I spent the weekend sleeping on the couch in my house. Except, it’s not my house. It’s my brother’s apartment; I don’t live there any more. A girl with the name of a flower has made my room her own. I gave her my key.
It’s a rite of passage to make an East London council estate home when you first move to London, and I get why. It’s gritty, it’s edgy. The beer is cheap and the clothes are cool. It’s “keeping it real”. But I came home from a weekend away last month and there was a pool of blood by the elevator. That’s too real for me. I had to leave.
So I won’t miss Crazy Caroline, the woman who lives opposite with a sign on her door saying “Please knock gently, this is a new handle” in childish scrawl. The sign has been there three years, they tell me. I won’t miss whoever plays marbles on the wooden floor of the apartment above my bedroom at 10 p.m. every night. Well. It could be marbles- it could also be extreme hotbedding. I won’t miss the Indian cooking smells that permeate the walls of the hallway. The third housemate pulling twelve-hour come-downs on the sofa. The stairwell that has one rule, etched into the concrete: no human urination.
The apartment straddles zone 1, has epic views across the city, and is cheap as proverbial chips, but I won’t miss any of it. I’m continuing to fall in something that looks a lot like love with London. But living in East London? Nah. I won’t miss that at all.
I’ll miss living with my brother, though. My heart aches already, and I only left a few hours ago.
We sat in the living room yesterday morning, surrounded by coffee tables and rugs that weren’t there the day before. His new housemate pottered around upstairs, moving boxes and arranging her things. My stuff was ready to go. My hands trembled with emotion.
Neither of us is dying. I’ll be a fifteen-minute bus ride down the road. We work within minutes of each other. And yet, laid out together in that special sibling silence, I felt a tear roll quietly down my cheek.
I’m so lucky to have a brother who I love, and who I also like. The older I get the more I understand that a lot of people barely know their family, and don’t want to either. Jack is my favourite friend.
I’m moving because I want to explore a new part of town, and renewing a contract for a space in a neighbourhood that leaves me cold is a dumb thing to do if my only motivation is having the same address as a brother who isn’t really in residence that much. He won’t leave, and I don’t want to stay. And so? And so we’ll live apart.
We chat every morning as he dresses where his wardrobe is in the hallway and I stand at my mirror applying eyeliner and red lipstick. Sometimes we ride into town together. When, occasionally, we are home à deux, we roast organic vegetables and listen to Gilles Peterson and look out over the sunset as we share a smoke on the tiny balcony. He knocks on my door if I’ve gone to bed before he gets home, just to say goodnight. I call him, because. Because nothing.
When I first saw my new apartment my immediate thought was “God, he’ll love this.” When I eventually move in, in September, I’ll be right on the Southbank, by the river, and the collection of flats has a central garden that means I get my own little bit of green. In my imagination I saw him come around the corner with a yet-to-be-decided partner, carrying cake and ready to settle down for Sunday dinner.
Living separately we’ll have to make the effort to see each other outside of the house. To do things together that don’t involve the kitchen hob, to engage in another way. The dynamic will change because our new circumstance demands it. Probably I cried not for what I’ll miss, but what for I worry will change between us. Right now, I know every detail of my brother’s life, from what he had for breakfast to the projects he has on at work to what shoes he’s wearing that day (because I told him which matched best.)
I’m not going to have that anymore.
But what I will have is a best friend who I drink with, and eat with, and explore with and who can stay over if he’s sad and host me when I’m lonely and maybe we won’t have the same address but maybe, just maybe, the only thing better than having one home is feeling at home in two.