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"Home Again, Home Again:
It all felt so very familiar. I was going home again. I walked through the gate out onto the platform, opened the carriage door, climbed aboard, heard the distinctive slam of the door behind me. The announcement came as the train began to moveId swear it was the same voice"This train stops at..."I echoed him in my head as I had done so many times before"...Wimbledon, Surbiton, Esher, Hersham, Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Byfleet, West Byfleet..."
It had been ten years since I had taken the "Guilford via Woking" commuter train from Waterloo station in London to Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. My family lived in Walton the first time when I was eight and nine years old, and then again from my ages of eighteen to twenty-two. Memory-feelings of taking the train flooded through me as I heard that train door slam: early childhood outings into London with my family to the Unicorn Theater where we would stand to sing "God Save the Queen" at the end of the performances; university vacation days exploring London on my own and late-night winter home-comings after family excursions to the theatre, the car warming up on the drive from the station only as we arrived at our front door; post-university commuting into London where I worked to save the world for one very formative year while living with my parents in the beauty and sanctuary of Surrey.
Now, ten years later and in London on business, I was actually "going back." Id been in London two years before but, while I had revisited my London haunts, an "industrial action" by British Rail workers had kept me from returning to Walton. I wanted to go now, to find all three of the houses in which we had lived over those years, to see again the town itself, to reclaim a little of my history and to say goodbye a little more to old attachments.
I still knew which way to walk as I left the station, travelling familiar roads to find my roots. I passed the shops where we did our marketing, there the building where my father had his office, here the spot where the old movie theatre used to be I remember I went there to see Hitchcocks "The Thirty-Nine Steps."
I found our old houses, each in turn. The lawn of one still had its field of daisiesI learned to make daisy chains there, transitioning from francophone Africa to life as a British schoolgirl. I wandered the golf course bordering our second home, my feet unerringly turning into the woods to find the hidden path through the rhodedendron tunnels to the bottom of the gardenhere was where my sisters and I would come to walk on winter and summer vacations home from university in the States. And I knocked on the door of the third house, the owner granting my request to go again into the gardenhere my mother had pointed out to me the constellation Orion: no matter where we were in the world to one another, the night sky would keep us in connection. I had wept my goodbyes to England and to childhood in this garden the night of 22 May, 1982, to the tulip trees and the six tall sentinel pines, and I wept my home-coming now.
So much was the same, so very much had changed. In going back to Surrey, I went home in a way and to a place I had not expected. I found the part of me that holds strong attachments to those years and grieved some of the loss I still carried. I found a love and a nostalgia, but not a sense of home or of belonging. In seeking to go home to Walton, I found instead that I came home inside myself.
Note: This piece was originally published in "The Quarterly," a publication of Global Nomads International.
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