A diary note tells me that three years ago today - on 24 January 2009 - I moved out of M---'s home and began to occupy the Cottage on a full-tme basis.
Three years already.
I'd better give some background. When I retired on 31 May 2005 I had already put my former home up for sale. I'd enjoyed a good salary, but, looking at my pension, it simply wasn't possible now to meet the ongoing mortgage repayments. I considered holding onto the house and letting it, but the income would have been swallowed up by those mortgage repayments, and I had no savings available to cover the inevitable costs. And I would still be without a home of my own. Apart from that, I didn't relish being a landlord, especially as I'd seen what problems could actually arise; although renting out a village property to a couple wasn't the same thing as renting a town flat to students. My likely tenants wouldn't necessarily trash the place. But I really didn't fancy it.
Selling would also put a lot of money in the bank. And at that time, in 2005, M--- and I wanted to travel. And we did: an orgy of caravanning, and eventually a two-month New Zealand holiday in 2007. We were still a close couple. There was an ongoing plan - which in M---'s case was a powerful dream - to buy a million-pound house together somewhere by the sea, or in the country. Selling my home put cash in the joint pot for that: a big first step.
The house sold. Now, where to live, pending the million-pound purchase? M--- welcomed me into her home. For special financial reasons (that I can't explain here) this had to be on a temporary basis only. So sooner or later I'd have to find somewhere else. I could only now afford a small place, and nothing appealing came up. And we seemed so rock-solid, so eager to share a future together, that neither of us was inclined to make a serious effort to get me fixed up in a little bungalow in the local area.
As we went into 2006, and then into 2007, the property market was still riding high. I began to worry about what my bank balance could now buy me, because the 'temporary' stay with M--- was getting to look dangerously long-term. But only a flat was now within reach.
Then we found the Cottage. It was hopelessly unaffordable for me. But it looked like a great property investment, and M--- came in. We pooled our resources, acted fast, shut out the other potential buyers, and bought it.
At first the Cottage was only going to be a place to enjoy on weekends. And not necessarily to sleep in, although some of my furniture went down there, and it was set up as a house to spend a night or two in. It was in fact a comfortable, modern, very nicely appointed family home. Way too large for one person; but I was installed as the legal owner, and that instantly solved the problem of my staying with M--- in her home for overlong.
But I didn't feel as if I owned the Cottage in any real sense. It was - to me - simply a joint investment, something we'd sell and get a profit from, and not my 'home'. M--- put a lot of personal effort into the place - painting, work in the garden - as if it were her own personal project. She took it over. I didn't mind; I had no special attachment to the Cottage, although it was a most attractive property in almost every way. But it soon became obvious that our 'investment' was going to be a mistake. The property market had faltered. The Cottage went onto the market again not a year after we bought it. Meanwhile I was still living with M---.
Then one day in July 2008, I recognised that I had a gender issue, and everything changed forever.
From that point, my departure from M---'s home became inevitable. We both tried to cope with the consequences, but it was no good. In the end, M--- could not bear to see me changing before her eyes, the old person beginning to fade away and someone new and distressingly unfamiliar coming in. I could not bear the strain, the atmosphere of desperate hostility, the lack of recognition and empathy, the mutual sorrow. As 2009 arrived, she asked me to go. I went. Three years ago.
So much has happened since!
And yet the Cottage itself is innocent. It was my home for only a few months until Dad died, and I inherited the house I now live in. It was finally sold last August. I am sure its new owners love it and have made it their own.
I look back on my time there with a curious detachment, because we did not bond. I used the Cottage as a refuge, a place of peace and safety, where I could take the first steps towards going full-time as Lucy. A sort of cradle. It was also the place where I heard of both my parents' deaths. It was also a financial albatross. But let the past be past.