Richard P J Lambert CC
I’m running out of places to call home
People ask where I’m from, and I say, ‘It’s complicated.’
My parents were born there. My cat was born there, too—a year before I was. For a while, I was sure he was going to outlive me. He turned eighteen as I turned seventeen. By that point I had already tried to kill myself.
He sashayed through the living room and stopped short. He sort of swayed on his little paws like he was caught by the swing of a hypnotist’s pendulum. Then he keeled over and died—just like that. No more Tigger. We buried him out in the garden and the new cat pissed on his grave.
My grandparents live in Huddersfield—in their big house. I wonder what will happen when they pass, when the house is split between my dad and his brother. I think they will sell it, but I don’t want them to sell it. I want to live there and yet I don’t want to live there. I don’t like the idea of strangers living in their house.
I can see my grandma grinning from the kitchen window, waving at us. My granddad is weeding in the garden. My sister nudges me, unbuckling her seatbelt and smirking. ‘Here we go,’ she says. Like it’s a race.
We run inside but it’s already someone else’s house.
2. A town in Northern England, in Calderdale unitary authority, West Yorkshire: textiles. Pop: 83, 570 (2001)
My dad told us not to paint the shed but he fell asleep so we painted the shed.
We were bored and reckless kids—so used to pushing the rules, if we had any at all. We’d take our mattresses off the bed and slide down the stairs, tumbling into the living room at all hours. Our mother never said, ‘Go to bed.’
We took sticks and smeared the shed until it was a dirty whitish-grey. When our dad woke up, he started screaming so much we were both shaking and crying. I’d never seen my dad so angry before.
It was his day with us but he ordered us into the car and drove us back to our mother’s house. As we got out, he smacked the back of our legs. Some days I can still feel the red hot sting, the pain in my legs and in my throat. A fire raged between us—trust had been destroyed on both sides.
He shouted, ‘You deal with them!’
My mother was already a narcissist so she smiled like the Grinch and told social services what he had done. And he never tried to get us back after that.
3. A fictional city appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics, best known as the home of Batman.
My mother slammed me up against a wall and choked me. She held my head underwater as I thrashed, desperate for air. I was there—forcing my head up and up but being blocked every time—like a diver trapped below the ice with an empty oxygen tank.
So I ran away—in more ways than one.
I read comics like my mother read the Bible. In my head, there were scenes of Batman’s boots flying towards me or of myself, dressed in a cape and feathers, dodging gunfire. I could wield a batarang or fear toxin or a katana. I could help Commissioner Gordon; I could drink cocktails at the Iceberg Lounge, rub shoulders with mobsters and criminals in technicolour costumes. I would have conversations with myself, pretending to be Nightwing and the Riddler, conversely. I would laugh and cry—having fun on patrol or miming being tortured. I was good at that last one.
Gotham was my spiritual home.
I was neither here nor there. Like a secret identity—half of me stuck in a filthy, fly-infested home with dog shit and rubbish littering the carpet. But another part of me was on a rooftop in Gotham. The night air was warm, the city smelled like pollution and promise. Nothing else mattered but that rooftop.
Punches were thrown at me—here and there. The difference was—in Gotham—I could hit back. If I wanted to, I could kill every villain or every hero or every person who ever hurt me. My costume was my armour. I would never be a victim again.
Most days I think I’m still on that rooftop—waiting for things to get better.
4. A town in the metropolitan borough of the City of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.
In the realest sense of running away, I ran right back into a clenched fist.
This was a subtle squeezing out. When I arrived, most of my possessions already lost to my mother, I was taken out into the garden. My dad and my step-mum went through all my belongings—because they had sat in that filthy house, because they were dirty and because I was dirty too. I still feel dirty—I had to shower every day for nine years and I still get that panicked flutter in my chest when my hair or face is greasy.
‘Don’t throw that out,’ I pleaded. My step-mum was clutching a soft toy of mine—a leopard—that I’d had since I was seven. ‘I can’t sleep without it.’
‘It’s filthy,’ she said, in a soothing, patronising voice—somewhere between sympathy and disgust. ‘I’m not having it in my house.’
I’d had to change into new clothes in the garage before I was allowed into the rest of the house. I imagined myself as a biohazard—as an infection, leaking into the house, sinking into the walls and between the cracks in the floorboards, making everyone jaundice and sick.
Sometimes I think that’s what my step-mum thought of me. That she’d bitten off more than she could chew. Here she was with a baby and a partner and now me—the child of a woman she hated.
Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. It was true that I stole food and ate it in my room. It was true that I stole money—pocket change—to fuel my addiction to junk food. It was true that I stole from her. It was true that my bedroom was always a mess and that I never slept and that I crawled out of bed past noon. It was true that I listened to music and flung myself about to get back to Gotham or outer space or wherever I was going in my head. It was true I could be angry and that I could be cynical and that I could be judgemental.
But I was trying. Trying to be a good daughter, trying to be better. Trying to just be.
So I would leave the oven on. So I might forget to hang the washing out. And my step-mum would explode. She’d call me names—a waste of space, a strain on the family, selfish and lazy and unhelpful. She’d banish me to my room so she could bitch about me to my father.
