Friday, December 09, 2016

Le Petit Reverse Commute

I spend a lot of time convincing people that I'm a brave person, but, in truth, I'm just good in a crisis. I collapse like anyone else after the crisis is over. And so, you can understand, that I'm more than a little bit terrified at the prospect of moving to the UK in January. (Although, technically, it's a reverse commute, a rather good phrase I've now copyrighted - don't you think there's a ring to it?)

First of all, my children are deeply unhappy about it, as you can imagine, and I'm not particularly thrilled at the prospect of not being in the same place as them. But, I get to see my mother for a bit, which is something I haven't done regularly since I was 22.

Secondly, I was terrified to tell my clients, because I thought they wouldn't take it well, but, as it turns out, that has proven to be wrong. They've all said in unison that they know they'll be taken care of and don't care where I do it from. And they know there will be an office in LA and someone to take care of them on the ground  and that all the strategy and planning can be done from anywhere in the world, and that I'll be back for the really important stuff. Most of what I do is on email or the phone, after all.

Thirdly, I've lived in LA for the last thirty years. Thirty years. Essentially, the whole of my adult life has been spent in this beautiful crazy sexy place. Thirty years of California light, of LA sunsets, of earthquakes and bad public transport, of skunks and cowboys and sweltering heat and bizarre flash floods, of wannabes and fakers and attitude and the seriously rich, of the Westside and the LA National Forest, coyotes and our lonesome Canyon owl. I live only a few yards from where Joni Mitchell lived, for goodness' sake.

Fourth, this house in Laurel Canyon has been my home for nearly twenty years. My children grew up here. I've had four dogs live and die here, and two more who are still living with me. After John left, I scoured the house for his stuff, took down all his pictures, try to erase all trace of him, but how, exactly do you do that when you've been with the same person since you were twenty? I look at the stuff we have: the plates and glasses and painting and tchotchkes, the yards of books, the boxes stuffed with photos, the baby stuff, the Christmas ornaments we've collected over the years, and which I'm going through now as I decorate the tree in an effort to embrace the season, and I'm sad.

Yesterday I started to collect my things, the painting that are mine, some silver from my Norwegian grandmother, gifts from the children: Mexican crosses and horseshoes wrapped in colorful wool, and pictures of them with the dogs. I went through bookshelves to take only the most special ones (A wise friend said, take only those things that will make you feel at home) and found old notes and postcards stuffed between the books, photographs that had been turned upside down, perhaps because once I didn't like them, drawers with more books, tiny ones, and little hand-scribbled notes. I pull pictures off walls so that now my bedroom wall, once an army of little black-framed pictures, looked like an overpicked strawberry patch on a hot summer day. All the things I'd tucked away to work on later -- prints I'd bought, still in their stiff card envelopes, a piece of tapestry, a bag of fabric from which I'd vowed to make a patchwork quilt -- now reveal themselves to me in their unfinished glory. What are they exactly, but evidence that I start things and don't finish? But more than that, the house feels cold without my little buddhas and kuan yins which I kept to keep us safe. The cushions that have LOVE written on them because I wanted to continue to promulgate that notion that it existed here. The books on birds and flowers and trees of California that I'd take out and use for a week, madly excited and then put away again. The old drawer with the mixtapes and the children's Christening presents. Oh, it's all too much.

The shippers come on Monday. I have it in black and white. They will arrive between 3pm and 5pm and then all things that make this feel like home will go, including my grandmother's candlesticks, and I will be left with two naughty dogs, two grown-up children who are unhappy with me, and the dull sense that I could have, somehow, made more of this time.

My mother says "don't buy too many things until you get here" when I suggest getting a bed and a sofa. She's right of course. The adorable cottage I'm renting I haven't even seen in real life. I trust her taste, of course, and Charlie's. The pictures are awfully sweet. It has tall chimneys and paint-chipped windows, and low ceilings because it was built in the 17th century, and it is mine for the next year. Three bedrooms and a vegetable garden, a tiny sitting room, some wood burners, and bookshelves. And right in the middle of the beautiful Chilterns, near an Iron Age fort, and ancient woodlands. I was thinking of the nature cure, of being able to immerse myself in woods and watch the dogs in their leaping happiness. "Just look at the place before you get anything" she said and I know this comes from a good place. "Can you imagine what it will feel like not to have a home?" I say. When I leave Laurel Canyon, that's it, that's no longer my house. I'm not sure why I feel this so acutely. It's just stuff they say. I know it is.

I'm a homebody. All of my confidence comes from this arcane idea that there is a heart at the centre of my home that beats for me and my children and our loved ones. And venturing away from that beating heart, and its warmth, and love, is frightening.

When your children go away to college, you gradually get used to the idea, I suppose. Not really. Looking at the old photos yesterday on my packing mission, I felt pangs of sadness every time I saw them as little ones, smiling at me, guileless, before they knew how to hate me. I still pick up the phone whenever they ring. I still buy them presents that I think will make them happy. I still pray for them every night, and light candles for them when I visit cathedrals. I feel there is a connection between us, a tiny silk filament that links us. Sometimes I tug. Sometimes they do. Knowing that they are both happy is the best thing ever. And knowing that they both have amazing, awesome, kind partners who love them, is all I could ask for.

