There’s a lot of talk about haunted landscapes. It seems like every other tutor in my university department is writing about ghostliness. I’ve almost finished a novel on the same. There’s something in it which appeals, something about the idea of ‘trace’. It suggests that things matter. It suggests things last.
But I am sat in the town I grew up in, and all the ghosts are gone. At 16, Tamworth seemed somehow both vast and restrictive. Restrictive, because we couldn’t get out except once a month to shop in Birmingham, but vast because all the drama of my life happened there. I remember summers where the red bricks of the pedestrian area seemed to sweat. I remember walking in groups with my fellow teenage goths. Black lips, unwashed fishnet vests, strong smell of patchouli to cover the smell of weed we weren’t actually cool enough to have. It seemed so big, so storied.
Now, travelling through on my way to somewhere else, it seems so small. As if someone made a scale replica of the real Tamworth of my memory. But all the shops are wrong. I’m drinking a soy latte in the Costa that used to be the McDonalds were I used to flirt awkwardly with straight boys who didn’t understand. In the roof above me, in what is probably now a storage area or an office, there was a Ronald McDonald play area which, as a younger child, I had really wanted to have a birthday party in. I remember, but I can’t seem to tie the memory to the place. As if it’s me that is the ghost, fruitlessly trying to force a haunting.
I wonder how much of it is to do with adrenaline. I used to be so afraid here. I used to prowl the streets prey-like, trying to avoid the groups who attacked me. Tamworth was a warren of escape routes. This route to the castle. That route to the new age shop where we awkwardly buy tarot cards. This way the graveyard for kissing. That way my Nan’s sheltered accommodation.
Now I don’t care, and I can walk the entire centre in less than 20 minutes. The paths don’t matter. All roads lead to Poundland.
Last week I was in London. By necessity, I had to pass sites of trauma. Here’s where Jason told me he just wanted to be friends. Here’s where I pushed him over in the underground. Here’s where Thom and Tom and Jared and Ethan and Peter told me they didn’t love me, as if some weird eddy of London pulls break-ups to the South Bank. Here and here and here I was sexually assaulted. Places I’ve blacked out drunk. Places where I’ve had coffee and been too much of a coward to say I wish it was a date. Jobs I’ve hated. The lonely dull streets of Soho where nothing seems to happen except longing.
It’s strange to say it, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. Maybe it’s writing the book. Maybe it’s just time. Or maybe it’s that my life has hope in it now. Now that somewhere else exists, now I have somewhere to go, London feels small like Tamworth does. It’s like I’ve stepped into a museum exhibit, artefacts under glass and untouchable. The feelings and memories don’t feel connected to these scraps of asphalt and generic shopping centres. What ghosts there are, small and shy and fading, I brought with me.