I am currently writing this sat on my one remaining cushion on the floor of my flat, where there is no furniture, surrounded by the last remnants of my current life. It’s the stuff that has no category, the stuff that will inevitably end up in the ‘last box of shite … I promise this time it actually is’ box. I had already given this title to a box of what I can only describe as ‘odds and sods’ yesterday and upon seeing it my stepdad remarked ‘that’s definitely not the last, that’s the fucking first’ and well, reader, he was right.
This week I am moving out, if you hadn’t already guessed. So, this isn’t so much a blog post more a diary entry, a space for reflection. It’s an interesting topic to reflect upon though, and one I imagine I share with a lot of people, so I’d like to offer my thoughts on the matter with you.
I’ve lived in my little flat for a year and a half. It’s in an old building, meaning the windows are beautiful (I’m very particular about windows), it’s in Stockport Old Town and it’s handily next door to where I work. My boss is my neighbour, which could potentially be weird apart from the fact we’re really good friends. I have loved being so close to this little community. Due to working in hospitality I am free when many of my friends are busy and being able to essentially just bob downstairs and be surrounded by people has been comforting and fun. I never worry about getting home, I’m right in the middle of everything, I can decide what I fancy doing with my day on the spot and achieve it. One Sunday I decided I wanted to see an exhibition in Liverpool that was on its final day and within half an hour of accessing this information I was on a train and on my way.
Living in the thick of it has been both positive and arguably negative for me. A year and a half ago was to be the first time I experienced living with someone I was in a relationship with. This was exciting for me. I know what I believe a functioning relationship looks like and the idea of trying to collectively achieve something, spending the first night sleeping on a mattress on the floor and then endless weeks arranging our belongings and turning an empty shell into a home seemed a perfect reflection of two people who were truly functioning, not just individually but collectively.
This was more difficult than I expected, but I’m pretty sure that no matter how mature the twenty-two year old there’s still a level of naivety! Compromise and sharing aren’t necessarily qualities found in essentially selfish people. I have no qualms in saying that I was relatively selfish, uptight and short-tempered. I like to think that I’m not holding onto these defects so much now. I am however still reasonably particular about what I like and how I like it. If you throw into this scenario the fact that all the furniture I was moving into my first proper home I’d inherited from my Uncle who had suddenly died six months earlier, then you may be able to envisage that tension was higher than it should have been.
Ben’s sudden death catapulted me into an entirely unknown place, and one day I intend to write extensively about this, whether that stay private or if I choose to share it I do not yet know. To say I was emotionally unstable would be putting it very lightly. This event and those that followed made two thousand and sixteen an extremely traumatic year for my family and everyone’s responses were, and continue to be, extremely different. It would appear that mine was to attempt to change major aspects of my life, where I lived, my job, to only then realise that change was big and change was scary and change (due to the massive changes that had just occurred in my family) made me very, very uncomfortable. I was nervous about taking all of Ben’s stuff out of storage and moving it into a new place. I knew that our new living room was essentially going to be his, displaced from London to a tiny little flat in Stockport. I tried to mix things up, use his rug in the bedroom and ours in the main space, add different lamps and put my own books on his shelves. It was difficult as it wasn’t my stuff, well it was, but this didn’t seem right. That’s because it wasn’t right, it shouldn’t have been here, it should have been with him and he shouldn’t be dead, he should be here with us.
For a long time I found it difficult to actually live in the stuff. God forbid my partner weren’t to use a mat on the coffee table or crumbs were dropped on the sofa. Not only is this my Uncle’s stuff, it is also all of high quality. He was extremely meticulous, arguably a perfectionist, and all his belongings are beautiful and had to remain this way. My partner was very respectful of this and he took care to take care but this didn’t stop me being obsessive, short-tempered and mental about it all. Mix my mental with his mental and after just over a year of living here he became my ex.
