A Day of Belonging

Yesterday was a day of belonging. One of those warm, comforting days where you fit like the last jigsaw piece into every situation you’re in, snug and safe in the perfectly imperfect life you’ve built for yourself. In a world where we all feel unsure of ourselves so much of the time these days are hard to come by, so I wanted to share mine with you.

It started with family.

My grandparents were in Leeds visiting my parents for lunch, so I made the 20-minute bus ride out to the suburb where I grew up to join them. We talked about our lives, bickered about Brexit, and my grandma shrieked at my mum for cooking a chicken dinner even though she and my dad weren’t eating due to dinner plans that evening. The usual family stuff. I left laden down with two framed prints to hang in my new flat, a housewarming plant from my grandparents, and a new book spontaneously gifted by my dad.

Despite our differences, there’s nowhere I feel like I belong quite as much as in the company of the ‘core four’ – my parents, brother and myself. My family are my clan, my tribe, my centre of gravity and my safety net, and while there are trying times both behind us and ahead, I take comfort from the unshakeable knowledge that we will face them all as a united front.

It continued with friends.

A month ago, my high school friends and I booked tickets to see Dirty Dancing at Harewood House’s open air cinema weekend, praying that summer would make an appearance. Anybody who lives in Yorkshire will know that our prayers were not answered – Leeds was plagued by erratic showers all day, and as we drove up the drive of Harewood House the rain turned torrential, bouncing off the windscreen and weakening our resolution. But the optimism of my friend Emma can never be dampened, and armed with some waterproof groundsheets she dragged us all out of the cars and onto the grass to claim our spot.

We were granted a short respite and were just starting to feel cocky when the rain returned. We pulled out our waterproofs, put up our hoods and umbrellas…and all burst out laughing. Here we were, sitting in a field with a picnic in the rain, desperately protecting cake under our ponchos, with no idea if it was ever going to stop – it was completely ridiculous, but for better or worse we were in it together.

The rain did stop quite quickly and this time it was for good. A rainbow appeared, the film started, and the evening stayed warm even after the night was completely dark. We snacked on crisps and cake, drank two bottles of prosecco and a bottle and a half of gin, danced along to Baby and Johnny’s final scene, and drove home singing along to a Disney CD at full volume with the windows down. I hope we’ll still be doing the same thing when we’re 60.

It ended with a stranger.

One of my friends now lives in London and our time together is limited, so we decided to finish the night in style at Call Lane. We danced, drank rum cocktails, and after putting her in a taxi I set off walking back to my flat, taking my usual route through the Dark Arches. They’re not so dark anymore – bright lights illuminate the tunnel all night – but they still send me off down memory lane every day, remembering family days out at the little shops and market stalls that were here when I was a kid.

I’ve always loved the Dark Arches, the musty smell of the air and the roar of the river racing under the bridge that seemed so much louder when I was little. Last night I paused on the bridge, and as I gazed into the black nothing of the river tunnels and breathed in the cool, musky air, a man on his way home stopped beside me.

“What are you looking at?”

We talked about our nights, debated the technicalities of the Otley Run pubs, and I pointed out the bats he didn’t believe lived in the tunnels as they swooped in and out of the shadows. We walked together until we reached his building and he offered to walk me the rest of the way to my flat, seeming surprised when I told him I didn’t need an escort. As I crossed the river and turned into my street I felt overwhelmed with a surge of contentment that it’s completely true – even though as a woman I’m always on my guard, Leeds has never felt dangerous to me and I love walking home alone. This is my city, and right now it’s exactly where I belong.

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