I Can’t Remember If We Said Goodbye

Friday 29th June

I know you’ll be surprised, shocked even, to receive this letter Jane, but though it was only two days ago, I really can’t remember if we said goodbye.  I left in a terrible mood.  I’d just had the usual row with those two imposters who call themselves our parents.  Though, as you must know Jane, it was always just us; the two of us, Jane and Harriet.  The two of us against the World.  Our parents were so useless; or wrapped up in their own lives that they gave us maybe too much space, too much freedom.

But Jane, we always had each other, didn’t we?  We were always there for each other Jane.  And we will be again soon.  I promise.

I know that we have grown slightly apart since I went to University, shit-hole that it is, but I have always cared about you.  Remember what I used to say when we were little girls. “Jane, I am your guardian angel.  You cannot always see me, but I am there, hovering in the sky and looking down on you, protecting you, watching out for you wherever you go.”  And I meant it then and I mean it even more now.  I will always be there for you.

I am writing this on the train back to London, and by the time you read it I will be starting my new life.  But not in University.  I am packing all that crap in.  I have had enough.  Oh, don’t worry – I have some money.  That was why I came back today when none of you expected me.  I sneaked back into the house while you were all out, picked up a few clothes and my Post-Office savings book – you know the one with all the stamps of Prince Charles in.  Well, it is over £500 actually.  I used to often count it up when Dad was out of the house and secretly plan how I would spend it.  I am packing up this stupid course at Uni.  I mean, History….durgh!!!  Why on earth did I choose, or allow my teachers to choose, History for me?  I simply have to start living, little Sis.  I can’t do this crap any more.  I am in the centre of swinging London, it is 1968 after all. And yet I have seen nothing. These stupid rules in the Halls of Residence.  There are all-nighters at this club in Soho called the Enchanted Garden, where bands play till dawn.  I’ve never been, of course, but I’ve heard.  And, by the way, they have the best dope there too, not like the rubbish we had in Suffolk.  Jane, I am nineteen and I haven’t lived yet.  I’m going to get a job and start living.

Sitting on this train looking out of the window; the factories and the fields and the stupid little houses with neat little gardens.  That isn’t for me.  My God, what short-sighted lives they lead.  As I pass the familiar buildings, the train building up a little speed, the railway footbridge where we used to watch the few remaining steam trains chuffing underneath, drenching us in hot sticky smoke, past the streets and houses huddled so close to the railway line, as if they were too scared to breathe, the very streets we  tramped round as kids, it only seems days ago when it was years really, past the old iron foundry where they make the lawnmowers now, past the paint factory and the fertilizer plant with the big blue and orange drums of chemicals stacked up in rows, past the nursery greenhouses all mildewed and yellow glass, and then the fields with the cows chewing the cud and staring up at me and the train whooshing by, their tails swishing at flies on their rumps, past the little copses where we, little Jane and her big sister Harriet, used to take our picnic basket when the sun seemed to shine all day, past the little farms and outhouses, the very barns where we played when our Mum took us fruit picking, the tiny lives lived out here with such narrow horizons, such dark and dismal skies, such limited imaginations, such tiny ambitions, to live and die here in these little houses, to be born and die in the same place, never having lived your life to the full, never having done anything, never achieving your potential, never realizing you had potential to achieve even.  No, not for me, this country life, getting married to your childhood boyfriend, the first boy who kisses you, the boy from the same village, the same school, who knows your parents, who is probably even related to you a couple of generations back, to get yourself stupidly pregnant, to have to get married, to bring up your snotty-nosed kids in these same stupid houses, wiping the shit off their arses until you have the next one, and the next one, and you become fat with flabby arms and legs like tree-trunks and stop enjoying sex because it is always the same and worse still – the same man, until you are there crying at your daughter’s wedding as she too marries a local boy and is probably already up the duff herself and you watch as she has your grandchildren and they grow up in the same little houses and mean streets and none of them will ever do anything with their pathetic little lives at all.  No, Jane, I am different.  I am better than that.  I am going to be someone. I am not like them, these ordinary people, I am different.

But Jane.  I haven’t forgotten you.  No, I will never do that.  Listen – this is my plan.  I’m going to get a flat, or maybe just a room to start with.  And then a job.  Anything will do to begin with, a waitress or a shop girl.  I’ll try all the boutiques in Carnaby Street and the Kings Road.  Maybe I’ll become a model – or join a band.  I could always sing; the best in the school choir, wasn’t I?  And I’m going to see all the new groups and go to parties and meet all the best people.  I can do it Jane, I know I can. But I will come back for you Jane; I promise.  Once I get myself together, you know.

Hey Sis, you remember that song by The Beatles – “She’s leaving Home.”  I always thought it was me they were singing about – though sod the man from the motor trade – I don’t need any man at all.  Well, maybe one for laughs or to go to parties with.

Truth is, though Jane, I am scared.  It is a huge decision; I’ve been thinking about it for ages though – this isn’t just some impulsive thing.  I am scared of the future, of maybe not being famous, of not being someone, or of screwing things up in some way.  Mostly though I am scared of failing, of returning home with my tail between my legs, like some lame animal, begging our parents to take me back.  No.  That isn’t going to happen.  But I am gonna come back for you Jane.  We were always together, weren’t we?  At parties, at Youth Club, we were inseparable – The Wilkinson girls.  I will come back for you Jane.  And if you dare, you can come and live with me in my groovy flat in London.

But I am so sorry it has to be like this Jane.  A stupid letter, when I should have told you face to face. It’s just that I thought you might not understand, you might have tried to stop me, to make me see sense – as you would say.  You were always the sensible one with her feet on the ground while I was flying miles above you.  And so, I didn’t tell you, did I?  And I can’t even remember if we said goodbye.  I think I just called out ‘See you’ or something like that.   But that doesn’t really mean anything, does it?

Oh God, I’ve smudged this letter now.  It must have been a few drops of this glass of water and the train jolting and that.  But you know that’s not true don’t you Jane.  I am crying.  Here I am, your big sister Harriet blubbing like a baby.  I’m crying for the times we had, the love we felt for each other.  I’m crying for you Jane, and I’m crying for me Harriet.  I’m crying for us both you see, Jane. That’s why I didn’t say goodbye. Cos’ I would have burst out crying and that would have started you off, and then I might not have had the courage to go through with it, after all.

Anyway, the train’s pulling into Liverpool Street.  I’m gonna stuff this letter in the envelope, it’s already written and stamped and I’m gonna shove it in the first letter box I can find.  Love you Jane.

Don’t forget me….your big sister, Harriet.