Wednesday, March 2, 2016

So Long, Farewell

I thought I’d be crying. 

This time last week, I was on a bus in New York heading to JFK airport to catch a flight back to the UK, where I was selling my house of the past nine years. I was fine until I arrived in the UK and caught the train home.
Home. Soon, it wouldn’t be that at all - not for me, anyway. Other people, new paint, different pitched voices would soon inhabit it: a space transformed in one swift movement handing over a set of keys. So long, Farewell, as the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music sang.
I started crying at Newport. Twelve minutes before the train was due at Cardiff Central, I phoned my friend Mary and sobbed. I was dreading arriving at my house in Llandaff and seeing the SOLD notice outside it for the first time. And I was dreading putting the key in the lock and seeing over five decades of life getting ready to say goodbye.
So much stuff. Where to begin? Top to bottom? Kitchen to attic? Hide under a pillow in my bedroom on the middle floor and just hope that it would all go away without my having to lift a finger?
I’m now on my fifth day back and it hasn’t been anywhere near as painful as I had imagined. The first strangers through the door on Sunday morning bought some garden furniture, clothes and a vase; the afternoon, a couple of light fittings went; yesterday, four pieces of furniture.
I’ll be honest – and I really mean this: I’m loving it. There is no feeling of loss, just one of incredible gratefulness that I have been able to live a life that is filled with so much happiness – people, travel, experiences that so many could only dream of. Yes, much of it has come at a price, and a heavy financial one that I have documented elsewhere; but far from a feeling of emptiness, I feel, for the first time in years, a sense of overwhelming richness. I have always said how blessed I am in my family and friends and, almost everything I pick up carries a memory that has had me laughing so much. There is sadness among the possessions, too, but that is just the nature of the lives we all lead.

Mainly, it's a garnering the evidence of a live well lived.
Today, I found an invitation to my 40th birthday (17 years ago, ye gods), hand-written by my mother, to Auntie Muriel and Uncle Les, who were our next door neighbours when we moved from Cardiff to Newport in 1962 when I was four. My first party had been in London for my close friends, and Mum organised this one in Bristol, where she lived, for people who had been a big part of my life when I was growing up.
I remained close to Auntie Mew (as I called her) and Uncle Les until they both died. Living in 2 Farmwood Close, I was friends with her youngest son, Tim, who was older and very adventurous. He had a guitar he made out of one long piece of wood attached to a square piece. He attached nails to the wood, hooked them up with elastic bands, and sang Beatles songs. When he made me own guitar, we formed a band. Well, a duo. We were great.
I was always keen on music, as poor Auntie Mew found one Saturday afternoon when Mum went to town with Dad and left me (eight) and my brother, three years younger, in the house (in the days when children could be left with a neighbour listening through the wall). I raided my parents’ record collection and decided that I would learn the songs in The Sound of Music, which I had seen with Mum, Dad and Nigel three years before, during the traumatic holiday when Nigel had managed to get hold of a bottle of Junior Aspirin (that story’s longer than the movie). 
By the time Mum and Dad returned from town, Auntie Mew wasn’t just listening through the walls, she was climbing them. I had played the soundtrack eight times and, worse, been singing along. In subsequent years, we laughed about it every time I saw her.
I remember so much from that house: Diane, whose birthday (October 31st – I have a phenomenal memory) I loved because her mother put tiny silver baubles on her cake; the smell of creosote on the fence Dad built at the side of the house; the rose bush planted in memory of his father that moved with us to Bridgend when I was 11; being carried home from school with glandular fever and Mum answering the door, hysterical.
I’ve been crying today, but not in a sad way. 

Auntie Mew replied to the birthday invitation in a poem, and these lines particularly struck me: “I watched this little being/So serious in her play/And smile when I remember/She carried her treasures around on a tray.”
I smile so much at that because, in addition to The Sound of Music horror, she always reminded me how I used to carry my things around with me. 

Was that the need for security? The tray that served as my comfort blanket? Was it fear of loss, known but not articulated at such a young age? 

Am I now, at 57, still clinging to my  treasures on my tray? Or, am I finally learning to let go?
So long. Farewell.


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