I left broken and returned grown. My journey home.
I went home today. My real home. SW London. More than that…I went to the flat that I grew up in. The flat where my son took his first breath, and my mum took her last. The walls of that place have seen and felt every emotion I can think of. And I have been in fear of returning to it since the day I left.
When I left my home, I was a broken women in many ways. My mum had died a few months before and the flat…. the one that I had lived in since I was 18 months old…. was taken away from me. A lady turned up a few weeks after my mum died and served me notice. Me … now…the person I am right now…. would have squashed that madness, fought for my home, and stood my ground. But I was broken in the worst way. That may have been the lowest point of my life, the day I was served notice. There is a long old story that goes with the sequence of events that take place from that moment but for the point of this blog…. it’s not important. What is important is that I was forced from my family home in the most brutal way. I had lost so much at that point that I was barley existing. I was broken inside and out.
But more than that…. the area I had grown up in was broken. It was grimy and merkey. And so was I. Bad things were happening in the area. Had been for a long time. I felt scared in the flat a lot of the time. Clapham was dank and dark. Nothing seemed to change, and nothing got better. I couldn’t change or get better. Looking back now I can see how toxic we were for each other.
Me and my ends. Like an abuse relationship that just wont end until someone gets hurt, and I got hurt. Badly.
Everything caused me anxiety in SW London. I didn’t realise that at the time. I was just …anxious…. but actually, it was more than that. So many different traumas resurfaced each day. A simple walk to the shops could trigger something in me. And often did. But I didn’t realise because I was in it. I just thought it is who I am. Until today.
Me and my area were bad for each other at that time. Leaving was the hardest thing. And when I left in October 2008, I said that I would never ever return. Because it would hurt too much. And I never did.
More than that…whilst we are here, I may as well get it all out…I avoided that whole area. I have never ever got a train that goes through Clapham junction since I left. I have added hours onto my journeys to avoid it. Because I knew that just going through would break me. I was on a train once and looked up and realised that we had slowed as we went over Brixton, and I had a panic attack. I both wanted to get off the train and run down to the high street and also be as far away as I physically could. It brought me fear to be near where I grew up. Because I believe that I would have a break down if I ever went back. That I would be flooded with emotions that I would not be able to control and would break. Again. I thought that the pain of my mum not standing at the back door as I walked towards the flat would rip me open again and I would have to heal all over.
I though that it was so bad when we left…gangs…violence…. hate…that when I returned it would be so dangerous that I would fear my won streets. And I could not accept that.
And so, I stayed away.
I dream about “the flat” often. Mostly nightmares. But its where my mum always is. If I dream about the flat, then my mum is part of that dream. Good or bad.
A few years ago, I started talking about going back. One last look. I didn’t really know why, but I was starting to heal from…. everything…and something stirred in me. A need to go home. Not strong enough that I would do it…no way…. but I would spend ages on google maps looking at all the streets that were mine as a teen. I would make up all these scenarios of what it would be like to be outside the flat. It hunted me. I felt like if I didn’t return, I would never heal. So, I made plans many times to go back…. many times. But something always come up…. like…. that time when I was going to go but my alarm didn’t go off…or I could get a babysitter…or it was too cold….to hot
Anything….so I “couldn’t” go. Next summer I would say to myself…have said to myself for years now…. next summer I will go. But I didn’t.
Then, about 18 months ago my son came home after being out all day and said “I went to the flat”
It was like he had said “I went to the moon and sat with Elvis”
I didn’t know what to say. I was so angry that he had put himself in danger from all the mandem around and that he had gone there and not been able to cope and….
That’s not how it went down at all. He started telling me how nice it was. He asked if I wanted to see pictures. Initially I said no. No way. Then …maybe one
Man …I binged on his photos for weeks. He had taken pictures around the area as he walked about. It was…heaven. I knew every little bit of each picture. But …the pictures he had taken of the flat…. I could not hack them. They had the wrong curtains in the window and outside was all wrong. No no no….its not meant to be like that
And that was when I realised, I was not ready to go back. Not yet.
Because I was craving something that no longer existed. My flat. Not THE flat. I was still expecting to see MY flat. And that no longer exists. And that hurt a lot. So…it was not my time.
And here we are today…. the 16/8/21. I am typing this laying in my bed surrounded by my comforts feeling …I don’t know…. I don’t know yet…but it’s a good feeling.
