Exactly one year ago, I left London. The night before my departure, my then-boyfriend and I caught the bus to Piccadilly Circus. “Can’t we take the tube?” he asked. “It’ll be faster.”
“No,” I replied. “The Number 9. From Hammersmith.” And so, for old time’s sake, we trudged from his flat to the bus station and caught the Number 9, just as we had the night he asked me to be his girlfriend and just as I had every week for nearly a year before I met him, clutching my tap shoes, my reading assignments and my trusty Oyster Card, elbowing my way through tourists and children alike to get to the front seats on the upper deck.
We split a cranberry turkey pasty and walked from Piccadilly Circus up Regent Street, which was already glowing beneath its canopies of star shaped Christmas lights even though it was only November. After sampling our fill of teas and coffees at Whittard of Chelsea, we proceeded to Covent Garden and I started crying almost as soon as I saw the larger than life reindeer topiaries that guarded the entrance to the arcade of shops.
This was not because I’m overly sensitive about reindeer, or topiaries, or cranberry turkey pasties, but rather because I was due to fly home in less than 24 hours—to say goodbye to my then-boyfriend without knowing whether or not we’d be able to survive long distance, to bid farewell to my dwindling circle of international friends without knowing whether I’d ever see them again once they’d returned to their corners of the globe and finally, to take leave of the new friends I’d met beyond the confines of my university, fairly certain that they’d forget all about me the minute I hit the tarmac.
Can you blame me for getting completely sloshed during last year’s Martini Bar Soiree?
The flat I’d taken after I moved off campus was an absolute dump, but still: it was my dump. My London dump. Granted, my flat mates were a few years shy of maturity, and had they approached the topping up of our pay-as-you-go electric plan with the same enthusiasm that they approached the construction of their weekly bop outfits, we might have saved ourselves many an early morning, heatless but nonetheless heated discussion of who’s turn it had been to put a fiver on the key. But they introduced me The X Factor, and subsequently to Cheryl Cole, and to Jeremy Kyle (Jerry Springer has nothin’ on Jeremy Kyle). They also brought me up to date on my daytime drama: Coronation Street, East Enders and that weird, trippy soap where the main characters are forever throwing themselves into bodies of water… Holly-something-or-other.
I miss Cheryl Cole. Given that she’s contributed about as much to the art of song as Britney spears, I probably shouldn’t admit this publically, but I can’t help it. I miss Cheryl Cole and JLS and Dizzie Rascal (and if you don’t know who I’m talking about, I suggest you befriend a few nineteen year old Roheampton Uni students, lest you ever end up on Jeopardy and the category is “Shameful British Pop Music of 2009 to which No Self Respecting 25 Year Old Would Ever Listen”).
I played “Fight for This Love” basically non-stop during my last few days in London, until my lease ran out and I took up residence in my then-boyfriend’s flat for my last 48 hours.
So there we were, standing in Covent Garden before the larger than life reindeer topiaries and I was already crying, not just because I was leaving him, but because I was leaving her: the girl who had come to regard London as her playground and (on those rare occasions when the lights in her flat actually worked, the washing machine fulfilled its duty and the Number 72 bus actually arrived) as her home.
But my student visa had run out, and in truth, my resolve ran out as well. Perhaps if I had spent less time jamming at Ronnie Scotts and more time angling to meet Prince William, things might have worked out differently, but the way the cards fell, I was on my way to Heathrow with a one-way ticket to Philadelphia.
Never one to miss an opportunity for a dramatic entrance (or exit), I made a great spectacle of myself at the airport, blowing my nose on approximately six dozen Café Nero napkins (good thing I always opt for the carbon offset when I fly) and working myself into a complete weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth frenzy over whether or not the “L” word would be spoken before I passed through the security gate.
All I can say is that’s a good thing that young, seemingly Caucasian women aren’t generally at the top of the terrorist watch list because I was a wreck by the time I got to the biometric imaging station. The “L” word was not spoken but for all of the ways in which my then-boyfriend misunderstood me, he knew enough to realize that anything even remotely evocative of Love Actually would have sent me over the edge, and I was having a hard enough time crossing over the Atlantic.
“Call me when you land,” he said. “And I’ll see you soon.”
I never saw him again (except for that minor 12-hour lapse in judgment a few months later, when we met for a “drink” for the sake of “closure” upon my return to London for my graduation ceremony). Instead, I got completely drunk at the Black Friday Martini Bar Soiree, only to wake up the next morning still wearing my party clothes, wondering whether to blame the jetlag or the Frangelico…
Here’s hoping I manage to behave myself at this year’s Martini Bar Soiree (especially as I sent Date #17 his official invite earlier this week). In the meantime, a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who come from normal families and give thanks sans martinis.