I am here. That’s all I can really say— feel about this place; it only took me 10 years to get here. It took Moses 100 to get his people back to Israel— this was nothing.
Upon leaving Saint Pancras Station you’re greeted by the big red double-deckers hurling by on opposite directions of traffic from what I’m used to. The little black cabs weave through the congestion like professional that they are, straight from the scenes of films I’d only ever saw in The Parent Trap or Notting Hill. I watched Notting Hill on the plane, fell asleep to it with a plastic cup of cheap Spanish red wine in my hand. Here I was, two airports and a tedious second train in through the English channel later, the land of my favorite bands and literary heroes and quaint tea-time in the twilight of a cold, dim-lit dusk.
I always dreamt of London and London came true. I wake up to it in the twilight.
It’s like the financial district, this little part of what’s called Marylebone. Men and women bundled in wool coats and dark trousers pressed against each other at this crossing where my mommy and I sit in Costa coffee. I’m having tea— she asked for a coffee but had to get an Americano, without milk. American style with the simple drip and helping of sugar at your discretion does not exist.
Costa is a big coffee chain as with Pret a Manger, Boots pharmacy, and Ladbrokes— a betting establishment for soccer games. Pubs aren’t hard to find. It’s England.
The Underground saves us. Navigating the tube was thrilling, especially as the announcement is made that based on the next stop, you’re going in the right direction. Connecting can be tricky— but all is straightforward. For how overwhelming the map looks— the intersecting lines of Jubilee and Circle or the Victoria crossing Bakerloo— I felt my most confident in London taking the Tube.
Not so much on walking on the wrong side of traffic, however. Or ordering food, asking about whether my card will work of if my coins make up 7.50 exactly. There’s a colder, indifferent disposition to Londoners. You honestly feel stupid sometimes, just asking these little questions— questions in English. Sure, they smile, but out of politeness you might suspect these manners are just to display their pity.
It makes me a little sad. Not the feeling stupid, but just how once, only a few years ago, I would have felt better being so because dating an Englishman boosts your confidence in their crudeness. Instead of feeling like a stranger as I do now, I would have felt some comfort with all the friends and faces from this country I once knew, now estranged, only feeds on Facebook. From the photos I have posted online, some have reached out— telling me to come visit up north in Chester where “proper” English history (Welsh, Roman) resides, or down to Exeter to experience The Garden of England. All lovely gestures, all outside of London. But here in London, we are alone.
On the last night of my stay in London we are at the Allsop Arms down the street on Gloucester for some wine, and steak in peppercorn or hollandaise sauces and chips. Our order is done up front at the bar— so strange that I need to sign everything and they have to look at your ID to match up the signatures— and then we waited for our meal. A lovely window seat dinner becomes spoiled when the meat has a bad cut with two much tendon or heavy fat that I trim off, and on the arrival of a young couple in college taking their seats next to us. The girl is American, her boyfriend is English. They’re hosting their friends visiting from outside of London at their flat on the other side of the Thames and who would even show up. I wonder where the girl is from. She’s a bit heavy with brown hair and a floral dress underneath an unbuttoned chambray and crossbody purse. She’s not from the South or midwest, maybe East Coast. They’re talking and it makes me sad because that girl– all my life I thought I would be here, the American abroad and happily settled into this life. My life is different now. A lot changes in 10 years. And when I was dating Matt, I saw that a lot can change in just 3.
I message him occasionally throughout this trip. I tell him on the last night about how London made me feel. He says firmly, “I hate London.”