This blog is already 1070 words long. At this point I can honestly say I am writing this for me. So…. if you want to duck out no…no offence taken. Please…go do what you need to do.
Do you want to come home with me…? if so…. Go get a cuppa….and let’s do this together
A lot of things have been happening over the last few months. Too long to go into now, but a lot of change has taken place. In me. A lot of change has taken place in me.
A different mindset. I feel like…me …again. But all that Is for another time…. just know that a sequence of events led to me being in London last night. And I do mean a sequence of events. So last night I interviewed Ice T with Jumping Jack Frost…. yes…. I know…that’s a madness…but that’s for another time. All you need to know is that interview took place late due to the time difference for Ice T in USA which meant I had to be in London on a Sunday late. So…. I would need to stay in London, and my son lives in London. Wandsworth in fact. All this was decided a few days ago…and so I said…this is it…I stay at my sons and then go home. Real home…early in the morning. Go straight to the flat…see if I break…. Leave…That’s all…in and out
So last night….at 2pm on my son’s sofa (they offered me the bed…Gabbie will kill me if I don’t mention that part) I lay there listening to a noise I had not heard for years…. London. I had my alarm set for 7 so laying there at 2 in the morning was not ideal. But I could not stop listening to the noises. Noises and hustle that I had not heard in so long…and have needed. I hardly slept. Like a kid waiting to go on a trip. At one point I thought…that’s it…. I’m just gonna get up and go there now. But it was 4 in the morning and even I know that walking the streets at 4 in the morning….no matter how it has changed…was not a good idea.
My alarm went of at 7 and I just lay there. I was so tired, and I thought…I can’t do it. Na…I’m just gonna go back home.
And that’s when it hit me. On that sofa….7 o’clock this morning. Where is “Home” exactly. Because from the second I stepped out of the train station at St Pancras I felt different. I felt…comfortable. I don’t feel like that in Kent. Ever. I feel like an outsider. Like a kid hanging around a group …. kind of included…but not really. You’re not really one of them. But here …on this sofa…right now…. I felt like me. Anyway…I needed to go and get her……
And so, the journey began. I got ready and me and my son left. He walked out of his block of flats with me…. dressed in his shirt jumper and tie…. clearly at ease with not only his environment but also himself. Something I had not seen in him for a long time. My son…dressed all smart for his government job…The son born on these streets… born on Clapham manor street…. just walking beside me casually taking me to the bus stop as he headed off in the opposite direction for his job. We hugged and he left, and I watched him walk with ease within the crowd. I watched him cross the road, in his own world. Relaxed and set for the day. The boy they told me I could not keep. The one who so many said would not achieve….and here he was…home…living a life I could only dream of at his age.
And that was the first cry. Sitting at the top of the bus, on the way to Clapham junction, crying behind my sunglasses. Because I have obviously done something right if he is holding his own…and well….in the same environment that once broke us all. I stopped crying just before junction and realised I would have to keep my sunglasses on until I found a mirror now.
I got off at Junction and was struck by how different and the same everything was at the same time. The landscape was the same…there was Arding and Hobbs…. there was JD…no wait……that’s a bank now….and off I went, taking in Clapham junction for the first time in a long time. A million memories hitting me at once and halfway down the high street I had a rush of panic. Its too much. SO much. If I turn back now, I can get the train home from Junction. And then I felt it…. a voice…a feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Like a whisper….” what about me” and in my head I said …Ok…I’m coming.
I walked down Junction in a bit of a daze. I had been waiting for this for so long that now I was here I just wanted to curl up and have a little sleep. Years of waiting…hoping….and now here I was…and I was exhausted. At this point I was just walking. Not even really thinking….and then I saw it. I looked up and a smile spread across my face, and I said out loud (by accident) “there you are”. Like someone would see an old friend and say “Jack…how are you…haven’t seen you in ages” with a big smile and a hug. I had that feeling now. “There you are” slipped out my mouth with love. Like I had seen an old forgotten friend. But what I had seen…was Clapham common. The trees…the grass….and I started walking faster…with this big stupid smile on my face sort of muttering to myself….” Oh god…I can’t believe it”. I’m crying as I type this now. Happy tears. Because it felt so good. I was now almost running…and stopped at the traffic lights. It was so busy I could not run across, so I waited…. hoping from foot to foot like a kid who has just seen their parent across the school playground…. itching to go….and then it was green…people started walking….it was like I didn’t know what to do…. like…. for real…I can go….
