This week I should have been heading to the airport, steeling myself for the 29 hour journey to London via Singapore. My bag would’ve been light, ready to bring back belongings I haven’t seen for nearly three years.
I’d have enjoyed the two flights, excited about my trip and the novelty of flying, despite the amount of travel I’ve done. I’d have taken ear plugs and an eye mask to block everything and everyone else out, and swallowed some night nurse after the first meal to help me sleep.
I’d have landed in London, feeling weary and grimy but excited to be back. The train from Heathrow into Central London would have felt noisy and busy but wonderfully familiar, and I’d have thought to myself how easy it is to feel at home, despite living somewhere very different for three years.
I’d have found my way to Alex and Ash’s new flat using Google Maps, and been engulfed in a hug on the doorstep, bag still on my back. Alex would have poured me tea from a white teapot into a china cup, and forgotten that I take sugar.
I’d have slept soundly in their spare bed, jet lag not kicking in just yet, but it’d still have been difficult to get up early to get a National Express bus to Norwich, and hard having to say goodbye so quickly after saying hello.
I’d spend the first hour of the five-hour bus journey with my headphones in, watching the changing landscape through the window, a nervous excitement building at the thought of seeing my family again. I’d then spend the next four hours asleep; my body clock being rocked like a baby by the bus movement.
I’ll wait outside the Norwich bus station for my brother to pick me up, and I’ll realise I don’t actually know what car he drives. I’ll berate myself for not being a better sister-who-lives-the-other-side-of-the-world, while hoping he at least remembers what I look like so he can find me.
We’ll hug awkwardly, because we’re not really a family-who-hug, and I’d probably cry, because it’s been a long time. My niece would have come with him and she’d have run up to me, ready for me to pick her up and swing her around and give her a big hug. She’d have squirmed and giggled and laughed. I’d have told her how big she’d got, she’d have proudly exclaimed she was ‘six years old now Auntie Tara‘ while my brother would have put my bag in the boot, laughing at his daughter.
I’d have chatted non-stop in the half-hour or so it would take to get to Kelling Heath, the little oasis in the middle of acres of woodland where my parents and sister-in-law would be waiting for more awkward hugs. My Mum would put the kettle on and I’d take the piss out of them still drinking long life milk even though they didn’t need to, not living miles from a shop anymore. We’d spend seven precious days together on holiday, and at times I’d just sit and watch, content and relaxed, committing the feelings and sights to memories to look back on when I’d inevitably get homesick. My Dad and I would sit together in quiet silence on the deck, looking at the trees. ‘We miss you,’ he’d think, but wouldn’t say. ‘I miss you,’ I’d think, but I wouldn’t say.
We’d go back to Lincolnshire, and I’d be reminded of the Canterbury plains while driving through the Fens. I’d get a pang of homesickness for New Zealand, and it’d feel far, far away. I’d stare out the window and wonder how to sit with the competing feelings of home, in two places so very distant from each other, but get distracted by my niece wanting to play a game of I Spy.
We’d go and visit my Nan, who’d squeeze me tight and tell me I was looking well. I’d wonder whether she meant I’d put on weight, but realise it was probably just the tan from being outside in the late summer sun for the last week.
I’d go to walk around the corner to have a cup of tea with my best friend from secondary school, then remember she’d moved house, and feel sad for a second that things were changing without me here. I’d let her know I’d be a bit late, because it’s further to walk, but I’d enjoy sauntering through the town centre where I’d spent so much of my life. Memories would hit me from all sides. The diner where my Mum used to take us for a milkshake as children that’s now a Costa coffee, the fish and chip restaurant where I used to take my grandmother for lunch, the disco we used to sneak into, too young to be there.
I’d have got the bus to Lincoln, holding the ticket stub between my fingers as I sat down, looking at the little shiny flimsy paper but never actually reading what’s on it before scrunching it up and putting it in my pocket. I’d have watched the bus turn familiar corners, feeling confused when it got to Lincoln. I’d not recognise the new road layout or buildings, and as we pulled into the new bus station I’d have felt like an outsider, no longer belonging.