But still. Not being able to have them round for our traditional Sunday night supper whenever I want to, is a hard thing to think about.

There is a good man, a tall, kind, handsome, sweet man in London who loves me and only wants the best for me. I know that. He is my English Oak. He is my good fortune. He is solid and brave and unmoving and he tells me that everything will be fine and every time I'm sad he reminds me that he is there, loving me. And that is really all I need.

But, gosh, this is very, very hard.

I'm going to publish a picture of this little cottage so you can see why I like it.

And thank you, each and every one of you, who have supported me through all the horribleness of the last five and a half years. I'm sorry I've been such a lousy blogger, but I'm so grateful to you all for being so kind.


Highstreet said...

To the woman who was certain she would never find love again, I saw congratulations and this is wonderful news. Home is where the heart is and plane tickets are quite reasonable. You have proven your resilience and will once again here. x

Tania Kindersley said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I can feel all the heart-tuggings and sinkings and achings that you describe as if they were mine. I know that love of home and stuff. But I think and hope this will be grand new adventure for you and I'm stupidly pleased that you will be close to Scotland so you can come and meet the red mare. She yearns for you. Much love. xxx

Katherine C. James said...

You wrote, "I'm a homebody. All of my confidence comes from this arcane idea that there is a heart at the centre of my home that beats for me…" That is how I feel, yet I've been waiting to find the home that feels right for me for some time now, and because of the tech upheaval in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm not certain I'll be here or somewhere further up the coast I love, and where my family has roots. When I left San Francisco I worried I would regret the loss of the city and the view, but I don't miss either. It's a part of my past. I'm grateful for the beauty and for the experiences, but I'm relieved it's past. A couple of days ago I told a close friend who has been with me for it all that I was upset with myself because it has taken too long to find my next home. She was genuinely surprised and said, "Why? You're waiting until you find the right place, and then you will make it yours." She sounded so much more certain than I feel, but I know she is right. I'm lucky to have a loving friend who has given me a warm and beautiful place to stay for as long as I need to be here, and who enjoys my daily company. I realize how much I will miss him when I do move. During the same years you refer to at the end of your blog I've extricated myself from a marriage, also with a man named John; sold two homes and closed down a third; seen my mother through her final illness and death, and survived the practical and emotional work that followed the year after her death, which was one of the most difficult years of my life. I long to be settled with my things about me, though the last years have taught me how much less things mean to me than I thought. This interlude has given me time to look within and see what I want, and why and where. Of course all we have is the present. And, of course, there is a heart beating within us in the present moment wherever we are. Going back to a country you love to be near your mother and to spend time with a man who loves you and who you love in the gorgeous cottage you show above seems very right to me. I wish you contentment, and a house that becomes a home with a beating heart for you soon. I think that will happen quickly. Bon Voyage. xo.

Wzzy said...

Your new digs look absolutely enchanting. The not living near your kids thing is definitely challenging (we didn't get to see B in person at all during the final 18 months of his 3-year stint in Florida). Thank heavens, though, for FaceTime, for text messaging, and for living in a place your kids will want to visit. Wishing you lots of love and luck in this next adventure!

LPC said...

And it's not just stuff, of course. It's the stuff of what we are.

I truly can't do this post justice. But something sweet runs though my heart when I hear you write like this.


tedsmum said...

You will be home I know... I've listened to you write about our beautiful Chiltern Hills and they will hold you and your children will visit, one day maybe with their children and feel the magic, and LA is still there when you want her.
If you ever want to walk and talk on the downs or on the commonor in the woods just give a shout... :)

Unknown said...

Wherever you go will become a home, it is and always will be where your heart is... And you have a very big heart. It transcends oceans, time and space. This is your time now, our children grow and find their own place but always they are a part of us and us of them regardless of distance. They will become accustomed to the changes as will you...and they will understand when they see you happy and settled...courage you have in abundance... ALL WILL BE WELL, ALL MANNER OF THING WILL BE WELL...( Julian of Norwich) How wonderful to have you back in the UK... And LA is but a plane ride away. x

Pat Starkey said...

I have left this post starred in my inbox because it was such a beautiful post that I wanted to acknowledge it and you. Reading someones blog for years, peaking into what they choose to share of their life and their thoughts allows the reader a bit of voyeurism. Especially if after so many words enjoyed and thoughts provoked, said reader has never commented.
I have felt your pains, experienced your joys and wondered after your well being. Again, my thoughts are with you and i am fully engaged in your next step, your grace and strength and the love that has taken you where you are now.
All the best wishes to you in your lovely new adventure.

Anonymous said...

I had to come back and read this after seeing your post on FB.

Beautifully written and I'm excited to hear/read about your new/old home.

If you're ever in Rome and would like to meet up for an aperitivo, let me know.