The ride in the family car was mostly silent except for the radio. On odd occasions dad would clarify directions with mum but otherwise we travelled in silence. Jack and I were in the back with our black Labrador, Sammy, sleeping soundlessly between us. When I peered over to Jack, he had his head rested on the seat belt, also sleeping, and I envied him for being able to sleep through the heavy rain. Although, it wasn’t just the rain that I found it hard to sleep, it was dad’s driving. In his defence, it wasn’t 100% his fault since the weather was so awful. The motion of the moving car made my stomach queasy; each bump becoming one moment closer to throwing up. For most of the journey, I distracted myself with games on my phone until it died, and mum refused to plug it into the car.
“Kathryn, you spend most of your life in your phone. How about you take a break from it?” Mum said.
I sighed. There would be no point arguing with her in the confined space of a car with no exit plan. It wasn’t like I could just leave and go to the comfort of my bedroom to get away from, yet another, screaming match. So, instead of fuelling the fire, I bit my lip and faced the window. I was left with this horrible feeling, a mixture of emotions churning away.
Anxiety from being away from my phone, even for just a few minutes. Sadness but I wasn’t completely sure where that came from, it just hovered in the background. Anxious to get settled into the new house and lastly, tiredness from not being able to switch off and sleep. All I could do was stare out the window, like an elderly person in an old people’s home.
The view wasn’t all it cracked up to be either – darkness plus rain made it impossible to see where we were going. It was more interesting when we passed through roads with streetlights. At least then there was something to look at whether it be the houses or buildings.
I yawned. How could I be so tired but not sleep?
It didn’t make sense to me. Even with my eyes closed, counting sheep, it was hard to drift off. The longer I went with no sleep, the crankier I became but, feeling defeated, I rubbed my eyes and opened them. A song came on the radio and I focused on that instead, singing the odd lyrics I knew in my head.
As the time passed, the heavy rain died down to a drizzle, the dark clouds still looming, insinuating we should expect more later. I hoped that even though the day would be miserable with the weather – it would get better when we arrived at our new home.
The mixture of emotions changed to uncertainty and nausea. We were leaving our old life behind. Starting fresh in a new town. Well, I say new town, but it wasn’t completely new to us. Grandma had lived there for as long as I could remember. Jack and I used to stay in the summer holidays but haven’t visited in a while.
In all honesty, I wasn’t completely sure why I had decided to join my family in the move to the quiet town of Strathmore, in the heart of England, in the middle of nowhere. There was an option to stay in London, but a gut feeling told me I needed to return.
It’s certainly going to be a huge adjustment from the rustle and bustle life in London with constant street traffic, people rushing to get to places and the busy high streets full of people. Going from that to a little town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, quiet roads and god-only-knows-what-else caused me to shudder. It’s not something I looked forward to but it’s something I would just have to get over. The part I am excited about is seeing my extended family after so many years. Grandma, obviously, my aunt Irene, uncle Dave and cousins Noah and Callie.
I clamped my hand to my mouth, keeping the vomit at bay for the time being, desperately trying to distract myself with my thoughts…
Please don’t be sick. Please don’t be sick…
I tried to remember the last conversation I had with grandma on the phone. We spoke about Noah and Callie. The four of us were similar ages and were remarkably close as children. They’re in college now.
Callie, 16, started in September just gone and Noah, 17, in his second year. Grandma told me Noah switched from engineering to accountancy – which is quite a big change in courses. I sympathised with him, from a personal level, for the desire to follow your dreams, instead of those of your parent’s. My brother, Jack, is 18, studying music production. He managed to transfer to the college in Strathmore for his final year.
Then there’s me, the college drop out. At 20, I should be further along in my life than I am but when I decided to go against my parent’s wishes of becoming a solicitor – it disappointed them. It was never my dream to study law. They made it perfectly clear that my dream was stupid and a big fat waste of time.
None of that matters now, of course. The past is in the past. Whatever happens to me in my life now is all down to my own decisions.
