I’m driving home from a friend’s house along dark, unlit country roads. The darkness is like a thick blanket; enveloping, suffocating somehow. It’s a clear night and the stars are splayed out above like a scattered spread of pinpricks in the blackness. I want to gaze up at them and take a moment to appreciate them and drink them in, but I keep my eyes on the road, knowing the sharp bends and unforgiving corners that lie ahead. I realise I haven’t seen the headlights of any other cars for some time, and there are no houses along this stretch of road; so there is no comfort to be found in the warm glow from a faraway window. I catch movement in the hedge; the piercing, suspicious eyes of something wild that knows still the threat of a humming engine. A badger or a fox maybe. I think about my life now, and how different it looks; how nothing is the same as it was. I could not have predicted some months ago that I would be driving along roads I previously knew so well, to live near a town I grew up in (it feels a step backwards, no matter what anyone says). I finally reach the brighter lights that signal I’m driving back into a place more densely populated, and breathe a sigh of relief to have escaped the clutches of the forest at night – where people drive too fast, where deep potholes threaten to dislodge tyres and where animals dart out from adjoining fields. My window is open an inch or so and I take a second to pull a portion of the cool night air into my lungs. It smells like woodsmoke, grass and dirt. It is familiar to me, like an old blanket or a passage memorised from a favourite book. In a few minutes I will have passed through this town and be arriving at my parents’ house; a quiet road not far from the sea, where gulls circle overhead and the latch on the gate needs a slick of oil. I have two keys on my keyring; one for a house I haven’t lived in for three months and one for their house. They had a new key cut on the day I arrived home, my belongings in Ikea sacks, a portion of my life left behind in an Edwardian cottage an hour to the west. I placed it on my keys, solemnly, accepting this new fate. Placing my keys in my coat pocket, where they felt heavier against my hip.
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I wonder if it will ever feel normal to have stepped out of one life and into another. I feel often as if this is some kind of temporary period, as if things are on hold. I exist in anticipation of the moment when I can start living again, start making plans (I cannot sleep at night because I do not allow myself to breathe, I am waiting). But life is happening now and it does not allow you to pause, to place your life in the ‘pending tray’, to be the space between the inhalation and exhalation. I am a persona non grata; between lives, floating in the ether, waiting for direction. I am the fox in the hedge, viewing the lights in the distance with suspicion and uncertainty. When you cry the salt dries and becomes a part of you and you become hard and grow extra layers, like a rock. There’s no going back now.
There is so much love there, still. Sometimes when you stop watering a plant it continues to grow, defiant and persistent. It doesn’t care that you are not nurturing it or that you have shut it in a cupboard because you thought it no longer belonged on the windowsill. That’s just the way life works – it finds a way regardless. I let it all wash over me; love, sadness, loss, tiredness, worry. The key slides into the lock without resistance. This is my life now.