I lost it.
Most of the time, I deal with the idea of selling up pretty well. It’s a practical decision, as well as a financial one, given that I spend most of my time in the States. I’m resigned to leaving my house, as I really enjoy the simplicity of living in a much smaller place in New York that has 24/7 security and fantastic views over the Hudson, where the exquisite sunsets can move you to tears.
And I have a life that is rich with friendship, music and literature, in addition to restaurants and bars where a single woman of my age is not treated as a social leper. I’ve even learnt to speak American – and it’s a lot harder than you think; certainly more difficult than French.
But yesterday, I cracked. Attending the 90th birthday party of my friend’s mother, I met up with so many people who were in my life over 30 years ago during my ballroom dancing years as an adult (I had been a competition dancer as a child, too). I was sitting at a table with Paula Goodyear, whose Bath dancing school was the centre of my social life when I lived in the city.
I remembered the smell of polish at the top of the stairs, which was when you first heard the music from the ballroom. I recalled Boxing Day mornings, which were the highlight of my Christmas. A trip to Antwerp, when the bus had to stop every half hour so that I could empty my tiny bladder, an event that earned me the nickname “Taffy Leak” from Paula’s mother.
I was sitting next to my mother, who is nowhere near 90, but the day inevitably made me think about aging and the inevitability of losing the people we love. When the waiters who had been serving us transformed into a musical singing duet, I went. Completely. Show tunes just do it for me. They transform me to a world in which raw emotion is everything – the here and now, and I am always lost in the occasion whenever I listen to a musical.
I don’t have quite the same experience watching some of them. I love Blood Brothers, but when I saw it in London’s West End, the key scene was ruined when one of the brothers pulled a gun, and a strong Welsh accent from behind me, said, way too loudly: “Ooh, God, ’e’s about to shoot ’im!”
But you can’t beat a good show tune. Yesterday, what set me off was This is the Moment. I love it. I sing it. I think I’ve heard every recording of it ever made . . . in fact, I just took a little break from writing this to listen to another glorious Michael Ball version.
My tears started. Plop. Plop. Plop. They wouldn’t stop. My mother held my hand and my tears plopped even more. They stopped only when the duet went into Time to Say Goodbye, during which my tears turned to hysterical laughter (it’s a thin line between the two), as I felt it a tad inappropriate for a 90th birthday.
Anyway, I recovered enough to get everyone up dancing, and a thoroughly good afternoon was had by all.
Reality is starting to hit home (or should that be away from home?) now. Travelling back from London to Cardiff this week, I realised that this was the last time I would be taking the journey with no permanent residence awaiting me at the other end. I even went to see a Cardiff Bay apartment I thought I might like to rent, to alleviate, or at least sideline, the emotions I suspect I will feel on the day of completion. I decided against it and returned to packing boxes. I will, however, have to take a storage unit for my personal effects and a small amount of furniture I want to keep in case I need a UK base at some point.
This means that by the end of the month, I will have storage units in Cardiff and Los Angeles, although I will be living in New York. Yes, I know it sounds daft, but storage is cheaper than renting another place. There is stuff I just can’t bear to part with – so many memories that are part of who I am.
Who knows, I might need those reminders in advancing years, when there is a nurse shouting at me in the Last Home Saloon: “What’s a book?”
So I’m thinking of my new life as Storage With Benefits: it serves a purpose because I know it’s always there, should I need it.
They are units that house millions of moments of times gone by, all of them special and meaningful in their individual ways. Memory boxes.
But still I must look forward and focus on so much that is promised in the future.
Maybe this is the moment.
And maybe that, too, was why my tears fell.