Above my head, some way beyond the windscreen of our car, is a blur of green – a canopy of leaves punctuated with holes, scattering sharp beams of sunlight from the midday sun. Trees bend towards one another to form an archway of leaves and branches, leading us down a country road I’ve not travelled on for years. It’s been a long time since I was here – fifteen in fact – and now I return as an adult, with Lee in the passenger seat beside me.
It’s strange to visit. Happy, sad, profound, as if a dream had come to life and unfolded in the way that dreams do, throughout the day, little by little but trickling away like water through cupped hands when looked upon for too long. Stranger too is that my boyfriend is here beside me. Witness to all the great things that have happened in my life lately, and witness to the wonderful things that are to come.
Yet, he doesn’t remember the smell of the woodstore in the cottage I grew up in, just a few miles away. He doesn’t remember which floorboards were left un-sanded, warranting a hop, skip and jump across to avoid splinters embedding into the pads of peachy, soft feet, or the painted brambles my mother carefully stencilled onto the white walls of her bedroom.
Is there a word for the frustration you feel about that? The kind of frustration where you wish you could somehow connect your brain with another’s? I’d like to transfer those memories so he could remember what I remember, and feel that same sense of surrealism that I feel now but simply can’t put into words.
But regardless, it’s lovely to bring him here, 140 miles and 15 years away from the life we currently share. It seems all the more special to show him this corner of the country now that we’re saving up and planning to buy our first home together. Talking about being married, having a family and furthering our careers seems like a good a time as any to take him on a tour of Sussex, the county I associate with woodland, freshly baked bread and childhood.
“We used to..!” and “That’s where…!” I exclaim every so often, excited to show Lee all of the places I remember exploring with my brothers and best friend, Mary Kate. There’s plenty I’ve forgotten too, no doubt, but my brain is buzzing with the woodland I used to play in, and memories of old clothes and bedtime stories.
I wonder if other people feel the way I do – that weird urge to time travel with your other half so that they can know everything about the circumstances that shaped who you are prior to your coming together. But that’s not the way it works, is it?
I park the car on the side of a dirt track, tucking it tightly against the fence. Pointing him towards the metal gate I’ve climbed over many times to reach the forest behind my family’s old house, I follow just a little behind him, slowly taking in everything around me. The gate is cool beneath my fingertips, as it always was, and although the home I grew up in looks nothing like it used to (the extension is ugly, and so transformative that I drove right by it the first time round the lane), the track it sits upon is just as I remember.
It all feels nostalgic but oddly peaceful, and after a little while I’m aware of sharp grass prickling my bare ankles, car keys twirling in my hand. “Shall we go?” I ask, checking Maps for the nearest petrol station.
As I get back into the car, buckling my seatbelt and taking a gulp of water warmed by August sunshine, I think about the fact that the past is just as out of reach as the future is – if not more so. But it’s nice to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re heading. Which I guess is what we go home for, isn’t it?