Own two feet


HOMEWARD BOUND

I get lost in my mind a lot. Like many other minds, it’s a complex mess stuffed full of secrets and stairwells and bright lights and nights that can reach into the days.

I pretend I have control of it most of the time, but there are days and times when I am just a passenger. It is easy to lose myself and to lose the world around me. I think we all need to lose ourselves from time to time though, so we can find ourselves again, if only for a moment.

I lost myself getting onto the tube at Goodge Street station near to where I work. I wandered off in my mind and by the time I found my way back the train was pulling into Barnes. The change at Waterloo from tube to train escaped me. The hanging clock on the platform told me I was two hours early for a meeting at Roehampton University.

I started walking, slipping once again into automatic pilot and instead of heading for the university, I found myself cutting through Barnes Common and heading for the estate I grew up on before I went into care.

As I got closer my mind spilled screams from summers a long time ago. Water fell from balconies in balloons and tiny hands squeezed blasts of water out of old fairy bottles. I pushed away the stillborn dreams and broken promises. Sometimes the past needs to be pruned if you want to carry it a long way.

I crossed the Upper Richmond Road and my old tower block cut into sight. More memories. Racing our BMXs, bunny hops and wheelies. Cutting the bark of trees with our flick knives and the football kicked about deep into the night. As I walked up the newly paved curly hill I felt the pain only the past can inflict. The echo of lost time and a boy’s life that was once mine, but feels like a stranger’s. This was my home….at least I think it was.

I wandered the estate for a long time. We had both changed. The pit where I played football was gone. It had been filled in and paved over. The new bushes and trees that have been scattered around the place looked like refugees. The brightly painted metal railings and empty playgrounds looked like cheap make-up on a worn out face. This was not the place I remember.

Not so long ago, my mum finally moved off the estate, at least physically. She had stayed longer then she should have in the hope her daughter, a sister I have never met, would find her waiting. ‘Do you think she will come looking?’ my mum sometimes asks me. ‘I  have so much I want to say’.  But she has not come looking yet. I wonder what my mum would say.

Growing up in care often makes it hard to put down lasting roots. We hold onto the old roots, no matter how damaged they may be, because they are ours. Sometimes we have to change the story of those old roots. We forget what we need to and remember what we want to. But although our history is important, it is what makes us, it is also important to be able to say goodbye to parts of the past to make room for the future and for the laying of new roots.

Before I left the estate I went by the off-licence. ‘Hi John, this is surprise, how have you been keeping?’ Ali the shop owner was still there. A little older, a little heavier and more smiley. ‘I’m really well’ I replied.
‘And how’s mum?’
‘She’s really good’ I said, hoping I was right.

The estate faded as I headed off to my meeting. Fab lolly in hand, I thought of my girlfriend and my son and the home we are always making together. The bricks come from every place I have ever been, but we’re building something new, and this construction never ends.

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