here in front of me in England, in safety and security, and my life lay in tatters in Canada. Why would I want to go back? But I had to and my time was up and I wiped my eyes and I got through it. Just. I was that girl crying shoeless at the security conveyer belt. “MISS, coat OFF please.”
Okay, just give me a break.
I was still crying when I had my shoes back on and my bag rezipped. Ugly crying, no less. This had to stop. I checked the last of my UK bank balance. £18.50. That would do. I found the champagne bar. The one only 50 year old business men drink at, the one with oysters on the counter and drinks placed on napkins. With all the grace I could muster, I sat down on a high stool. I was the only woman in sight. I ordered a £14 glass of pink Möet. Cheers to me. Cheers to this shit show. Cheers to the end and the beginning all in one day. Cheers to facing up to the chaos. Cheers to 3000 miles and no sleep and no legroom and big cases and…..after a while I had run out of things to cheers so just watched the bubbles rise and fall to try and distract myself from the pit growing in my chest. My flight was boarding so I downed the last gulp. Cheers to time being up. Cheers to the moment being now. Cheers to movement. Cheers to momentum.
It’s weird, the only thing I remember about the flight was the take off and the landing. The middle is a jumble of phone notes and action plans. The beginning and the end were calm, though. The aerial views of my two different homes. One ebbing away for yet another day, and the other coming into view and settling back into reality. Toronto feels like my home now. As the plane landed with barely a bump, I knew I had to get back to it.
Bus, subway, bus. One day I’ll be rich I’m sure but for now, inconvenient travel is the only way I do it. The stretch between my house, my old house, and the bus stop was eternal and tragic. I didn’t even need to put my keys into the lock, you heard me coming and opened the door. I’ll never forget the smell of that home, or of you in it. We’d seen each other for one hour at London Liverpool Street Station in our cross over and here you were opening the door to our home for me for the last time, biting your lip the way you do.
Things had changed inside. All of the things I had packed three weeks before were now neatly stacked in a corner. You had bought a new sofa and some houseplants and a rug. You offered me a cup of tea. We drank together in tears.
You left because you said you couldn’t watch. I couldn’t either. Ruth came and together we took my cases to my empty new home. It was late. It had been a long day. She helped me unbox my new mattress and made my bed up for me. A mattress and a lamp. That was all I had that first night.
There is so much to be said about the next day, the next week, the next few months and I am sure I’ll get to saying it. Not least because the next day was when I had to see you, the other you, again. Our relationship was something else. A storm waiting to rage I guess?
My friends helped me unpack and build my new furniture. We ate pizza on plates made of Ikea instructions. When I had a table I started to invite people round. At Easter I held a lunch for 16 people and as the months went on this house has seen so much laughter and joy and love. I may be the sole resident but my visitors have been constant and welcome. We’ve sat outside in the sun, we’ve watched movies on my bed, we’ve drank cocktails in my lounge. I’ve had parties, I’ve spilled drinks, I’ve broken plates. I’ve lived. Here.
Sometimes I get home after a few drinks and I feel the warmth of my house as I open the door. Like actually coming from the walls. I know that it may sound absolutely insane but I actually think that my house LOVES me as much as I love it. I feel happy and safe here, when on that first night I wasn’t sure if those were things I would feel again.
Yes, I’ve had sad times too. I’ve cried in just about every spot there is to cry in. I’ve cried in my shower the most. On New Years Day I cried on the floor of the kitchen while holding a mop in one hand and my face in the other. It isn’t always easy. But it always gets better. And living here has seen me be better and do better.
Tonight I am holding a dinner party for those who have been on the front line for me this year. The people who have helped me build my furniture, scrabbled together miss-matching chairs so we can all eat together at my table, the people who have all involuntarily shouted “oooh” as we popped another bottle of Prosecco. I want to thank them and these four walls for being here. Thank you friends, and thank you house. Happy one year anniversary!