My dear Jane,
So sorry I haven’t written for a while – letter writing was never my strength; besides, as sisters we have hardly ever been apart, so there was never any need before. I still can’t get our parting out of my mind. That windy railway platform, when you thought I was going back to Uni, to Leeds – but really, I had already decided to leave all that behind, and start a new life for myself here in London. And I never got the chance to talk to you about it, or maybe I just felt that we had drifted apart a bit; what with me away and only coming back to Suffolk occasionally. It felt, to me at least anyway, that what we once had – that special closeness – was slipping from our grasp. Somehow our growing up that last year had also seen us growing apart.
Oh, I do hope not. Our relationship was always more than just being sisters. It was far more than that. As you know our mother had always seemed, well – away with the fairies, I suppose. She never seemed that interested in us, especially when we were little. And I sort of filled the gap and became like a mother, if only two years older, to my little girl. Do you remember how I used to read to you; I could just about read when I was only five, I can’t really remember who taught me – but I always picked things up easily. And each week we would cut out the outfits for Bunty together, you cackhandedly hacking away with the scissors and me waiting patiently for you to finish. Ah, how we loved those little outfits, dressing our cardboard backed Bunty with new clothes every week.
Seems a long time ago now Jane. In fact, it all seems a long time ago; Suffolk, school, growing up – though so many happy memories, where I struggle to recall much of my one year at Leeds. In some ways the less you know about Leeds the better. I wish I’d never gone. You see, I suddenly felt lost there. Back in school I was kingpin, head girl, popular without really trying, top of the class at nearly everything – it all seemed to come so easily to me. And then – suddenly I was nobody, surrounded by all these seemingly far cleverer people than me. And I stupidly got in with a bad crowd and in my naivety thought that smoking dope and taking pills was so cool; what the groovy people were doing; and if I did it too, I would become one of them. That I would be free of all convention, that I could escape the mundane life I had lived so far. I never realised until too late that it was never escaping, never freedom; it was just as much a trap as I thought I was slipping into in our back-water little town.
Listen, you may not have heard it – but there is a song by a guy called Harry Chapin. “Anywhere’s a better place to be” and it’s about being so lonely that ‘anything’, ‘anywhere’ is better than the life you are leading. Really, you have to hear it to truly understand. But I felt, the more I listened to it, that Harry was singing directly to me – that the words were actually about me. And I never felt so lonely, surrounded by all these so-called cool people, in my life. Everything seemed to close in on me, and it was only drugs that lifted me out of that tunnel of loneliness. When I was ‘high’ I couldn’t care less, nothing mattered except the music, drinking and having a good time. But when the drugs wore off, I was far further down than before.
And I knew I had to escape. The song was telling me – ‘Anywhere’s a better place to be’, and somewhere, anywhere, else seemed to be the answer. And really without a lot of thought I just ran away. From home, from Uni, from the friends who weren’t really friends at all – and from the desperate need for dope, for pills and all that rubbish. But sadly, I left you too Jane. And that is what I regret most of all.
But just a few months ago London seemed to be the answer. I felt I just had to get away from everyone I knew. I craved anonymity. I was looking for oblivion really, sweet o-bloody-blivion. You know, when you hear nothing and see nothing and best of all feel nothing. I just had to find a way of blocking out all the bad things in my life. I had thought that drugs were the answer, but of course they were just another wrong turn. Maybe I had to make those wrong turns in order to find my true way; in order to find myself. Who knows? Anyway, I drew out all the money in my little Post Office Savings Account – you know all those Prince Charles stamps we had stuck in as children. It was a few hundred pounds actually; lots of birthday gifts which Dad made me save rather than spend on sweets or toys.
I thought I would make it in London. You know, become someone, a face maybe, get into a band, become a model or something. But I had no idea where to start. I went into shop after shop down the Kings Road, into Biba, into the crazy ‘boutiques’ in Carnaby Street – but no-one wanted to know me. The shop girls seemed to be laughing at this gawky country girl. They all looked down their long lashes at me. And I gave up after a while. I ended up just sitting in my little bedsit and letting the days drift by. Listening to the radio, popping out to buy milk and bread and fish-fingers and cigarettes. And I watched my little pile of money dwindle too. And I sunk into a kind of stupor, for the first time in my life there was nothing to get up for, no lessons, no lectures, nobody wanting me for anything. In fact, nothing at all. And in that nothingness I discovered that that sweet oblivion I had sought was emptier than anything I could ever have imagined. And then that song kept coming back into my head “Anywhere’s a better place to be.”
And slowly it began to dawn on me – that it wasn’t the place that was the problem. It wasn’t the ‘anywhere’ I found myself; it was actually me that was the problem. And I was the one who had to find the calm place in my own head, nowhere else, that was the better place to be.
And so, I have decided to come back home. In a week or two I expect. And I want you to tell Mum and Dad, to prepare them, to try maybe to explain to them, ‘cos I know they are furious with me about giving up Uni.
Yes, I am coming home; to Suffolk. Because on reflection it wasn’t that bad was it. And I will get a job locally, maybe working in a bank – you know I was always brilliant at maths. I have managed to kick the craving for drugs now too, and even the ciggies taste flat. I’ll try to stop those too. I miss all the old friends we used to have, and the Mikado coffee bar where we could sit for hours over a coffee and listen to the songs on the Jukebox together. But most of all Jane – I miss you. I miss someone I could really talk to; you know, about stuff that matters – and stuff that doesn’t matter too. And Jane, you never criticised me. Ever. I mean I can’t remember you ever saying ‘no’ to me. Maybe you should have. No, I don’t really mean that either. I just need you. I need you, my little sister, to help me, your big sister, finally grow up. And even now I can hear that song in my head; ‘Anywhere’s a better place to be’ – even our crumby little town in Suffolk.
So, Jane – I’ll let you know the day and the train I’ll be coming home on. Promise you will meet me on the platform and walk home with me. I don’t think I could do it without you.
Love – and sorry for all the craziness – Harriet.