And I ran…
Like a loon in flip flops
I ran onto the common and just threw my head up to the sky and took a deep breath.
I took of my flip flops and just stood with the grass under my feet. I took off my sunglasses (All vanity gone) and it was electric. Everything looked so green and new and …. home. I just started walking and realised something…. all the trees were the same. I can’t explain what I mean (and this will be a theme so be warned) bit I recognised trees. I had played on this common my whole childhood….my teens…until I was 28. And so, I had trees that were landmarks…and didn’t even realise. Then I saw different things and was running over to things like…. like…. a parent whilst child is saying look…remember this…. look….
I spent ages walking from one place to another, places…spaces….and the whole time that feeling…. of a kid saying…look…oh look at that one….no look at this one…. was becoming stronger.
I stopped even planning where I was going at one point and just went with her. She obviously knew what we needed to see. Like wind…. I could just feel where I needed to go.
Not to the flat
I found myself at the boating pond and I felt like I needed to stop a moment. I sat in the place where I had sat many times. And I realised that I had been walking for 2 hours solid. And that I had passed quite a few places where good memories were and also where bad memories were…. but…. I was able to acknowledge the bad ones and just move on. Not ignore. Not all. But…. We didn’t come to feel that…. she said….
And all of a sudden it was time. I was just sitting at the boating pond, reminiscing and suddenly it was like…right…. it’s time to go to the flat…. come on. I said out loud (I think) “right …ok…. give me a minute” because she had become louder…
And like that I was playing out the scene I had planned in my head for years. I walked down Clapham high street and went into Sainsburys. I found what I was looking for and just stood there. Tears running down my face in the middle of big Sainsburys (Only OGs will know its big Sainsburys). Crying. Like a baby.
Because I had come to get my mums flowers.
Well…. I could not go home and not take her flowers. Because I always get her flowers
And now, at home as I type, I am crying again because it hurts so bad. So so bad. Because I miss her. I miss buying her flowers. I miss her so much.
And then I felt…something…. almost ignoring my tears…yer yer…you can cry……but what bunch as got the most carnations. Her favourite….
I smiled…and I spent ages choosing the right ones. Just a small bunch. Just as she liked. And then I started the walk….to home…I was pleased to see at least KFC was on the corner. Some things will never change.
And that was it. I was on Clapham manor street. I have walked down that street a million times. At every stage of my life until the age of 28. I have walked down it happy, sad, crying, drunk, angry, scared, excited. I have run down it…. rode down it…. driven down it. I have chased people down it…been chased. Had fights on that road. Pushed my babies along it. I have walked with people I loved down it, been in love as I walked down it. This road is my road. It is where the best and the worst thing happened to me and everything in between, and suddenly….it was very real and very scary and then I did cry, A real cry. With snot.
SO, if you were in Clapham manor street today and you saw a woman in a long white skirt…bunch of flowers…. crying with a snot bubble…. that was me…soz.
Then the sun started shining. I kid you not, it had been overcast the entire time and now the sun came through. And it was beautiful. I don’t know what I was expecting. When I left, Clapham manor street was dark and empty. I walked behind my mother’s coffin down that road and remember thinking how grey the road was. Sad.
Not now. Not today. There are flowers everywhere. There are splashes of colour everywhere. Flowers planted around streetlights, flower boxes overflowing. I was truly taken back but how stunning it was. There were people outside pruning flowers and just chatting. I needed to walk to the end of the street, because that’s where the flat is, and I drank in every bit of what I was seeing. I didn’t feel scared…or broken. I felt…. calm. I had played out this scene a thousand times…. I have the flowers…I walk along…I feel anxious and afraid…everything is old and worn down….and then I come to flat and panic. Yep…. had played it out a good few time
But it was nothing like that at all
Until …suddenly…I was there. I had not realised it would be so soon.
And I was outside my flat. The flat. With a bunch of flowers for my mum. And I cried. Not a lot. But I let it hurt for a moment. I know every part of that block of flats. Every inch. I have jumped out of every window of that flat. And climbed in. I have played dolls outside, slept on the grass when I couldn’t get in. My children played here. My pets ae buried here.
