We’re living in the same house that we lived in before we moved to Houston, the one in which our three kids grew up. A few things have changed in the last two months – a bedroom switchover, a slap of paint, garden clear out, belongings’ cull – but fundamentally it’s as it was. People keep asking whether it feels like we’ve never been away, and the short answer is: yes and no. But the long answer is that although the act of coming home has apparently compressed the two years we were away so that packing up and leaving England appears not so very much further back in time than packing up and leaving Houston, yet our Houston/US experiences remain vivid and absolute and axiomatic, albeit elsewhere. So, over in Houston, where we no longer live but did just a snap of an instant ago, everyone’s back at school, while R (my youngest and the only one left going to school in this house) still has a weekend and two more days off. “Isn’t it weird to think that P is on the school bus, heading home, right now?” he said last night at 10 o’clock. And yes, frankly, he was right. No matter how certain you are (as certain as the world is round, even) that you’re six hours’ ahead, still, when it’s night time and dark it’s tricky to really imagine it being daytime and light anywhere else. Likewise, when you’re hot you can’t feel cold, and when you’re shivering it seems absurd that anyone else could be sweaty.
All of this is disconnecting and saddening, because I know it works the other way round too and I have a wish to be missed, as if that will maybe make it all more reachable and real. I don’t actually want C, J, M and S to have fun – or even hell – on their runs without me. But they will. Their private jokes will no longer be mine and J2 will take my place as they step up their winter training for the Houston half. I don’t want that book club crowd to keep enjoying the chunter or the ‘ritas. But they will. They’ll carry right on reading and agreeing and disagreeing. I don’t want my ex-fellow volunteers to keep on serving up their smiles and solace and salads and sack lunches and sausages and all the other stuff that doesn’t start with ‘s’. But they will. With the banter undiminished. I don’t want all the As (minus this one) and a few more besides to bike the bayous and bond over coffee in Beans. But they will. I know, because they already have. I don’t want the Ks to like their new neighbours more than they liked us, or even, if I’m honest, to have new neighbours at all. But they will. And someone else will enjoy the charming Swedish-American hospitality that really should be ours. I don’t want V to keep ordering dim sum for everyone, in Chinese in Chinatown, if everyone doesn’t include me. But she will. She did it before I ever turned up and won’t be stopping in my absence. This is all utterly vain and futile and selfish: I felt exactly the same about leaving my friends and family here, and at the same time, I can’t but help make the most of being here now.
That’s life. And that’s the real sadness of saying goodbye: everybody knows it to be so. Me without them, them without me. We’ll all carry on. Move on. And we have.
The other day a didgeridoo arrived from Australia, sent by Mr N. I posted a picture of H, our 20 year old, making some noise on it, on Facebook where L, one of her friends – they go all the way back together to nursery school – commented that she was “so glad to see the height chart still there”. I’d taken the shot in the kitchen, inadvertently framed by the doorway we’ve used to track the growth of H, F, R and their friends and relations for the last two decades. L’s got two notches of her own somewhere there. It’s a messy, organic marker of our family’s relationship with this place. R’s now taller than F, his latest notch is higher, and there’s a gap of two years where that happened elsewhere. But it happened, definitely!
I suppose then, the long answer’s up on that door.