I’d walk into the pub to a sea of familiar faces. I’d hug each one tight, breathing in the moment. We’d share shouts of ‘you don’t look any different’ and ‘you haven’t aged at all’, while wondering if it was just politeness, knowing there’d been three years of life taking its toll. I’d spend hours telling the same stories, hoping I wasn’t boring. I’d sit and watch faces chat animatedly, eager to hear about everything everyone had been doing, just happy to be there, soaking everything up with every single pore of my being.
Too soon it’d be time to go, but not before I’d sat on my parent’s living room floor surrounded by papers. My Dad would roll his eyes at the mess I was making, and tell me to take it all with me, but secretly wouldn’t mind, because him dealing with all my paperwork was another reason for us to speak to each other more regularly.
I’d not say goodbye but see you soon. There’d be tears, and it’d be hard, because we’re not really a family-who-cry. I’d try and get them to promise to come to New Zealand to visit, and they’d say yes, but really, I’d know it’s highly unlikely.
I’d get on the bus and cry for a while, trying hard to not look like I’m obviously crying. Jet lag and emotional exhaustion would kick in, and I’d sleep for the rest of the three-hour journey to Cheltenham.
The bus would cruise past GCHQ, and I’d be flooded with nostalgia. I’d sit up like a meerkat, hands and face pressed to the window, and as it got closer to town I’d marvel at how beautiful the Georgian architecture was, and how colourful the summer flowers and lawns were.
I’d be met by Sam at the bus station, who’d crack a joke about me being a waif and stray. I’d tell him it was good to see him, give him a big hug and wouldn’t want to let go. But I would, because he’d go pick up my bag, by now full and heavy. ‘What you got in this, the kitchen sink?’ he’d joke, and I’d smile.
The sun would be shining, and he’d give me a tour of his new house. Every room would look slightly different to the virtual tour I’d had a few months back, and I’d tease him for his continual lack of chairs.
We’d walk to The Swan, and I’d order a pint. The rest of the crew would be there, and we’d sit outside. It’d feel like no time at all had passed, and I’d forget I lived in New Zealand for a second. I’d sit with my eyes closed, face in the sun, happy and content.
Someone would ask about The Poet and my eyes would spring open. I’d have a smile on my face as I told them, my mind back in New Zealand in a flash. I’d picture my life and once again wonder how to sit with two feelings of home, but I’d be interrupted once more when a shot of tequila would be put in front of me. It’d be Dave D and Nige, and we’d laugh as we’d lick the salt and down it in one, celebrating my return.
The next day the Dad Van would be packed with adventure gear, my head would be a little sore and we’d be heading to Wales. There’d be a big group of us, and we’d camp somewhere pretty for a few days. We’d run and climb mountains by day and eat and drink at night. My stomach and face would ache from laughing, and I’d savour the moments, feeling punch drunk on life.
I’d spend a couple of days wandering around the streets and parks of Cheltenham, amazed with the fragrance of all the flowers. I’d wonder whether there was always so many flowers but wouldn’t be able to remember clearly. I’d catch up with more friends and get more big hugs.
James would take me for brunch at Baker and Graze, and he’d be appalled that I don’t eat doughnuts anymore. I’d sit and drink gin and tonic with Shelley in her living room of Number 5, curled up in my usual spot. She’d tell me she misses me living in the flat above and we’d put the world to rights and reminisce about all the fun we had. I’d tell her I still have the crystal she gave me and it worked. Eventually.
I’d do a session at Battle Bootcamp, but it’d be a token effort because of my shoulder. It’d be different, because it’s not BMF, and I’d feel left out. I’d wish I’d just gone for coffee afterwards instead, but I’d love catching up with people. I’d take the mick out of Adam, and we’d have a brief but sincere conversation about life.
I’d have just stopped waking up at 4am from jetlag when it’d be time to leave. Bev would’ve volunteered to drive me to Heathrow, and I’d have spent the two hour journey chatting, trying to distract myself. I’d be feeling sad, tired, and emotionally drained. I’d not be looking forward to the long journey, but I would be looking forward to seeing The Poet and my friends, and sleeping in my own bed.
As I pulled my eye mask over my head on the plane I’d still be wondering how to sit with two feelings of home, but as I closed my eyes to sleep, I’d decide to think about it later.