Feb, 2006. For the past five months I have been living in a car at the edge of woods — jobless and homeless and totally unable to find a way out. I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't scream loudly enough, but I can read and write. So here I am laying down tracks...hopefully the start of an online paper trail out of here. (Update: Miracles happen....if you are reading my story I am part of your proof.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ghost-leaves on the pavements

I haven't written here for a while. I've been trying to let things settle and to think forwards rather than backwards all the time, which checking this blog makes me down. Obviously I had to do that while I was writing the book, think backwards, wade through all that past, all that heavy sludge of childhood emotion. I felt like a spring recoiling on itself. But once the book was finished it was time to try to go forward again. It's what we all have to do, but exactly what I hadn't been doing for so long. I'd gotten stuck. So these past few weeks I've tried to think forwards, and put all the past behind me. But the paperback is out tomorrow, so for a while I can see that will be difficult to do.

I've still been writing, lots of writing, but all of it in notebooks, scribbled on the bus on the way to work or in cafes over lukewarm teas at lunchtime. Sometimes it feels like the start of a poem or a story, but mostly it is just words, grounding words, anchoring me to the day. I don't think I could get through a day without writing something now...But being back at work changes everything.

There's no time for anything anymore. Even on days off I still find myself thinking about work or washing or ironing or tidying, or making soup or lunches to freeze for lunches or replying to emails. This blog is a funny thing...even though I have never met any of you and never will (for obvious reasons - despite some lovely invitations- thank you), I am aware of talking to real people at times, then other times it is exactly like thinking aloud, and sometimes it is like a mixture of the two. Sometimes, something that happens during the day strikes me and I say 'that'll be a nice thing to tell people on the blog....' Even if it's just about fighting the urge to kick up the piles of leaves noisily on the way to work, imagining myself laughing loudly as I mow through them. Or seeing the beautiful imprints of big, golden sycamore leaves on the pavements as I walk up from the bus each morning, the early autumn streets overnight paved with gold. One morning, weeks ago, the pavement was full of those leaves, crunchy yellow and gold, then the rain came and for days soaked through them, and when it stopped and the leaves were blown or swept away, gold-brown 'leaf-stain' was left underneath on the pavement. Beautiful, clear patterns, like ghost-leaves, were left, as far up as the eye could see. They're still there, beneath the city grime. Every day they get a bit fainter, but the pavement on the hill up to where I work is full of beautiful, feint, leaf pattern. The streets already holding their memory of autumn.

Seeing things like that makes the walk to work less dull, and one day last week it lifted my spirits so much that I decided to write a blog about it when I got back. But when it comes to the end of the day, I switch on the computer and am so tired I stare glassy-eyed at the blog and I've either forgotten about what I was going to write, or it suddenly doesn't seem interesting. I start telling myself that nobody wants to read about somebody else's day at work when they get home from their own, or about ghost-leaves on pavements... And I end up convincing myself to wait until I have something more interesting to write.

But apart from work, nothing much else has happened. Well... I shouldn't say that: I'm not living as I did anymore, so that has happened! I'm now in the warm. And I've told the most intimate details of my life in a book, that's an enormous thing to have happened. But you all know that already... It still feels strange that I have done that. And it's still hard to accept the emails I get from people telling me how inspiring my story has been, or how it has helped them— even if it is just to appreciate what they have, or simply to stay positive, or to see that there is always a way out, or just to open their eyes to the lives of someone around them.

It's difficult to take on board that somehow my life, when I was at my lowest ebb living in my car, and especially the bits of my childhood that I have been so ashamed of, have somehow gone on to help others. Very odd. Somedays, I still have extremely mixed feelings about telling my own story, wrestling with the rightness or wrongness of it. But when I get those emails, when people tell me how much the book has helped them, even people who ordinarily wouldn't read this kind of book, I can't help feeling a little bit...?? maybe even a little bit proud...?? A little bit like this was what I was meant to do — tell the story that so many other people do not have the words or wherewithall or opportunity to tell. It hasn't been a nice story to tell, but hearing other people's stories has made me appreciate how lucky I was too, in many ways. I lived two lives in one through my childhood, and not many people do that, both of them in tandem. Yes, I had that childhood, and ended up homeless living in my car on the streets of London not far from where I grew up, but in between I lived a very different life, one which some people would see as being full of priviledge: boarding school, with summers in a riding school or up in the hills above Florence in Italy, university, law school, some good jobs, living in Hampstead with other professionals, never thinking about it but if I did  feeling nothing but entitled. My childhood was way, way back there in the past. But on some level it is still there, and I don't make the right choices as an adult and end up where I ended up. Maybe that was enevitable, but anyone who knew me as a young woman, a young professional in London starting a life wouldn't have seen it coming. I was a bit 'reserved' some would say, not as adventurous as I should have been, trying to conceal some residual/innate shyness, but they would'nt have guessed at my background. Maybe I was meant to write my story, maybe that's why I survived intact. So that I could tell the story so many others can't tell — stories need to be told, they are what connect us, and what sometimes heal us. So even though it did take falling to the bottom rung of the ladder, with a breakdown and a period of homelessness living in my car to finally get the words out, maybe, in finally getting my story out, I did what I was supposed to do on some level.
I just need to make sure nothing like that ever happens to me again....Second chances are rare, but I got one, there are no third chances....