Leanne Brown

Moving Out

I slept on the living room sofa, just as I had the first night I moved in, under different circumstances and far less Gordon’s gin. Perhaps if I cling to the furniture, embedding myself into it, I won’t have to leave.

My other housemates vacated the day after our graduation. Not me, prolonging my return home is essential. The large plastic boxes scattering the house were only filled this morning, now stacked by the front door. Accompanying them is another box, similar to in size but destined not for my childhood bedroom but a charity shop. Unused notebooks, jumpers, tea cups and books I once had great plans for all left behind.

Is this what growing up is? Leaving things behind over and over and over again? Is this the end of my childhood? I feel that I often ask that question, almost searching for the end of my childhood like it was a missing sock. Is it here? Or here? I first thought it was the last time I saw my father on my thirtieth birthday but then I went to Disneyland and I pondered the on journey home if I was simply to old to enjoy my childhood. Graduating secondary school only added more confusion to the existential question.

Crumpled between boxes and deflated, I rest my head between my knees. Everything I own is reduced to boxes. The inexplicable urge to just run away; pack childhood toys and old photographs and to never return home sneaks upon me. I can picture it so clearly. It would hurt my family irrevocably. I think I was sixteen when I first felt that way. In a village where even the bus drivers knew my mother, it would be impossible. I cannot run from my life.

Pulling me out of my longing is the doorbell. For a moment, I leave it but the buzz of my phone gets me up. My mother is a real person with flaws it turns out, much to the surprise of younger me. The façade of perfection that cloaked her through my childhood has long shrivelled.

My biggest critic no longer tucks me into bed and makes me sandwiches, instead finding fault in every aspect of my life. Yet she was on time.

I think my mother loved me most when I was twelve and tame. My teachers promised I was a joy to have in class, eager to learn and never answering back. Now I stand before her, with a first-class degree framed on my wall and bleached hair and uneven eyeliner, smelling of cigarettes and disappointment, knowing she only sees the latter.

“Are you all packed?” she asks at the door, a stray finger brushing over my uneven fringe as a silent criticism for what a terrible hairdresser I am.

I shrug. “One box left.”

Two boxes, actually. I haven’t packed the rest of the kitchen.

“You make tea. I’ll pack.” The authority of my mother is rather like a jumper that I have outgrown and am too big for. Still, I boil the kettle and fill the two mugs I left out.

Tea spills as I make my way up the stairs. Another stain of my existence that I was sure would be removed. Would the house miss me?

“You haven’t taken it down yet.” My mother points to my degree certificate, her tone unreadable.

I shrug. A defence ready on my lips.

“Maybe we’ll find a nice spot for it in the living room?”

It’s my degree. I should be able to frame it where I want. If I say that, I’ll get a reminder of who paid for my degree.

With tender fingers, she unhooks it from the wall and examines it. Her nod of approval before she slides it in the box doesn’t sit well with me. She never went to university, she was destined for young motherhood and crushed dreams.

“What if I don’t move home?” I ask, clutching the nearest box.

“Do you want to?” my mother replies. I look down and listen to the dust particles settling in the silence between us.

I can’t afford to not move home, yet there is a hefty hesitation. It feels like failure. What waits for me? Two crumbling pubs, a corner shop and a graffiti-stained park. A mile of cottages and council estates. In a village where my childhood doesn’t exist anymore, there is evidence of it everywhere. It’s almost cruel. The nostalgia of it always overwhelms me.

An hour passes with the occasional acknowledgement that a box is full and needs to be loaded into the car.

Bleach and carpet cleaner scratch my nose as I pad through the house, checking one last time. The fridge still hums, as it always has. I place my keys on the table as instructed.

Maybe there is still a stray strand of hair from when I gave myself a fringe hidden in the cracked bathroom sink. The spot of maroon on the hallway floor where Lidl’s cheapest wine had splashed. Blu-tacked walls dented with peeled paint from my photos. How could those things simply not belong to me anymore? The walls would be repainted, the carpets scrubbed and I would simply have never been there.

“Goodbye home,” I whisper, patting the wall.

Moving away from my childhood has made me sentimental, I think. Saying goodbye for the final time to people is no simple matter, it’s a whole declaration of love for the weight they have held in my life, condensed into an everlasting hug. There is something terribly lonely about it.

The promise to meet up with my housemates is fresh on my mind but adult lives are busy, complicated things that are hard to schedule. I now live across the hall from a bathroom in my childhood home, not from people I had grown to love. Despite the reassurances to see some friends again, I know I never will. Life shoves itself in the way of plans.

“Are you ready?” my mother asks as I open the car. The stench of car exhaust overpowers the hundreds of peppermint sweets littering the car.

“I suppose so.”

For two years, it had been home. It was proof I could make it by myself, and now that’s snatched away from me. I’m forced to return my independence like an unwanted gift.

“How do you do it?” I ask, pulling the sleeves over my fists. “Growing up, the constant loss and change of life. I think it’s driving me mad.”

Her eyes stray from the road a little bit too long to look at me and she swerves softly.

“When I was twenty, I thought I would be twenty forever. Part of me still does, I think. Sunkissed European summers and bartending jobs were all I knew at that age. Then you and your sister came along. Your dad left, and life got messy. Not all loss is bad. I’m not saying that I don’t love both of you. But I think in our minds, we stay the same age as when we were last truly happy.”

“I don’t want to be cursed by graduate jobs and rent and working out taxes,” I admit.

“Oh, honey. That’s life. Your sister will do the same thing one day I imagine.”

“I wish I could save her from it.” My little sister, who in my mind will never seem older than seven years old to me despite recently posting her prom photos on Instagram. She used to cut the hair off my Barbie’s and I threatened to do the same to her. I always thought the only person allowed to hurt her was me.

“I wish I could save the both of you from it. It’s not so terrible, you know.”

I nod but don’t believe her.

“Have you looked at jobs yet?” To her, an arts degree seemed futile. University degrees were for doctors, teachers and scientists. If I wanted a job in a specific field, I could have started at the bottom and worked my way up, as she saw. Leaving school at sixteen to work had shaped her views of the world entirely differently.

“In September.” Standing my ground is never a small step to take, it is usually shadowed by consequences.

A guttural noise of disapproval was her response.

If I fling myself into an intense graduate job without a break from University, I’d be well paid but well burnt out. Not that she ever understood.

Sometimes, she is proud of me and unable to contain her pride. On my graduation day her smiles seemed never ending and her hugs held weight. Other times, her disappointment is palpable and sucks me into the ground. She switches between the two so fast it baffles me. My opinion of myself has always mirrored her current one. Sometimes I am Van Gough’s Stay Night and sometimes I am his suicide letter.

By the time the car pulls into the drive, the dread of my future is all-consuming. Sweaty palmed, I have no wish to leave the car. It seems like yesterday I was apprehensive about moving to University in the first place, everything had seemed much simpler. The girl I was then is a ghost to me now, she was timid and uncertain about the world. But she didn’t have to deal with the crushing weight of adulthood. I can scream and claw but I can not go back.

My mother opens the car door, her eyebrows raised and a hefty sigh hinting on her face. Instead, her mouth curves upwards and softens.

“Get the boxes in. You can unpack when you’re ready.” A truce, for now.

I get out the car. What other choice is there? Childhood is over.

Leanne Brown is a recent University of Portsmouth graduate and an aspiring author. She has been writing since the age of four, with a deep love for fantasy. Currently studying her Master’s degree in Creative Writing, she hopes to work in publishing. When she’s not writing, she enjoys the great outdoors and any book with a dragon in it. Originally from Cambridge, she now lives in Portsmouth.

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