Filling the Hole

I moved to Colcheter in 2004 from North Wales. Then we were 2, myself and eldest , I was carrying middlest at the time. It was a reluctant move which I framed as a stop gap in which I would consider my choices. Colchester is my birthplace and is not far from where I grew up however, did not appear to offer anything outwardly. In contrast, I had moved to Wales to undertake my degree, and my childhood town well, it contained my friends and my family. There was vacancy in this transition though, one I was unsure how to eliminate.

Life filled up quickly though. First middlest was born and then came their schooling, employment as a local youth worker and involvement in a very supportive Sure Start led community. I grew a social life and from this friendships sprouted.

In my mind though, Colchester’s status remained the same. A stop gap.

One day, a couple of years after my move, I sat chatting with a good friend in my living room. They glanced at my wall and nodded in the direction of a map I had of Wales and another of my childhood home. “No Colchester? ” they asked. “No it’s temporary “ , I mused without explanation or offering a potential future narrative.

Back then I would look forward to the time I wasn’t here. I would frequently take us away on breaks and day trips and on our way back it was always “better get back to Colchester then”. Never home.

Two years later, I relocated to where I live now. Still loosely referring to it as a filler, to everyone else, the move suggested something different – now married , with a permanent job , schools selected and friendships underscored, my life exuded stability. My choices said- this is home.

Privately though my view was the same, it was a stop gap. My mind would often drift to Cornwall or Cromer or Brighton, someplace with just good memories, a bit more surf and a little less concrete. I would make plans and look at letting and opportunity in that direction. One day these dreams drifted into conversation with another friend. I revealed to them my disappointment that I was still here after 15 years, that this was ever only meant to be a stop gap. Their shock at my confession was palpable – “You don’t seem this as your home? Why?!” I couldn’t actually answer at first.

I stopped and wondered openly about this need to separate myself from the town. Why did I resist saying it was my home? I recalled out loud how on occasion I had been repulsed by it even hated it. I said that it felt as if it belonged to everyone else , not me , describing places, specific roads and instances that fuelled the feeling. It slowly dawned upon me that I was drawing specifically upon certain experiences of people (perhaps even the reason for my move here) and this had coloured my perception of the place. My ability to synchronise with my environment , appeared to rest upon bad experiences and in particular how I had received them.

Often when we have difficulties we project our feelings elsewhere, onto other people, situations or jobs or sometimes places. We may take out our bad mood on someone else at work. We might take a negative experience at work, home. Similarly places can become imbued with the characteristics or feelings generated there. So a town that is neutral might come to represent a series of difficult life events.

Similarly we may behave in ways which we struggle to reconcile with our present self and find it difficult to remain where we are reminded of our failings.

I naturally pick things apart and in this conversation I realised the power of my defences. It’s easy to avoid yourself through dissociation than to face squarely, difficult feelings that we find hard to process.It can make things easier in the short term. But there is a flip side – in doing this we can deny things about ourselves and for ourselves, and for me it appeared that had included, feeling where my home is.

A few weeks ago, I realised a huge shift had occurred. A picture had been posted on our neighbourhood , what’s app group. It depicted a sketch of the road drawn by a local artist.

A sketch of our road by Nicola Burrell

Curled up on my sofa I sat up instantly and turned into the light to look more closely. I liked it. I copied it to my photo album and then printed it off. The next day I put it in a frame on my wall.

Somewhere along the line , perhaps in the middle of all this craziness, Colchester had become my home.

What changed? Perhaps it was the many walks around Abbey Field or the long runs around the outskirts of town. Maybe it was the faces that became familiar , throughout the hours spent doing both. Or maybe it was the sense of community which emerged from lockdown on our little road. The sharing of food and plants, the socially distanced chats with people who I have lived alongside for years, yet never spoken too. Or maybe it was the sharing of many pictures of resident foxes throughout. Whatever the reason, I have realised that I am at a different point in my life now and I exist in a space which is familiar yet is speaking to me in a different way. In relaxing my vision I have freed us up as a family.

The next day we head out of town and as we reach the end of another beach day , I get in the car. We chat and as I strap in smallest I ask, “where are we off to now buddy?”, and we look at each smile – in unison we both say “let’s go home”.

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