It was like the classroom was under water.
Or I was trapped in a tank at the edge of it.
The din of the thirty or so ten year olds had become distorted, dancing around my head. My vision blurred.
I felt numb.
It was the last day before the summer holiday. Everyone else was excited; they didn’t care that I was leaving forever.
Nothing seemed real. The world was dissolving before my eyes.
My life was over.
I didn’t immediately register the voice of my headmistress. I had temporarily forgotten the name ‘Abigail’ belonged to me.
“Are you all right?”
How could I ever be all right again? Everything was being taken away from me: my friends, my grandparents, my sense of security… In a few short days, I would be ripped from my home and cast into a strange land that might as well be on another planet!
I looked up at my headmistress, but I didn’t articulate any of that. I couldn’t.
“I just wanted to wish you luck,” she said. “New Zealand won’t know what hit it!”
That memory, sitting on the cupboard at the edge of Mr Lilley’s classroom, will be with me until I die. It was the moment it all came crashing down upon me: I was moving to New Zealand.
I suddenly realised what I had to lose. Of course, I’d known theoretically and had already gotten very upset about it on multiple occasions, but I’d never really felt the full impact of it until now.
When people ask me what I miss most about England, I always say, “Being able to visit a ruined castle every weekend.” As I was sitting on the cupboard at the edge of the classroom, though, the thought of leaving behind so many castles never even crossed my mind. It was the thought of leaving behind my friends and grandparents that broke through my numbness and caused my heart to start carving away at the inside of my chest.
That must surely be the worst part for any immigrant – leaving loved ones behind.
Flights to and from New Zealand are so expensive. It’s simply horrible to think that the thing that prevented me from seeing my grandma more before she died of Alzheimer’s was money. In the twelve years between me moving to New Zealand and her death, I saw her three times. When I lived in England, I saw her practically every day.
She was terrified of flying. We eventually persuaded her to visit us, with my dad’s brother accompanying her. Before she visited New Zealand, the furthest away she’d been from England was Jersey. (A small island between England and France.) I still remember her sitting on a blazing Mount Maunganui beach in her cardigan.
She visited us once more after that. Then, when I was seventeen, I visited her in England. She hadn’t started to get Alzheimer’s then. She told me things about her life she’d never told me before. I suppose I’d been too young. She told me things that made her blush. We mostly just went for walks into town and stuffed ourselves with all the food I’d loved as a child.
That was the last time I saw her.
It was three or four years later that the Alzheimer’s came. My dad’s brother was left to bear the brunt of it. She ended up thinking he wasn’t her son – he was just someone who looked exactly like her son and was pretending to be him for evil gains. He had to put her in a home eventually. Some of the stories of what she got up to there are quite amusing, despite it all.
Then she was dying. My dad didn’t want me to call her; didn’t want me to remember her like that. But I was adamant. I called my uncle and he handed the phone to Gran.
And she knew me.
I mean she thought I was the little kid version of myself, but she knew me!
I got to say goodbye.