I walked up to the front of the block and then pressed the buzzer to my flat. With no thought. No reason. And just stood there. I needed to get into the block. It was like an overwhelming feeling. I had spoken before that if the people that now lived there were ever home, I wondered if they would let me in. I would give so much to stand in that flat. Or so I thought. Because as the buzzer rang, I could see that the new people that lived there now had pictures all over the windowsill and blinds all drawn down and ….it didn’t feel like my flat. I didn’t need to get in, But I did need to get in the block. No one answered my buzzer, so I pressed trade…and it opened.
I was like a kid who had broken into a sweet shop. I pulled the door and it opened and I just stood there, block door open and took it all in. This…. this is what I was looking for…. Had been looking for…for so long. I walked in and just stopped and looked at the second set of doors of the block. They are the same doors when I was a kid. I have slammed those doors a hundred times. “Don’t bloody slam the block doors” I can almost hear my mum shout. I went through and was now standing outside my front door. My old front door. I hardly ever used that door as we always had the back door open. It was warm in the blook. I knew that warmth. I had felt that heat in the summer in that block a lifetime. And then I walked up to the top of the block without even thinking about it, running my hands over the railings that I had held on for years. I just stood at the top of the block and looked out of the windows and took in the scene……and then I took off my shoes and walked to the bottom of the block again. Slowly. Feeling the cool on my feet. The smooth. I knew that feeling. I had run up and down these block stairs my whole life with no shoes. I knew that if I ran now, it would make a spanking sound. I slowed as I got the last little flight down and took a breath….and walked to the bottom step…. well… second from bottom…I am taller now….and I sat. I sat on the stairs outside my old front door like I had done a thousand times. I would sit here when they rowed. When she was mad at me. When I needed to think up a lie to tell her. I sat here when I didn’t want to go home but needed to be near in case, she needed me. I have sat here and cried many tears. This is where I sit to ground myself. And I had forgotten all about it.
And then we sat together, she and I. Me and her. Like I knew I needed to. I sat in silence for a good while. Whilst we made peace. Whilst we cried. Whilst we remembered how hard it was to live here. Yes…so much love…but so much pain. Too much. We agreed that whilst we will always respect this place and will now often visit, and lay flowers for mum, we don’t need to stay here anymore. She needed to come with me now.
Then I said out loud but ….in like a broken whisper
“Come on, you don’t live here anymore”
And we had our last cry. Me and Blondy. Because even though I had lost her and then found her over the past 18 months and realised that the little girl in me was not to blame for all that…. I didn’t trust her enough to come home. I didn’t believe in that inner child enough to set her free.
I sat on those stairs today and …. if you can picture it as I did…. I sat there as me…next to her…and she was very angry and sad. She wondered why I had left her here. Why she had to stay here. Not even in the Flat. Just sitting outside. And I had to explain that it was my way of coping. That the hurt was so bad that I punished her. Rejected her. And that I was sorry.
I ran my hand over the wall as I thought about all of this. Something I always did as a kid but did not remember until today. As I absentmindedly ran my hand over the wall, I was suddenly aware of the bumps. I should have taken a picture…but the bottom part of the wall is like stones have been painted over. I did not remember this at all until I touched it today, and then it was like electricity ran through me. I remembered the sensation so well. Sitting there as a kid, running my hand over the cool wall, liking the way the bumps felt. Sometimes it was freezing in the block. Sometimes there would be rain bashing against the block windows. Sometime the steps were wet and dirty. It didn’t matter because I was safe there. Over and over, I would rub my hand as I worked out what ever problem I had come to the steps with that day. And her I was now, 41 years of age, using the same stemming method to calm myself. And this made me smile, that simple touch took me back and I could have kissed that wall because I have never felt more at home as I did in that second on those steps running my hand across the wall that has calmed me trough many things, And I am grateful I had that space.
When I got up from the steps today and I can hand on heart say I felt different. If you had said all of this to me last week I would have just nodded and thought…. alright mate…. yup…that’s what I need to do. Go sit on my old stairs…that’s gonna resolve a lot.
But I got up and …. I was not broken. I was the opposite of broken. It was time for me to leave. I would be back…but never like this. This time I was leaving whole and would return as a visitor the next time…like someone who visits a museum and just looks and nods at the history around them, not searching for comfort and security. I had returned to the battle ground. Where IT had all happened. But there were no dead bodies or horrid scenes I needed to turn away from. Just ghost of the past that didn’t want to hurt anyone.
