Exactly one year ago today, I sat in the blue plushy window seat of a Boeing 777 and watched both the television screen on the seat in front of me and my reflection in the plane’s window. My window-pane shadow, with a starless, uncertain darkness in my pupils was the same starless, uncertain darkness that cloaked the ocean thousands of miles below me.
For eight full hours, I alternated between staring at imagined waves slowly lapping and folding over themselves in an endless cycle of hydrologics and at a tiny computer plane on the television-screen map. That pixilated plane, void of sleeping and insomniatic humans, inched closer and closer to a red dot named the place I had been dreaming about since I was 10 London.
I think about London every day. London does not think about me.
London was the friend I talked to every day and then grew apart from. The one I had a friend crush on for years and finally had the courage to introduce myself to with a hesitant smile and with gushing-sharing-too-much-information-that-showed-I-Googled-her compliments. Not in a repugnant way, but in the I-know-you-have-so-much-to-teach-me-please-be-my-soul-mate way. And she was.
London kept my secrets and promised not to tell as I pleaded with a whisper, looking at my gnawed off fingernails instead of into her eyes. London, along with everyone who cared to listen to my Anglophilic dreams, knew how much studying abroad meant to me. She didn’t judge me when I confused anxiety and excitement, a feeling that happened daily when I couldn’t identify whether being abroad made me feel liberated or discouraged and was left with a cavity of tangled nerves. She knew how I had read every blog, book and poem I had time for before I flew over the nighttime sea in the hopes that I would be ready. London laughed at my false sense of preparedness and made a point of proving that I didn’t really know anything at all.
I blogged about everything I saw and did when I was in England because I was terrified that I would forget. I was scared all of my adventures would mean nothing if I couldn’t remember the name of the tube stop where I exited for work (Bank) or the area I lived in (Camden), and that is why it’s so important for me to quiz myself on these facts today.
London? I lived there for four months when I studied abroad! In Camden. On Kentish Town Road (I think). Yes, in a flat with two others. Worked in the city, yes, right by the River Thames.
These facts are important because they prove that London happened. That it wasn’t a dream. These facts are important because no one wants to talk about how, for the first sixteen nights, I couldn’t fall asleep for hours because I felt terrified and alone and how, when I did finally get to sleep, I bolted upright after a few hours in a disoriented panic. Worried about many things out of my control, but most of all, that my cyclical sadness would root its sharp talons in my heart so that I couldn’t enjoy the trip I had been looking forward to my entire life. In those sixteen nights and in the dozens that would follow, I remember walking to the window and looking out at the solitary streetlight. Feeling isolated in the early morning hours when I imagined everyone else to be wrapped up in their blankets and their dreams. I didn’t know, in those unquiet nights, and wouldn’t realize until I left England, that it’s possible to feel half a world away from someone both when you’re half a world away and when you’re in the same room.
I spent every day with London and then I moved away. Until I return, London will remember me as the overeager 21-year-old I was when I knew her. She will ask me if I still love British writers, if I learned to put enough milk in my tea and if all of the smiling I did at peacoatted men on the subway ever landed me a date. London will remember a different me if when I come back because I was braver and more adventurous when I was with her. In my daylight hours with London, I lived through exotic-sounding pubs and pints, in accents that once made me blush but then became normal, in lunches I packed in plastic orange grocery bags, in long walks down winding cobbled roads, in the chill in my spine from the cold whose jolts of electric energy made me feel alive.
Now, I live in heated rooms and once again travel through words on pages instead of words hanging in the air. I try to harness the spontaneity that occurred in the foreign land but now feels foreign altogether. I listen 70% of the time and talk 30% and in my silences, I can sometimes hear London. But mostly, I hear the way things are now.
Everything changed but when I came back not much had changed at all. How was London? It was great. I still can’t believe it happened. It was great because that statement is mostly true; I had many of the best days of my life in those four months. That statement is mostly true because memory is a faulty construct of our own illusions and I remember everything being “great.” But there is a dash, just a dash, a drop, a smidge, of bruising dishonesty in my answer.
One day, I will once again watch a pixilated plane travel toward the red dot, the old friend who will remember me as the person I was.
You look different! So do you. You’ve changed.
Well, London, you changed me.