And I tried to tell her—long before my ADHD diagnosis—that my brain didn’t work the same way as hers. I wanted to tell her that simple tasks absorbed hours of my life and sometimes I needed to listen to music and whisper to myself and the rest of the time the words in my textbooks wouldn’t go in and that I’d cry in frustration. So I wrote this all down in an email and sent it to her because I was too scared to talk to my parents face-to-face.
I had been caught with half a dozen empty crisp packets in my room so I was cleaning the oven as a punishment. My dad got back from work and walked into the kitchen. I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing away. There were deep bags under his eyes. He ground his teeth together.
‘No more emails,’ he said—like a commandment from God. Like Moses and the burning bush. ‘We don’t need this right now. It’s time to grow up.’
5. A city and unitary authority area in Derbyshire, England. It lies on the banks of the River Derwent in the south of Derbyshire, of which it was traditionally the county town.
My step-mum thought I was studying English even though I have told her again and again I am doing Creative Writing and I was always going to do Creative Writing.
We were once in a car together, and she said, ‘You need a good degree to get a proper job in life. You don’t want to be some unemployed loser living with their parents.’
‘I have a friend who does Creative Writing,’ I replied, staring absently out the window. ‘It sounds fun. Maybe I’ll do that.’
She laughed then, ‘Yeah, if you want to be unemployed!’
I didn’t want to go to Derby but my parents said that if I went to a university in Leeds then I’d want to come home every weekend. It’s funny because by second year I dreaded going home, I’d make up excuses not to go home, not to be exiled to a box room and parents that whispered about me behind my back.
My dad said, ‘You’ll always have a home with us.’
He said, ‘Don’t feel like you can’t come home.’
But I don’t think I have a home anymore. Or at least not one built on bricks and mortar. If I stay in Derby I’m destined to die here—to fester in my own misery.
I wasted university because I was working to feed myself. The lecturers said, ‘We miss you,’ and my classmates said, ‘We miss you.’ And I said, ‘I miss you.’ But I kept on working, kept on pouring cups of coffee for workmen and kept on throwing up in the staff toilet because the smell of meat at 6AM made me sick to my stomach.
All I ever wanted to do was be a writer. I wanted to work in a bookstore, I wanted to write my novel. I’m about to finish university and there’s no novel, there’s no bookstore, no accolades or promise of a brighter future. Just a looming graduation date and the prayer that the next five years will be easier than the last.
They always shout, ‘Grow up!’ But no one ever shows you how—or why.
You learn about adulthood through what you read in stories.
6. The capital of Latvia. It is home to 632,614 inhabitants (2019), which is a third of Latvia's population.
I measure phases of my life through the beauty of cities and Riga is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.
No one goes on holiday to Latvia, so the flights were cheap. It was my first time on a plane and as my friend braced her ears for the change in pressure, I was grinning—overcome with joy. I watched the lights of the airport receding as we left the world behind, heading for a sky so much bigger than ourselves, towards something so modern and yet so primal.
I don’t know how people can get used to walking past ornate opera houses and modern art galleries. How does it become day-to-day when the streets are so clean and the statues so brassy and glowing? You wander for a little while and end up in a park surrounded by rabbits.
I’m riding the tram and I’m thinking--I could live here. I could meet a pretty stranger and fall in love, tangled up together in bed. I could run away from my life in England and live in a Soviet-style apartment building where no one expects anything of me.
The Latvian announcer calls out our stop, in that soft, lilting accent--Prūšu iela. It’s so cold that I’m trembling even with a coat and jumper, a hat and gloves. Yet there is something comforting about the cold and the way the wind hugs against me.
My friend and I avoid speaking English on the tram. It draws a lot of stares when we do—a great deal of them unfriendly. I have never felt this way before—so anonymous and yet so distinctive.
I am still thinking that I could live there. I am used to the cold. I am used to the hostility of strangers and friends.
7. A walled city in northeast England that was founded by the ancient Romans.
May we all find our own ‘York.’
When I stayed in York with a friend over the summer, essentially homeless, the first thing I thought was, I’ve been here before.
There was an ancient energy running through those streets. Invisible chords, sprouting out of my feet and running into the ground like electrical wires. Everywhere I looked there was Roman roads, Roman towers and turrets. Even on the busy days, full of the bustle of tourists and commuters, I felt a sense of calm I’d never felt in any other big city.
So perhaps in a previous life I was a Roman. Maybe I was a soldier, stooping at my post to pray to my Gods—Mercury, Phoebus Apollo, Venus. Maybe I was a woman at home, pouring libations over an altar.
When I stretched out on the grass in the Museum Gardens, basking in the sun, I thought to myself: I am home. This is what I want—a beautiful city, a city I can breathe in. A city that will fill me up like sweet honey and wine. A city that will relieve the curse of the Bacchae, frenzied in my veins.
This is where I want to end up. And the city is so expensive and no one makes a living here. I might never live there.
I’ve realised home is a hard place. Sometimes we have to fight for it, we have to be sick and struggle and chew off our own arms. And we may never find it.
Perhaps cities leave echoes in all of us.
Sarah Loverock is a writer and MA Creative Writing student from England. She writes across a wide range of fiction, creative non-fiction, and experimental works. She won first prize for her debut story, Consider an Apartment in Washington, in the Streetcake Prize for Experimental Writing, 2019. Her work is often informed by her own life experiences and causes that matter to her—ranging from abuse recovery to sexuality to British politics. She is available on Twitter @asoftblueending.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.