The dark morning began to lighten up. Finally!
It was easier to see through the car window, although, there wasn’t much out there, apart from tall poplar trees shredding its brownish orange leaves. The October month had certainly brought the colder, chilly weather. The trees went on for miles, almost intimidatingly, and I shuddered.
I wouldn’t like to get lost in those woods.
We passed a sign along the road that read ‘Welcome to Strathmore’. Then kept going until we reached a bridge with a strong river current flowing beneath. As we drove over to the other side; the town of Strathmore finally came into view.
In a short while down the road we reached the high street with lots of lovely shops. A place, I imagined to be, quite vibrant and busy, which lifted my spirits. It had the basics such as corner shops, supermarkets, greengrocers, and butchers. Even more modern shops such as coffee houses and restaurants – I even saw a Post Office! We passed a florist that I could see mum taking an interest in – she was obsessed with the garden! A DIY and bicycle shop for dad – a keen handyman and cyclist. There was even a music shop for Jack.
We passed Grandma’s spiritual healing shop called ‘The Ancient Tree’. I had fond memories of helping her in the shop as a child. The great thing about grandma was her kindness. It was easy to be around her because she chose to be patient and understand situations before making assumptions. I found talking to her about my issues regarding my parents helped my mental health more than she could ever realise. I lived for her kind words, words of wisdom, or tough love. In fact, I often wished, as a child, to permanently live with her but, at the time, my parents wouldn’t allow it. So, in a way, it would be exciting to be able to pop round for a cuppa tea and a nice chat, now I’m an adult.
In the centre of the town is where you can find grandma’s inspiration to name the shop ‘The Ancient Tree’. In the heart of Strathmore grew a sacred and magnificent oak, a tree unlike any other. The people that lived in the town took great care of it, respected it, and believed that it held healing powers. While the tree remained healthy, and well cared for, so would the town and its crops, and those that lived here. Starting at the roots, they spread out, weaving in and out of the earth to keep it grounded. The trunk is wide, twisted, and uneven with knots, and its bark, a walnut brown. A tree so tall, maybe three times your height or more and begins to branch out with the leaves as large as your palm and shaped like it too. The low-hanging leaves are a dark shade of green and they gently move in the chilly air, while the younger and smaller leaves are smooth and lighter. You could easily feel inferior to its majesty when seeing it for the first time. I could clearly remember playing around the tree as a child and feeling a goodness about it, it felt calm and welcoming.
Jack stirred in his sleep, breathing deeply and eventually opening his eyes, remaining quiet for a couple of minutes.
In a groggy voice, he said “Are we there yet?”
“We’re very close, sweetheart,” Mum looked over her shoulder with a big fake smile. “It won’t be long now.”
I wanted to roll my eyes, but managed to refrain from it, just in case she had eyes in the back of her head. Which in most cases, she freakishly did! Annoyance bubbled beneath the surface at the thought of both parents doting on Jack. It would get to the point where they’d exclude me, masking it behind the classic, “You’re the older child – you don’t need this or that.”
It hurt my feelings. In most cases I tried to rise above it. Other times I would get told - “You’re the oldest. You should know better.” Those times made me feel worse.
Glancing over at Jack, I thought he had the whole world going for him. He could do anything he put his mind to, could achieve anything. I didn’t begrudge him that. Although, I did hold a lot of contempt for our parent’s behaviour.
He caught me staring and half-smiled. I returned the half-smile, then quickly whipped my head round to stare out the window.
It was a relief to finally arrive at our new home. All the anxiety and anxiousness disappeared and replaced with amazement and awe. The house was nothing like I had pictured in my mind – it was better, so much better. I couldn’t believe the size of the property, at least double the size of the house in London. It had a gravel driveway, big enough to fit two or three cars. The removal men were already parked outside when we made our way to the front of the house. It appeared modern from the outside, the bricks painted a light grey, the windows sparkling and clean. Black iron fencing surrounding the property with perfect red and white rose bushes in square wooden garden beds.
