Sunday, February 18, 2024

My challenging visit to Auckland

Friday was a very busy day, but also one that was far more challenging than I thought it would be. Early that morning—far too early for my liking—I drove up to Auckland (1hr 45+ on a good day) to meet with the agent looking after our rental property. I say “our” because Nigel and I bought the house in 2006 and we lived there until we shifted to Clarks Beach in South Auckland in February 2017—seven years ago this month.

I haven’t been inside the house since Nigel and I left, but the house was between tenants, and so, it waa the perfect opportunity for me to look at the place and see what needs attention long term. The good news is that the place is a little tired, but nothing horrid needs to be done. The outside, however, is truly awful and the property needs a major clean out.

When I first went into the house, I felt nothing: It was just an empty house—and in surprisingly good shape. As I wandered around, though, I saw not a house, but what had been our home for more than a decade.

I saw the spot where my desk was, the place where I worked, but, more important to my soul, also the place where I wrote my first blog post, recorded my first podcast episodes, where I edited my first YouTube video.

In the room next door, I saw where Nigel’s desk was, where he did his work—often for hours before dawn—but also where he spent countless hours researching projects, and where he sat when he and I did his Internet radio shows. It was the place he stimulated his mind, nurtured his interests, and fed his soul, too.

I saw what was our bedroom, and I could imagine Nigel napping there, Jake, Sunny, and Bella sleeping near him (long before Leo was born). I saw the guest room wall Nigel and I painted (before it was just a bedroom) with special paint so he wouldn’t need a screen to watch movies using his projector—and, of course, he’d spent hours researching the paint needed. And I remembered how we’d later had it painted over when the room became just a bedroom (by then Nigel had bought a motorised screen to hang on the wall).

I saw family gatherings we had in the open-plan living/kitchen/dining—except, it was just a general kind of vision because there were too many to visualise just one—not even just our Civil Union, or the party after we were married. I saw where the spa pool had been out on the deck, where our table and chairs were, where the BBQ was. I took my selfie up top standing in that space.

I remembered every thing we did to that house, big or little, to make it better. I also remembered sometime in the first year after we moved to Clarks Beach, Nigel asked me if I wanted to move back to the Shore, because he could see how unhappy I was. I told him no, that it was just my ongoing health issues (which I blogged about at the time) that got me down, because that’s really all it was. But I also knew that the main reason we’d moved to South Auckland in the first place was to cut the length of his commute down to a (sometimes…) acceptable length of time. I wanted him to be happy as much as he wanted me to be.

There was one more entirely unexpected thing that triggered a memory: When I went back into the garage as part of my final look around, I happened to glance at the track for the garage door, and I noticed a clothes peg clipped to it (photo at the bottom of this post).

When we lived in the house, I put one there so I could hang Nigel’s work shirts on the track to dry, and the clothes peg gave me a border of sorts to make sure the wheels of the door wouldn’t hit the hangers, and that the top of the door wouldn’t hit the clean shirts.

When Nigel and I were doing our final chores in the house after we’d moved out, I certainly didn’t look up—I was too busy looking around to make sure we’d done everything we needed to do. I have no way of knowing whether a tenant put that there, or if it really is the same one I put there at least eight or nine years ago, but in a sense it doesn’t matter: Either way, it was a vivid reminder of the ordinary life we had in that that house. I left the clothes peg where it was, kind of like the memories I was leaving there, too.

The thing is, I loved that house on the Shore: Of all the houses we shared, that was by far my favourite. We made so many happy memories in that house, but the house after that is forever tainted by being our last house precisely because of why it was our last house.

None of which is to imply I hated Clarks Beach, because I didn’t. The best next door neighbours we had anywhere in New Zealand were the ones we had at Clarks Beach. I did, however, find living there a challenge because it was remote from, and time consuming to get to, both shops we’d visit regularly, and from all the family. In the months before he died, Nigel was already thinking about where we might move next, and his chief criteria was it had to be more rural so he could finally use the wind turbine he bought to make electricity (and he was also planning on building the battery bank to store power—I mean, of course he was!). He knew we could never have a wind turbine at the house in Clarks Beach when the property was surrounded by six other houses.

It’s against literally all of those thoughts and memories that I found myself in what had been my literal “happy place”, and Nigel’s, too, for most of our time there: He was always far more restless than me, but at his core, to him, just like me, “home” was wherever we and our furbabies were living, and everything else (style of house, location, etc) was always completely negotiable, but being together was not.

The longer I was in the house on Friday, the more cold it felt. It was as if the house itself was sad and exhausted, though it’s possible I could’ve been projecting. Toward the end of my time there, I looked around and thought how small the house looked, and maybe it’s because it was empty. That’s something I know about, too.

The house is fine, and I still like it, but: It’s not home, not anymore. If I was to move back there and put everything back exactly where it once was (and, I definitely wouldn’t do that, and not just because I’ve gotten rid of some furniture and gained some new), it couldn’t be the same. So, what’d be the point?!

The street where the house is located has become awful: Developers tore down/removed one (or two houses next to each other) and replaced them with six or eight three-storey townhouses, meaning both sides of the street are filled with parked cars, reducing the street to the width of one and a half cars. If cars going in opposite directions meet, the only solution is for one of them to pull over where cars aren’t parked so the other car can get through—what passes for urban planning these days, apparently.

The larger area where the house is located is fine—but it’s not mine anymore, either. I stopped in the Countdown—sorry, Woolworths—at Highbury shopping centre, and it was fine—even though I had no mental map of the shop (it’s been a long time…). Even so, I could see that right now it’s easily my favourite Woolworths, and light years nicer than how truly awful the one at Te Rapa in Hamilton is (that horrid shop is one of the main reasons I used to order online so much).

The Highbury shopping centre, where I spent so much of my shopping time for most of my years in New Zealand (mostly because it had what then was called Countdown) had recently been ruined—sorry, “renovated”—and I’d describe it as an above ground dungeon: Dark, claustrophobic, the sort of place I’d want to get out of quickly.

I also had sushi from the place near the house (Nigel and I often got Japanese from there) and it was really nice—but not nearly as nice as I remembered. I sense a pattern here.

As I turned onto the motorway to head back to Hamilton, I saw–as I’d done so many times—the skyline of Auckland’s waterfront and CBD glistening in the sun, blue skies with white clouds overhead, and I was struck, yet again, by how beautiful it is. I always thought that, but the skyline, too, has changed, and for the better, in my opinion. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful city skylines I’ve seen anywhere, with the harbour at its feet and its pleasantly compact size, relative to some of the world’s truly big cities. I still love that view as much now as the day Nigel I left the North Shore to live in South Auckland, near a different harbour.

They say you can never go home again—and it turns out “they” may be right. It was a sad, wistful, reflective, melancholy day for me, but not entirely unexpected. Nor was the fact I briefly teared up as I drove south—very briefly, because I was on the Auckland motorway at the time. It was because of all my memories, all that I’ve lost, and my current reality that’s tethered to all of that, yet connected to nothing. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know there’s no permanent refuge in the warmth of the past.

I still have a lot to figure out, but Friday reminded me the future is mine to forge. Someday yet I may even see that as a good thing.
An very unexpected reminder in the garage.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

That sounds like a fraught trip. Fraught seems to be my default term for things that are complicated - the Israel/Hamas war. It's this but it's also that. Very interesting to look back.