Homeward bound. On the car ride from the airport, like a child returning to confession, I calculate how long it’s been since I was last back – 6 months this time. I note that the gaudy mansion,a shrine to excess, across the road from my parents, has a Sold sign and I hear that the previous occupant, a disgraced pop star who handed over the keys to receivers and skipped the country to avail of UK bankruptcy laws, is back and in the black. He’s bought a more modest home on the far side of town. His recently published memoir hasn’t gone down well with the neighbours. I make a mental note to buy it.
I’m told the local shop has stopped trading. It too displays a stake from an auctioneer. I’m not surprised. It can’t have been easy keeping up while the town sprawls outwards making the run in to the big stores an automatic reaction. I loved that shop. My first steps to independence would have been walking unescorted to it, staying as close to the hedgerows as I could get(there’s a path now). I’d work from a list of messages for my mother, scrawled on the back of an old envelope. I’d surreptitiously pocket some pennies from her change until a few weeks on I could include a purchase of my own. Most likely toffees or a bag of crisps.
As the car wheels crunch the gravel on the drive I drink in the sight of our house. It looks pretty much as it did when I lived there. The trees have matured and thickened as i have but I’m home too often to pay attention to those increments.
My physical journey over, my metaphysical one beginning with my first step over the threshold. When I walk through the door I breathe in the smells my son has come to associate with Ireland for I often carry them back with me. They linger on our clothes, in our pores. He’s not with me on this visit so I know when he greets me on my return he’ll inhale Ireland and remark on it.
The carpet on the staircase is the one my dad laid in the seventies. Swirly patterns in burnt orange. I don’t sleep in my old bedroom. Since my wedding I’m offered a double bed to accommodate my husband and though he’s not often with me, I’m still given quarters reserved for marrieds. I remember my stay when I was nursing my new-born. The pop-star was in residence then, and at the height of his career. I’d watch as his helicopter hovered overhead and then parked on his landscaped lawn beside his artificial lake and behind the 12 foot wall he erected to keep out prying eyes. It works for all but our house which is built on high ground and stares across in defiance.
Thankfully the celtic tiger was retreating so efforts (by the pop-star) to turn the green fields around us in to shopping centres and apartments were thwarted.
Each room in the house hurls me back and that’s without eyeing the photos spanning decades that sit on every ledge. Upstairs my old dolls are arranged on shelves in my bedroom. My mother takes them out when she has young callers. There’s a wardrobe in one of the rooms with 4 wedding dresses. I don’t look at them this visit. The real treasure for me sits under the dressing table in my old room. Stowed away in a paper shopping bag with rope handles. I think the store sold underwear. “Flirting has no rules” runs down its side. It is home to my diaries – 10 tomes spanning 12 years. They cover teenage angst, hopes, dreams, disappointments, triumphs, awakenings, emigration, first love. They also hold secrets about OCD and food, doubts, guilt and fear. And I reacquaint with them every time I’m home.
There’s little evidence of literary craft within but rather a quaintly pedantic account of a childhood and beyond. I cover trends and costs. I refer to purchases I made and include shopping lists. I mention names and events long since forgotten that I still can’t recall. I refer to happenings much bigger than me. “Space shuttle challenger crashed with 7 dead” headlines a Tuesday where I headed to town after lectures, bought purple shoes for £10 and watched Dynasty before bedtime.
If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t know that I sent an article to Time Magazine when I was 17. I got back the nicest PFO letter telling me they were flattered to know they had a young reader in Ireland and encouraging me to keep on writing. How could I have forgotten that? But I did. What optimism and self-belief I displayed.
If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t know the extent of my obsessions and that conquering my OCD made room for my food issues long before I was ready to face off both.
If I didn’t keep a diary I would have forgotten what a constant supporting presence my parents were. They might not have said I love you but it’s written in ink in other ways on these pages.
Reading back over my early days in London I’m consoled to trip across carefree moments amidst the days of fear and bewilderment. I was an usherette in the London Palladium. I sold a tub of ice-cream to Jeffrey Archer.
My OCD insured I wrote daily and I’m thankful of that now. When I think of all the hours wasted on rituals and checking I remember my diaries.
If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t have this well of memories and writing entries probably kept me sane. On visits home, I get to catch up with my parents but I’m also met by older versions of myself and the opportunity to befriend and learn from these many-mes’.