Unbuckling the seatbelt, I opened the door and hopped out, arching my shoulders back, extending my arms into a much-needed stretch. My muscles were sore and achy. It was a relief to be out of the car. The fresh air already helping my car sickness wear off. I made a mental note to take Sammy on a little walk later to familiarise with the neighbourhood. Then, headed over to the removal van to help unload the mountain of boxes that we brought from our old life.
In a matter of hours, we managed to unload the furniture, piling the boxes into a corner for each room. My whole body twinged, my back hurting the most from lifting heavy boxes and carrying them upstairs – because apparently it was beneath everyone else to help the removal men. My head felt slightly dizzy. I certainly could do with a break and an ice-cold glass of water!
In the kitchen mum was cutting open a box, the top stuffed with crumpled newspaper to protect the dinner plates and bowls beneath. The ink from the paper had made the dishes dirty, so mum washed and dried them before artfully arranging them into the cupboards over the counter.
“Mum. Have you come across a box with glasses?” I asked.
“Not yet but I think they are in that box.” Mum vaguely pointed to one on the side.
In black sharpie, it read, ‘Handle with care – glasses.’ Grabbing the box cutter nearby to mum, I opened the box carefully, and dug around for a glass. It didn’t bother me which one I picked or if it had any fancy design on it. So, after choosing the nearest one to the top, I moved over to the sink to pull the lever tap for the sheer disappointment of no water. I tried again but the tap was empty.
No water! Nada. What would I drink now?
“Mum, the tap isn’t working.”
“Hmm?” Mum frowned at me, as if not registering what I had said. Then, mentally shook herself. “Oh yes. Your dad is trying to find the water valve. He’ll turn it on in no time.”
Irritated, I frowned right back. “How is there water in the sink for you to wash the dishes?”
“I used the spare water from the 5L bottle we brought from London. I found… kettle… heat… water.” Her voice drowning into an annoying white noise.
I huffed. I didn’t want to listen anymore. The anger continued to bubble beneath the surface.
They had spare water! Spare water and no one thought to tell me or offer some before using it for dishes! No one cared I might need a drink after carrying those heavy boxes up the stairs with the removal men!
“Is there any left?” I spoke through gritted teeth, ready to snap.
Mum answered, oblivious to my change in tone. “No, I just said I used the last of it for the dishes.”
Fucks sake! The sudden rush of anger caused me to grip the glass so tightly that it cracked and shattered into the sink.
“Kathryn! What is wrong with you?”
Ignoring her, as I stormed out of the kitchen, stomping up the stairs and into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. It’s just the latest thing in the long line of crap I had to deal with being in this family! Holding back the tears, I sat on the chair to my dressing table.
It didn’t matter how lovely this house looked to the outside world. It didn’t matter how clean and tidy it would look when we finished unpacking. It didn’t even matter how much I would love my bedroom and how cosy and warm my bed would feel. None of it mattered when my family treated me like an outsider, not worthy of love or affection, or even a glass of water!
My chest felt tight, a lump thick in my throat, my breathing becoming laboured. Then, I realised, my hand was bleeding and suddenly I was crying for more than just terrible family problems.
“Damn it!” My voice wobbled and with my other hand, grabbed the tissue box, pulling out a few and pressing it against the wound. It wasn’t deep but the blood oozed and dripped onto the carpet. No doubt it would cause another argument later. Whilst it was a quick fix, I knew I needed to find the first aid kit in one of these boxes.
The tears flowed silently as I held one hand in a fist and unpacked the boxes with the other. I mainly dumped things in places where they would eventually go, in hopes that I would find the first aid kit sooner. All the while I thought about my old life and how I missed my friends. They were more of a family to me than my own. They were my lifeline to keep me sane. There for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on, to cheer me up, to make me laugh and to remind me that I’m worth loving.
Who would care about me now?