I’m back in San Francisco, after fleeing London a month and a half earlier than planned, alone, in the wake of the sort of disaster even my extremely pessimistic mind never thought to imagine. And although I’ve been dealing with a lot of loss this summer – my security, my relationship, my career plan, my best friend, my home and independence, what little confidence I’d built up over the past five years – perhaps the most surprising struggle has been the break-up with a city I’ve had complicated feelings about for years.
London and I have always had a tempestuous relationship. We fell in love hard and fast during heady weekend visits from Brighton, whirlwinds of booze and parks and wide river views. I was excited to move there after college, not just because I loved the man I moved for but because I loved the city in which he’d chosen to go to medical school. I pictured myself as an immediate and logical transplant; I was already a fast and decisive pedestrian, enamored of the diversity and excitement of city life. London would be like New York with a cuter accent.
But I wasn’t as city-paced as I thought. My first week in London was filled with tears and anxiety attacks – the vehicles were too loud, the people too pushy, the sidewalks too narrow. Everything was so much more difficult than I had anticipated, not to mention more expensive. I learned that I could never be on time anywhere if I had to take public transport: I would either be 20 minutes early or 10 minutes late. I was constantly stressed and harried and frustrated. And then there was the weather, which was so much worse than I’d expected, and the weeks of darkness in the winter, which taught me that yes, S.A.D. is a real thing.
Still, I adjusted, to a point. And in among the dark times were spots of such brilliance that I almost couldn’t imagine leaving. Walks in Regents Park in the fall, marveling at the sheer volume of turning leaves; afternoon tea at a tiny hole in the wall café; watching the massive stone faces of buildings older than my home state slide by from the top deck of the bus; having a pint of Pimms on a rare sunny day and seeing the Brits burn as they refuse to come in out of the sun.
I miss London like a piece of me that has been taken away forcibly. There were so many things ‘we’ were going to do before ‘we’ left, together – instead I spent the month of July crying and packing boxes and saying rushed goodbyes to friends who deserved better. I left my independence and my home of five years and my support system behind when I boarded the plane to the States, and I miss them every day, but I had to go. In the darkest, most traumatic time of my not-so-young life London had become an instrument of torture. Everything I saw, every pretty square or beautiful building that squeezed my heart, every exhibit that sounded interesting or restaurant that opened up in my rapidly gentrifying neighborhood made me think only of my former fiancé and how much ‘we’ would have enjoyed ourselves exploring those things, and I couldn’t take it. The walk to work alone was a brutal battle against memories and plans that had been ripped violently and suddenly from my life. It just hurt too much.
London, my darling, my infuriating love: I will come back. I promise you that. We have too much unfinished business for me to leave you like this. Just please help me create new memories with you, and forget the ones we had with him. Let’s run away together, just you and me.
Beautiful post, Anne. Apparently pain brings good writing. And London is a great city.
Thank you, Andrew. Yes, I’ve always been my most articulate when I’m in the most pain… it makes for a slightly depressing body of work but oh well!
All I can say is thank you. I just finished listening to your book on Audible, and I rushed on to the net to find you.
The book is magnificent and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. If they haven’t had bariatric surgery, they haven’t been pushed far enough into that black pit of self loathing, sadness and despair to have any right to judge your work. Repetitive? You want repetitive? Listen to that voice in my head every day. Events sometimes repeat in our lives and we learn from them or we don’t. So why wouldn’t
some things repeat in a text about your life.
I also need to say that I think you are stronger than you think. Your losses from this year made me weep. But you had the power to move on. I’m still waiting for him to decide he “wants to work on us.” I’m frozen, as we say back home, like a deer in the headlights. 19 years!
But enough of that. Please don’t let him take London from you. Although not as well traveled as you, insert major jealous huff here, I adore London and consider it my favorite city in the world. (This coming from a 20+ year “native” in NYC.)
Breathe, write, share. Live life with your arms wide open, ready to take hold of the good.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I am sending a link to your book to my surgeon. I think she will love it too.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Rhonda. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that you appreciated the book, and I hope your surgeon likes it too.
You’re right that I’m stronger than I think – I tell myself that every night, when I’ve made it through another day, and I try to remember it in the mornings when I have to face another long stretch of being awake. I suspect you are also stronger than you think. Maybe you need a little break from him, a week away with a good friend (London, maybe? Or Italy? Or even just Atlantic City!) to try to figure out if YOU want to work on you-plural. I know it’s easier said than done – both the time away / money to get away and the emotional distance – but I will say in my experience wine and a close girlfriend can work wonders. So can the right therapist; I’ve only just started with mine but I already feel more in control of my future, and that feeling is invaluable.
I hope you can take your own advice to me. We both deserve to take hold of the good – I’ll give it my best shot if you will!
Is there anyway to contact you? Sounds like we’ve had the same exact experience with trying to break up with London. Ive been back three weeks and well I realize London will never leave me. It’s great to see I’m not the only one.
You can always contact me through the blog, or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnneHPutnam. You’re back from London? To where? San Francisco is always going to be my hometown but I do miss the big smoke more than I like to admit!