There are moments in life that stand out like landmarks by which we measure the progress of our own journey, our befores and afters. Sometimes we know we’re in them, but often we don’t. Right now I am pretty sure I am in the thick of one such moment. With weeks of ‘lasts’ behind me I’m now on a plane heading for Singapore and right into the unknown. From here my journey is as yet uncharted.
The last few weeks have been hectic for me. Since announcing to friends that I was leaving the UK my time has been spent socialising and trying to prepare for the big move ‘down under.’ It’s been a strange experience in many respects. I’ve paid more attention to the seemingly mundane tasks of daily life. Trips to the shops, going to the gym, driving my car, relaxing in my bath, routines that might otherwise pass with little thought took on a different flavor as their end drew closer.
Having a date upon which everything would change really focused my thinking. I wanted to see everyone, to gather up the crumbs of time amid the familiar so as not to miss a thing. It was like taking tiny sips of a glass of fine wine that was nearly empty, not so much to finish the drink, but so as to enjoy the aroma and really squeeze the value out of those last few drops.
I didn’t have a leaving party. As odd as it might seem, I didn’t want one. I was happy to just pack up my things and move on, I was already spending a great deal of time with my friends on what amounted to a ‘goodbye tour’ so there seemed little point in a last hurrah.
I did, however, declare my last full day at the apartment an ‘open house.’ I figured a few of my friends might turn up in the evening and, over a cup of tea, help me pack a few of the last boxes. In the end though the packing never happened. From 11:30am the guests never stopped coming, and as inconvenient as that was in regards to my packing, it was a wonderful and unexpected surprise to spend that time with my friends.
Having my place full of friends is just about the most enjoyable thing I can think of, and the fact that so many of them came was extremely touching and humbling for me. I’ll probably remember that day as being one of the best times at the flat above the hairdressers, which itself has so far been my favorite place I’ve ever lived.
Despite the preparation and planning, that the final day crept up on me. After more than eleven years the day I would move out had arrived. A last surge of effort and help from Will and Henry meant that the flat was essentially empty pretty quickly. I’d sold some of my furniture to the next tenant, but the things that had made that place my home were gone.
I took one last walk around the apartment, checking that I had everything I needed and just bringing my relationship with the place to an end. The finality was dawning on me as the now empty rooms echoed slightly and looked almost desolate in their bareness. I felt like a stranger in my old home, looking at the few things that were left and wondering what kind of person had lived there. The clues gave little of the story away, memories melted silently into the lifeless walls and whatever secrets the old place could tell were clearly going to remain secret.
I won’t lie to you, that bit was hard. I stood in my living room and looked out of the window at the now leafless tree that has for so long been a fixture in my life. Out loud I said goodbye, my voice quiet and low. It was a moment, a sad one, a farewell to follow so many of the last few weeks. But this time there was no farewell back, just the slight reverberation of my voice against the bare walls then pure silence.
I’m not one for tears or outward signs of raw emotion, but walking into the salon downstairs to surrender my keys was very hard indeed. The girls and I had already had an emotional goodbye earlier in the day, so I wanted this one to be light hearted and brief. But I couldn’t hold it together. Wenda my landlady, and the girls from the salon downstairs have been a huge part of my life for years so I suppose it was a given that there was never going to be an unemotional goodbye between us. I will miss them for sure.
And with that I left. Giving up the keys for the apartment meant that I had no keys at all. I put them on the desk and my hand was empty. For the first time in my adult life I didn’t have a bunch of keys, not even one, and oddly enough it was that feeling that really gave me the sense of being untethered and free of the anchors that hold us in place. Such was the impact of this realisation that when I got into Will’s waiting car I said “I have no keys.”
So now, after a couple of nights at Will’s house I find myself at London Heathrow airport, boarding card and passport in my pocket, my hand luggage tossed over my shoulder. I’ve packed my life into a few boxes and stored them in Will’s garage and Henry’s loft, and compressed the life I’m taking with me to just two bags and one item of carry-on luggage.
The sadness of all those goodbyes has given way to excitement. I find myself feeling giddy like a child, as pumped up as a sport star before the big event. This is it. Everything I’ve been doing has lead to this place, to flight 319 bound for Singapore from London’s Heathrow Airport, then in a few days another flight to Melbourne, Australia.
As the plane takes off I look out of the window at the now darkened ground disappearing beneath me, put my hand against the glass and say my final farewell. I’ll return to these shores of course, but for now the new adventure begins. We’re airborne and from here everything is new and the road ahead is tantalizingly unknown.
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