It was time to leave.
I put my hand on the front door and kissed my fingers and touched the A that has been there a lifetime. Because I love the essence of what this place used to mean to me. But we don’t want to be there anymore. Only visit. Not live. And I walked out the backdoor whole. With my girl. And suddenly I realised that I had left a piece of paper that I had brought with me on the stairs. So, I rushed back round to the front and pushed the trades button again and went to pull and across the screen it said, “access denied”. I pushed and pulled again and once again it said, “access denied”. At first that wave of panic came over me…I couldn’t get in…. And then I smiled. Because that’s the truth. I can’t just walk in that block when I feel like anymore. I don’t live there. That’s not my home.
I spent the journey home (Well, where I live) in a bit of a daze, looking at all the photos I had taken, trying to process what had just happened.
Trauma is a powerful thing, and I don’t believe that enough research is done around the impact of this. The lack of education that people receive around trauma means that thousands of people go through life trying to navigate things that they can’t. A lifetime of anxiety and fear, worrying …scared. My mum lived a life of unresolved trauma. Too scared to go to certain places because of the feelings it provoked. She often spoke in a child like voice when she was very unwell, and I honestly thought she was mad. I now understand she was trying to communicate her trauma. Tell someone whatever it was that she could not as a child. Sadly…. the only person she felt safe enough to do that was with me….and I was only a baby myself. My mum never meant to transfer her trauma to me, but she did. She didn’t understand what had happened to her over so many years and so lived in a constant state of fear. She died at 59 and spent 50 of those years scared. So scared that when things become too much she would resort to speaking like a baby. Her inner child fighting to ley the world know she was not ok.
In turn, I then had my own trauma. Some from my parents some from other sources. And I blamed myself for most of it. SO, when I moved away, I just stopped talking about a lot of stuff. The past, The bad stuff. Just up and leave all that pain behind. That will work. Wont it….
I don’t actually believe I went and got a little girl today; this is just my way of talking to you about my trauma.
But I did make peace today. I sat on the stairs which I now know was my only safe space growing up and I sat with the angry side of me. The side that was frustrated of having to look after everyone all the time. When did I get to play??? When do I get to just be a teenager?? When did I get to just be myself???? Who keeps me safe?????
I listened. For the first time ever, I listened instead of trying to drown out those thoughts and feelings. I allowed myself to be angry on the stairs with no guilt. I acknowledged the rejection I have always felt and that it was not OK for a little girl to sit on these stairs and cry. I listened that whilst the flat feels like home, it does not feel safe, it never did. It was just…just…. all we had. Like grabbing a sharp knife off someone and wondering why it cuts your hand.
I noted how small the flat was, now looking with adult eyes. I may have left aged 28 but I was still a child then. Inside I was still operating like a kid. In fact, I think I only grew up quite recently. I acknowledge that it must have been so hard for my mum to sit in these walls and just worry. No money…where was I…what would she do. I acknowledge that the flat has a heaviness to it that will never go away. And that’s OK.
I always thought …for 13 years……that I would walk away from the flat after my visit and feel empty. Like loosing my mum all over again.
But I don’t. Because she is not there. She is…I don’t know…. somewhere, I guess. But she is not there. I will visit that flat often from now on, like someone would visit a grave. Because that is what the flat is to me, like a grave site of so many things, And I will always bring flowers for my mum. Because I loved getting her flowers so much.
But that’s it.
Because home is in me. I may come back and live in Clapham. It feels so comfy and warm now. But I might not. Who knows?
Sometimes you have no choice but to leave. It becomes so toxic that it destroys the both of you. That can be a relationship, friendship or even a whole postcode. And sometimes, once you have both matured and grown, you can come back together. Not in the same way, it could never be the same. But different…different can work. It does not have to be a goodbye for ever…just a see you later…that’s me and SW London. We had to break up. We were destroying each other. But…. I think we might be ready to try again now.
I reclaimed my trauma today. I’m not scared of SW London anymore. I can go back whenever I want. I can go through Clapham junction
I can move on
Not without her, With her. Because once I left her, because I had to…. I needed to grow up. I returned to the ends a woman today. And I will never leave her again. I left broken and returned grown.
(P.S. My phone says I did 21, 228 steps today so I won’t be walking for a few days)