Nina and I are in the city I lived in for 5 years from the age of 18. I came here to do my undergraduate degree and stayed working here for a couple of years afterwards. This is the city I lived in when I was pregnant with her, the city I reluctantly left to go and live back home with my Dad, 250 miles away, just before she was born, the city I sobbed my heart out to leave as I drove away from my three best friends who had come to help me pack up my car and say goodbye. I still remember watching them disappear from sight in my rear view mirror as they waved me off on my new adventure. Even though I was beyond excited about the fact I was about to meet my daughter and become a mother, leaving my life and friends here behind was very painful and I cried for at least the first 40 miles of the long drive back to the city I spent the first 18 years of my life in.
I’ve not been here for more than 6 years. Last time I was not in a good place in life – it was before I properly started my healing journey in September 2012 and I was struggling with CFS and fibromyalgia, things that used to dominate my life whereas they rarely bother me now, not to the extent they used to at least. Nina spent a night with friends by herself and I basically slept the whole 24 hours. So much has changed since then and being here now I feel so drawn to this place. It is a feeling I cannot put into words, it’s like a homecoming I suppose.
I feel free here in a way I don’t feel anywhere else, especially not in my home city where the ghosts of my past and the ever-present spectre of my estranged mother lurk on every corner. I remember in the September before I fell pregnant, when I was 22, walking home from having coffee in this city with a friend and feeling a deep sense of peace and contentment engulf me. I was unwell with chronic head pain and huge levels of emotional distress, but I still felt good that day. I remember writing later how I had found myself in this city, a huge thing given that my early years involved being engulfed by a narcissistic mother and never being allowed to develop a sense of self at all. It was the first place I was free to become myself; I grew so much here, through the good and bad. I had a solid group of friends around me and I felt very loved. I wanted everything and everyone to stay the same forever. My second suicide attempt came the night that my housemate told me she was leaving the city – everyone was drifting away, to London and other places and the changes were too much for me. Until 6 months later I became pregnant and it was my turn to change and move away, leaving behind this place that has clearly played such a huge but till-now invisible part in my healing journey.
Everywhere I’ve walked the past two days memories have tugged at me, drawing me in and pulling me back. I can feel my mind whirring to make sense of how I was and what I was doing at different times, how it fits with who I was and how I’ve grown to become the person I am now. I wasn’t always happy here, far from it, but most of the memories are of laughter and dancing, love, joy, hope, and the making of beautiful friendships.
I found myself here, away from my parents and their expectations, away from the trauma and alcohol abuse and sexual escapades that line the streets of my hometown. I remember in my first few weeks here, age 18, taking a train to a nearby town for the evening to meet some friends from home who now lived near here and realising that no one but me knew where I was going. It was an exhilarating feeling, one I’m sure many 18 year olds experience but especially poignant for someone who grew up under the watchful omnipresence of a narcissistic mother.
I wasn’t expecting to love being here so much. It feels new and yet so familiar. It has been lovely rediscovering the city and showing Nina the different places I lived and where I used to go. At the moment she is swimming in the pool I swam in 3 times a week when I was pregnant. It has been wonderful wandering around a place I know so well with fresh eyes, a more solid and integrated version of myself than I’ve ever been. I would love to live here again. I still have friends here and it is near London where many of my other friends live too. There is also an institution here which would be much better for my work than where I am now. I can’t see myself moving anytime soon, but if a job comes up I will consider it, if it’s a good time to move Nina. It is a one-day dream – I will definitely move away from the city I live in now when Nina is 18, if not before. Here feels like home so I would love it to be here. Despite all the illness and pain and really awful times I experienced here, my heart and soul feel settled and at peace here. These few days will be held in my heart forever – a whisper of what was and a hope for what may one day come to be.