Thuis (home)

September 29, 2019 at 6:25 pm (Brussels, Goth, honeymoon, memory, writing)

When I was a troubled teen – and who wasn’t? – I was taken to a counsellor. Quite a few, actually. My all black armour, the punk anthems bellowed from my bedroom, my furious scowl and pentagram jewellery, were all causes for
concern. In many ways I was a typical teenage girl; I just didn’t know it.

One therapist wanted me to imagine my happy place, so I could transport myself there in the face of anxiety or depression. A sunny meadow; an azure beach. I chose an imaginary flat close to the Thames in London. I would be living there by myself, with the solitude and silence I already knew to relish, and needed to write. My happy place, when I closed my eyes, was envisioning myself curled up on the floor in a darkened flat, head against the window, watching the rain.

Although I was delighted to finally visit London, as a teen Goth my face was not permitted to show it.

My vision wasn’t exactly cheerful, though it was pure Goth. And it gave me great comfort, for decade after decade. Before a flight or a fight, a magazine interview or stepping on stage at literary festivals, I would close my eyes, and deep breathe as I listened to the rain against the windows.

Here’s the thing, though: London and I are no longer friends.

Earlier this month we took a honeymoon to Europe. Chris’ family all live in the UK, with a stop first in Brussels. The latter is my home away from home; I’ve lived there twice now, and adore it so much I tear up at the first whiff of cherry beer.

London used to charm me – it was the home of punk, and Doc Martens! What more could a surly teen require? This time, however, I stalked Regent Street with its gross consumerism, battled swarms of late summer tourists with their selfie sticks, and struggled to find the awe it had once triggered in me. Could this really still be my happy place? I walked down to the Thames and tried to imagine where my mythical flat would be, but narrowly missed being shat on by a pigeon and scolded by hipsters.

Trying to find London charm

Trying to find London charm

Brussels was another matter. Chris fell for its ‘sleazy charm’ immediately, installing himself on our balcony with a soundtrack of Jacques Brel. We gazed in awe at Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel paintings, and drank strong Duvel beer in an ornate Art Nouveau museum high above the cobble stones. We posed for photos in front of my old high school from my exchange year, a private Catholic girls’ school whose strict rules I’d hated with a passion, yet which now proudly flies a rainbow flag.

Cherry beer and old school Flemish

Cherry beer and old school Flemish

We scratched our initials into a weathered table top in a Flemish café where Brel drank, and the Belgian surrealists sketched. I brewed coffee and made pancakes in our warm and homey apartment with its red bordello walls and abundance of witchcraft symbols.

Brussels home for the week

Brussels home for the week

Sustenance

Crepes and coffee

Belgian cat medals at the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market

Belgian cat medals at the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market

We ate mussels at dusk and cherry beer for breakfast; we sat together in parks I used to write in, and with camera held high, Chris clicked the button at the same moment he felt me up. The surprise and delight on my face is a favourite souvenir.

Town Hall in the exquisite Grand Place

Maison du Roi in the exquisite Grand Place

Jardin du Petit Sablon

Jardin du Petit Sablon

And this, I know now, is my true happy place. I look over our week there together, showing the city I love most to the man I love most, and I try to pin it down.

And then I find it.

It was a midweek afternoon. We’d walked through the Parc de Bruxelles and had a gorgeous lunch under its trees, washed down by raspberry lemonade. We headed home when the rain began. It was light summer rain, with the air still warm, and the sunshine strong. We curled up in our comfy bed for a nap, with the tower of the Town Hall in the Great Place visible from the open window. Chris fell asleep before I did, a napper so dedicated he actually has a sleep crease etched into his forehead. His back was to me, and I reached out to stroke it. The sun caught the rubies in my wedding ring as I listened to the rain, my hand outstretched. And that was it.

With that memory, I knew I’d never need the Thames flat again.

The places our minds can retreat to when we need escape, when we need solace, are endless. The books we’ve read, the holidays we’ve had, even fantasies of the future. The trick is to recognise them when they’re in front of you, to catch them so gently you don’t break them.

Then they’re yours, whenever you need them most.

Serenity

Contentment and cobblestones

2 Comments

  1. martin C, said,

    Glad things are going well. :). Happy that you still find a home in Brussels :). Had a similar experience with London a while back, went to look at a flat in Clapham i had shared years ago and it just wasn’t…..Anything. Now London and England feel …claustrophobic.now.., oh well there’s a whole world to explore. Good luck and good travels to you and yours.
    MAC

    • inkymouth said,

      Thanks, Martin! It was a whirlwind reminder of why I love Brussels, but London? Meh. As you say, a whole world out there to explore! Hope all is well in your world also.

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