Building a life

While I was on holiday in Rome I visited the place my mum used to live many years ago, when she was a lot younger than I am now. She asked me to see if I could find it and it turned out the road was not too far away, just the other side of one of the famous seven hills of Rome. All the way there I felt excited, map in hand pausing on street corners to check my location and then a hasty trot along the street trying to locate the right building. I couldn’t. So I called her from top of the street and talked to her about what I could see around me, the landmarks, anything she might recognise to help orient me. She gave me one vital detail and I was off back down the road, sure that I’d already seen what she was describing.

And this time I found it easily, the very building she’d lived in. I did a little video for her up and down the street, talking her through the orientation and what was around me. Locals stopped curiously to watch as I stood in the middle of the street talking into the camera phone, documenting this unexceptional backstreet with such enthusiasm.

And then I stood quietly for some moments outside the building, resting my hand on the stone doorframe, imagining the younger person who was to become my mum treading over this threshold every day. She at once felt so close to me but also so far away. This was an intense and rather troubled time of her life, I think. She almost never talks about it. It’s her secret time, before marriage, before children, before her identify became that of wife and mother.

It felt quite something that she’d asked me to look it out for her, to enter into a private part of her life just a little. It was also slightly saddening that I must be her envoy, that she isn’t able to travel to Italy and do this for herself. Would she want to in fact? Perhaps not. But for me it felt poignant, suspended between her past life and her current life, between this place in Rome and the family home in England, feeling the distance as well as the intimacy between her as a mother and me as a daughter. If these stones under my hand could speak what would they say, what stories would they tell me of my mum’s earlier life? How was she as a young woman? I can never meet the person she was then, of course. I can’t time travel. But perhaps she’ll talk to me about this part of her life when I’m next at home. Perhaps we’ll watch my video together and she’ll reminisce a little. I’d like to know her better, this woman who is also my mum.

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