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What life would have been like if I’d never left my hometown

Victoria red dress small
My mum’s family are homebirds. At one point there were four generations living under one roof at Nan’s house. My mum and I were the only women in the family not living within a 10-mile radius, and we were only an hour down the motorway.

I was never like that: the black sheep who aged ten went to Selfridges to see Santa and declared that London was where she’d be as a grown-up. Unless of course I was whisked away to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. The list got longer as I did: New York, Buenos Aires, Barcelona. I planned to never stop moving.

My mum encouraged me. She and Dad had worked in Qatar for a year when I was three and we travelled abroad twice a year until her MS made flying too difficult. Even then, we made a 13-hour train journey to the south of France, with oxygen and carers in tow, every year until she died. People thought we were mad. Mum thought they were boring.

At 18, the reality of my plans hit me. When I left home, I’d have to leave Mum. By then Dad had gone and Mum’s future was precarious: it might be decades, it might also be months. Would she be OK? Should I stay? Was I a terrible daughter for wanting to leave? I struggled with these questions before every departure: when I left for my gap year, went off to uni, even when I returned to London after my weekly visit to see her.

I would offer to stay, I’d intend to, but in hindsight, my desires were always transparent; you don’t ask these things, you do them. Mum was steadfast: I couldn’t stay in Redhill, I’d be bored. I should live my life. I always knew there must have been a part of her that wished the thing I dreamed of was to stay, but perhaps, as the humanists once said, love is a desire for a person to be nothing other than themselves.

I trusted her to tell me when she needed me and I returned for weeks and months through times that were tricky, but she never let those months turn to years. She’d get better and urge me back to London. She liked the stories, the letters I sent and the gossip we shared. If I’d never moved, those stories would have changed. I wouldn’t have learned to find my way around foreign cities, fallen in love over late night chats in university halls, or met a best friend on the night bus home. I’d have been a different person.

Most of all, the way Mum and I were would have changed. She inspired people because she never let MS get the better of her. It never defined her and it never characterised our relationship. She did the things that mothers do: she nagged me, raised her eyebrows at my ‘new look’ and reminded me to get the car insured. Sometimes her carers were the conduit but she was always the force.

If I’d stayed those extra eight years, that dynamic might have changed. Perhaps I’d have become the carer, the boundaries been blurred, the lightness weighed down. We’d have had more time, but perhaps too much; savoured weekends would have been made into the everyday. And although my guilt might have lessened, hers could have grown—we were brought up Catholic, there was no way around it.

I spent a lot of time wishing I was the homebird. I’ll never know if I did the right thing, but I do know we had fun the way it was.

This is a piece of writing I wrote for Oh Comely magazine last year. It was published in issue five. 

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Comments

  1. says

    This article was fantastic! I am spending a year abroad in South Korea and I am quickly realizing how important this is for me. If I never left my hometown, I would miss out on so many wonderful places, people, and experiences. My parents are eager for us (youngest of 5) to get out and see the world. They always visit because it’s a chance for them to see us, but also experience somewhere in a new way. Traveling is one thing, but living and immersing yourself in a culture can be just as rewarding as it is challenging. I’m also gaining a far greater appreciation for all I’ve left behind while also wondering what else is out there for me to see. I couldn’t do it without such a strong support network though.

    • Victoria says

      Thanks Maggie. That’s great it resonated with you. Travelling, and leaving familiarity behind, can be really difficult – not the ‘holiday’ people often envisage. It’s wonderful you have a good support network. Good luck with your travels.

  2. Allison says

    What a great article with a lot of truth to it. I often find myself torn in two, and I struggle with my dual personality of the intrepid traveler who wants to go everywhere and experience everything and the homebody who just wishes she could be at home on her grandparents’ couch. Living abroad is one of the best things a person can do, but it is never easy, especially when a loved one is sick. I am currently in the middle of my third extended stay, and leaving this time was by far the hardest. I’m glad you’ve found peace and I hope you continue to enjoy your life the way you were meant to.

    • Victoria says

      Thank you so much Allison for your kind words. It’s true living abroad isn’t always easy. I get quite tired of people thinking I’m on a never-ending holiday! That said, it’s the life that works for me (at least for now!).

  3. says

    You’ve got me feeling shaky, Victoria. Both a good and a bad thing. I’m sorry to hear about your mum, but also enjoyed reading about her. She sounds like a brilliant person and that you had a great relationship. The hardest thing about travelling is definitely being so far away from home but I agree with the humanist belief 100% and it wouldn’t have made either of you happy to have stayed at home. Sounds like she loved hearing about your adventures and antics, as we all do now x

    • Victoria says

      Exactly. Sometimes these things are hard to come to terms with, but ultimately you can’t be anything other than yourself. Thanks for sharing David.

  4. says

    You (and your mum) made the right decision, I’m sure, and undoubtedly she was happy to see you blossom and learn to run free… She sounds like the kind of mother that wanted her children to know themselves and relish life on their own terms… Your uncertainty about leaving or staying home rings true with us, too, in our sixth year of traveling full-time… the longing for roots is always there. Lovely post!!
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  5. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. This is exactly the struggle that I’m going through right now. My mom is my everything, but I’m leaving for longterm travel and being far from her has always been a source of worry for me. Having both roots and wings can be a difficult balance, but it’s so refreshing to hear that you’re satisfied with the way you’ve lived your life; I hope I feel the same way years down the road.

    • Victoria says

      I’m pleased this was helpful for you. I think it’s hard to ever know for sure if we’re doing the right thing. I think one just has to be mindful when making decisions and do whatever it is we need to do to create balance (for example, keeping regular contact with your Mum). If we’re mindful then there ahold never be chance to regret. Happy travels!

  6. Silvia says

    Hi Victoria,
    I found your post by chance, and it was a blessing.
    I am about to leave for South America the second time, this time for.. well, a quite long stay.
    I have always liked travelling and I have been blessed by many opportunities to do so, but this is the first time I leave with the realization that my mom’s time is shorter than what I would like it to be.
    She’s a very active old lady, but I see her seldomly, and I am bound to see her even less.
    Like you, I often wish I was a “home bird” and wonder if I am just an incredibly selfish person for not sticking around much.
    Thank you for your words and the inspiration, I will put a copy of your post in my luggage.
    Best of wishes

    Silvia, IT

    • Victoria says

      Silvia, Im so touched that this resonated with you so much. Thank you for letting me know. Good luck with your travels. Following dreams isn’t a selfish act, it’s a brave one.

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  1. […] she was eventually mostly bed-bound, but it never took her spirit. I’ve written before about her determination for me to build my own life rather than sacrifice my plans for […]

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