Suddenly this all felt much more like adulthood than moving in in the first place did. It was agreed that he would move out and whilst he found somewhere we both continued to live in the same place. You may think this sounds horrendous but to be honest it was during this time that we were, in my opinion, much more honest, vocal and respectful towards each other and, apart from taking it in turns to sleep in the bed, it wasn’t too bad. The day he actually moved out was pretty difficult. I was suddenly remembering the day my dad moved out when I was a kid (not in a weird way, this is not some kind of Freudian analysis) and I was instantly drawn into a whole new level of heartbreak. (Personal NB to stop suppressing unresolved issues here…) It was then that all of a sudden, this little kind of by accident flat, became my first ever ‘only me’ home.
For the remainder of the tenancy I’ve lived on my own, just me, Ben’s furniture, and my own thoughts. It’s been great. I would thoroughly recommend this experience to all young women even if it were just for a short time like me. We live in a world where expectations, opinions and the pressure to conform is rife, especially as women. Live on your own. I have answered to no one. I’ve come and gone entirely as I pleased. I pay my own rent, my own bills. I am self sufficient (for the most part, but I have had help from my family, especially during the parts of my life that have been particularly challenging) and it is empowering. I’ve not done anything particularly exciting with this freedom, but I have existed on my own terms.
It was difficult at first this living on my own business. There were days when I felt so insignificant and strange as there was no other person to watch me exist. This sounds weird; I’ll try and explain. If I were to have a particularly good hair day, or make some really nice food then my brain could quite easily switch into ‘what’s the point, no one else knows’ mode and after talking to other people (well, actually women) I learned that this is probably quite natural. It also leads to something I think is really healthy and that is self-validation. I am someone who has consistently looked to external forces to validate my existence and my importance and this isn’t something I’d recommend. It’s too difficult, it’s cruel and self-deprecating and I found that even when I got outside praise I was still never truly happy. Living on my own has made me like myself. Not love, just like. I spend most of my time with me and have attempted to teach myself to sit with me, to stop constantly checking social media or texting someone, to just be happy with how things are, actually are, in real life at that moment.
I feel like I could continue writing about the experience of living on my own for a long time so I’m going to stop. I don’t want to be preachy, I want to just relay my own experience but when I feel something has benefited me so much I want everyone to give it a go! So, it’s on to my next step. I have plans to move in with a very good friend (being kind to my finances here) but we haven’t found the right place yet so it’s back to my mum’s for a while. I moved out nearly six years ago so this is going to be an adjustment but it is actually an adjustment I’m looking forward to. I’ve been hurt over the last two years and not just a bit. There’s been times when it feels my brain has been completely dismantled and awkwardly put back together and during some of the more stressful times I lost a lot of weight and was physically not my usual self. To go back to live with my mum is an act of self-love. I will continue to look after myself but there’s a big part of me that’s quite relieved that after all the big events that have taken place whilst I’ve lived here I can finally go back to my mum for some extra love.
I’m going to miss my flat, and I’m going to miss living amongst all of Ben’s things for a while but nothing is permanent and before I know it I’ll be whinging about having to get everything out of storage. Moving from here is the last turn of the page in this short chapter of my life and I am emotional but I know there are many more to come and on the whole I am happier, healthier and more myself than I have been in a long time and this is comforting.
I took a short break from packing yesterday and visited the Book and Record Fair. I was flicking through one bloke’s vinyl collection and suddenly saw a copy of Spanky Wilson’s Doin’ It. It was in Ben’s record collection and I’ve been trying to find my own copy for a long time. The bloke I bought it off (for £4, what a bargain!) looked like an ex-Chorlton-ite, someone who inhabited the place when it was cool and had been pushed out due to its rising prices and gentrification. He looked like the kind of bloke who would have lived in Chorlton around the same time that Ben did and we had a nice chat about soul and different bands, some I’d heard of and some I hadn’t. I came home with a sad-happy feeling. I only went to the fair due to living so close and it’ll probably be the last time I do for a while. I believe there’s something bigger and better than me, and that something seemed to push this vinyl into my hands just at the right moment. Moving for me forces me to process something different each time and it was nice that when I felt like I was losing a lot of what made me feel so close to Ben on a daily basis, this was dropped into my lap. Sometimes the world is a wonderful place.
Oh, and it’s a great album by the way, you should check it out.