Four years now, I’ve had itchy feet. I never meant to stay this long.
Nine and a half years in this city. I moved here on a whim. Late one night, back in Texas and depressed as all hell on the edge of seventeen, it occurred to me to move back to the UK. And within a few months- I did. I moved here on accident. It was never meant to be this city, it was just a name I recognized from family lore, a backup plan at best. But here I am, almost a decade later, almost a decade older. At times I’ve resented this place for its crowds, its smog, its violence and depressing poverty. Its posturing. Later I began to resent it for its lack of green spaces, rock faces and tent pitches. (Lockdown in the city hammered home the knowledge that I need to live near these things.)
I resented this city for the memories which lace its streets.
Take a walking tour with me. Come, play the flâneur. There is the corner shop where I bought my first legal fifth of rum and pack of cigarettes on my first night in the country, skipping back across the street, delighted by the younger legal drinking age and freedom to self-destruct. There is the flat I lived in when the Tory let his mates harass me through the letter box. There is the park where my greatest love and greatest guilt tried to teach me to roller skate. There is the hospital where the doctors in A&E criticized my chosen method. There is the train station out of which I’d visit my closest family, all of whom are now dead. There is the gym where I’d spend long hours running only on steam, and bitter self-hatred. There is the house in which I was sexually assaulted by someone who should’ve known better. There is the house where my biggest dismay broke my heart. There is the Sainsbury’s parking lot where I had panic attack after panic attack over whether or not to buy a loaf of bread.
But please, let’s pause. It’s not been all doom and gloom, not even close. And now I will miss this city. See, there is the club where we’d groove into the early hours of the morning, floating on the sounds of the 60s. There is the coffee shop where I wrote essay after essay and two dissertations, celebrating every little triumph found in wording things just right. There is the store where I bought my first record, my first Sidney Bechet. There is the flat where we’d build blanket forts and giggle late into the night with drunken glee. There is the venue out the back of which I met so many music icons. There is the sports centre where I met my warmest friend and seduced her with orange chocolate brownies. There is the window in which I sat late at night, blowing smoke into the snowy winter city, enjoying the rare quiet. There is the seminar room where I’d spend long hours musing on literature and philosophy with great minds. There is the climbing wall where I saved myself and met kind people in abundance. There is the airport where a good man once flew in especially to see me. There are the city hills where I’d wonder in the peaceful autumnal rain. There is the tiny back garden where we’d lie in the sun, wiling away the lockdown hours, reading and making daisy chains.
Nine homes in this city. Flat 5 in uni halls. The chaotic Selly Oak houseshare at No. 237. Living blissfully on my own in Flat 8 in shady Selly Park. The Highrise I spent three weeks in. No. 39 in Harborne with the nightmare landlord who thought I had too many books- how very dare she! The first stay with the big doggo at No. 162. Playing house in No. 9 in Quinton. Back with the doggo in Bournville at No. 237. And finally, a year in Dudley in No. 312. But no ‘homes’ in this city, not really. People ask me where I’m from, and then they ask me where I think of as home. Home is where my books are, I quip. Ever deflecting. Truthfully, home isn’t in this city. It wasn’t found in those many flats and houses for very long. But something like home was found back in the stacks of the old library, on my friend’s sofa with a horror movie and a cat on my lap, and covered in chalk down the wall. And that’s been enough.
Eleven housemates in this city. Fellow students, random young professionals, four partners. And all the other people I have encountered and have maybe gotten to know very well, or have only nodded to in proverbial passing. I’ve known I would be moving soon for a few months now, and I’ve spent that time thinking about who I want to take with me, who I want to reconnect with and who I am happy to say goodbye to. A couple names from the past sprang to mind, and I have reached out tentative fingertips toward them. Those few I adore will always be with me, on the other end of the phone, and they’re my reason to come back. Others I will meet up with at crags and on mountainsides around the country. A few I will simply silently watch out for online, very glad to see that they are happy and well. Many I am content to say I will never speak to again- maybe we have already lost touch, got separated amidst lockdowns, or will gently fade from each other’s view once I’m on my way. Either we’ve had our nice times together, or we’re not doing each other any favours any more, and that’s okay. ‘Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.’
Four years now, I’ve been looking to the horizon. I’m glad I have waited this long to leave, because I leave soon with nothing but love for this city and the people I have grown fond of. And I have nothing but love for what I have experienced while in this city, the good and the so-called ‘bad’. It’s all been good, because it’s all been growth. I arrived in this city a very depressed and scared teenager, with fresh wounds and a flawed modality for living, and a suitcase full of books. I will be leaving a fledgling adult, with faded scars and an ever-growing, kaleidoscopic philosophy of life, and too many pairs of climbing shoes. I grew self-aware while in this city. I became conscious while based in this city, and learnt to be present. I began to live actively and shake off the restraints of my past. I stopped being a victim and became the hero of my own story. I learned to love these cliches, savour calm moments and invite joy into my life.
I can see mountains on the horizon. There’s a crooked spire and an abundance of gritty problems to solve. There’s a peaceful house at the end of a quiet street, with a bright room from which to become Dr So-and-So. There are books and house plants and a crack to climb in the loft. There’s a new post office and a grocery store to find, new favourite paths to walk and a new gym to sweat it out in. There’s a new community to build around me, new people to grow fond of, new adventures to be had. Many, many adventures to be had.
Send me on my way, Birmingham.