‘Clinging to me, like the last breath you would breathe, you were like home to me, I don’t recognise this street.’
- Ellie Goulding
I stepped off the train and breathed in my hometown, I was glad to be back, excited to walk old walks, and high on the thought of seeing old friends, but from the very first moment, I knew that something wasn’t quite right. I could feel a pair of eyes watching me, stalking me through the station, and following me as I wound back through the streets I’d once escaped from.
But every time I turned around and sought them out, there was nothing, so I carelessly shrugged them off and settled back into the warmth of the place that I once called my home. I awkwardly lingered at first, a stranger in my own home, except it wasn’t my home anymore, it hadn’t been for quite some time.
Things had changed, new pictures hung on the wall, new furniture filled the room, and new trinkets cluttered the mantle. When you disappear you kind of expect life to stand still behind you, but it doesn’t, you move on, and life moves on with you. It was obvious that like me, my ex had built a new life for himself, and the only thing left of the love we once shared were two silver rings sat next to a picture of a loving couple posing for their engagement. I once knew one of those boys as myself, but he was a stranger to me now, I didn’t recognise him anymore.
I smiled at the photo, placed one of the cold metal bands between my fingers, and let everything it stood for wash over me, a memory that once haunted my every waking dream, a memory that once corrupted me, a memory I thought I was now strong enough to face.
It was all too easy to fall back into the life I once knew, to have dinner with the boy who was once my world, to indulge in the things that once constituted my day-to-day life. I fell so hard into old habits that I very nearly forgot the new life I’d made for myself. I indulged in false luxuries, wrapped myself in the warmth of a familiar hug, and cherished the companionship of old friends, but deep down inside I could feel this inexplicable deep hollow ache that was slowly but surely consuming me.
The thing about a broken home is that no matter how far it has fallen into disrepair, it will always feel like home, and with my new found longing, I was happy to give myself over to it, I welcomed each new day with a smile, and very nearly forgot about the pain and suffering that once drove me to the brink of madness. I lay down in the comforting rubble of my former life, and turned a blind eye to the demons that crawled the streets, the phantoms that haunted my dreams, and the slow consuming agony that was building up inside me.
And amongst all of this, every now and then, I caught a glimpse of him- out of the corner of my eye, in the sparkle of a rogue reflection, or merged amongst the crowds in the streets. He was following me, and I let him slink closer and closer each day. He watched me from the adjacent street, stood outside my window, waited outside my door, and finally climbed into bed with me. I let him lie beside me, I let his warm fingers caress my body, soothe my pain, pull me in close, and adorn me with a false sense of hope, I let him do all of this.
But after only a few days the feeling began to go sour, as this dark creature held me in his embrace and slowly slid his fingers around my throat, the warmth I felt began to turn into a crippling loneliness. And like an eclipse on my soul, familiar nightmares began to resurface, forgotten arguments burst back into reality, and I began reliving feelings I thought I’d shut out for good. I tried to scream but his cold fingers were already suffocating me, throttling me, drowning me in dark unknown waters.
I gasped and spluttered and pleaded with him, but he already had me in his grip, and the only thing I could do was face him. I desperately stared into his empty ocean blue eyes, and for the first time, I recognised him for who he was, and realised it was me who was the stranger, not him.
It was the boy from the engagement photo, the boy I’d once seen in the mirror, the dark shadow of my former self, and all this time he’d been trying to tell me something, and all this time I’d refused to listen. I caressed his skin, examined the pain in every wrinkle, and let my eyes fall upon his blackened frozen lips. He struggled to find the words, and with all the effort of a thousand dying men, he spoke to me for the first time, and he told me to run.
And so I threw off his hands, clambered away from him, pulled myself from the comforting rubble, and once again embraced the dazzling sunlight. As I looked at the heartbroken glaze over his eyes, I reminded myself of the adventures behind me, and the adventures yet to come, told him that he wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore, and allowed myself to draw a sharp underline to this life.
And just like that he returned to his photo, smiling sweetly and innocently, a permanent reminder of both the good memories and the bad. It may be even harder to say goodbye this time, but I know now more than ever, that although I can pass through for a few days, catch up with old friends, and appreciate the things that once made me ridiculously happy, I can never, ever, go back.