London Is The Ex-Boyfriend I Just Can't Shake
Every time I'm booked to go back to London it happens. It starts as a gentle gnawing in the stomach and slowly builds to an unmistakable sense of unease: an increased heart rate and shallow breathing as worry and fear set in.
"Will I fall again? Am I going to collapse into a heap of tears upon placing my feet on the cobblestones? With one breath of the damp fog filled air are my lungs and body going to be filled with a sense of regret, of loss and of longing?"
You see London and I, we had our great love affair, and like all cinematic courtships it ended in a traumatic parting of way not necessarily from want, but from need, logic and, circumstance. We all have one. The one you choose to leave, the one you know you must part with, but also the one that has wriggled its way so deep into your psyche that you fear it has taken up permanent residence. The with time you grow to co-exist in a way that parts of you become so inexplicably intertwined that the separation between self and place becomes difficult, if not impossible.
As with any former relationship, we've had our ups and downs and I've crafted my reassuring list of why I chose to and why I continue to choose to leave. When it's all laid out for me in black and white anyone can see the deck is well over stacked on the "cons" side. My working life there is more stressful, the job is definitely less enjoyable, the "standard of living" in terms of things like home ownership is nowherenear comparable, and the weather - well let's just say it is that bloody miserable for a good chunk of time.
Some Of This Is True
Time apart as with all things sweetens the memories. The houses, the spaces, the sights, the sounds, and the smells (my god if you ride the tube every day there are going to be smells) all come together to form this hazy rose coloured cloud that takes up space in my heart, in my mind, in my body.
I have a slightly, ok.. fine, very over-romanticised vision of the city in my mind. My heart swells and my eyes well when I picture the food and flower markets, the quaint row houses, the cobblestone streets, the vendors selling flimsy paper cups of warm caramelized nuts by Tower Bridge. The sound of the pubs emptying out at the end of the day and the roar of the tube as comes surging down the tunnel towards the platform. The pressure of the metal bumps that line the streets as you approach the curbs, the painted reminders of which way to look.
You Can Go It Alone
I've built my walls. They are solid and strong, with supportive bricks laid around my life as high and as rooted in history as the walls that protect the tower. A support network of family, friends, new jobs, and new projects, hobbies and passions have come together to form a lifestyle that I love and that fulfills me. I am solid. I am strong. However, as my next scheduled return approaches the foundation starts to crack. The emotion starts to creep in. The pit in my stomach grows and I begin to realize just how damn much I miss it, how much I have had to actively build a life here and keep myself occupied and unaware of this feeling.
This feeling is fleeting, eventually. When I arrive giant tears of relief are always shed as I feel happy and calm and at peace. I spend time walking the streets, checking out the galleries, nipping in here and there and living my former life and with time a subtle shift occurs. The sights the sounds, the smells start to grate on my patience and I become frustrated with simple things like queuing for a bus in the rain and I feel ready to leave, ready to return to a sense of my new normalcy. I land in an emotional space where I realize that London will always occupy a special place in my heart, but I no longer feel the need to live there. However, take me away from this place for an extended period of time (at the moment we are going on three years of separation) and the doubt, the fear and the longing sets in again.
Yes, I Was There Too
Do I miss the place? Or do I miss a sense of time and space that no longer exists? When I lived in London life was a much different time than it is now and I can't help but wonder if I simply miss the chaos and debauchery of life in my 20s. My modern family, strung together like mismatched patches of fabric, was a motley crew. We drank together, we ate together, we cried together, we laughed together, we traveled together, and grew together. Eventually, like most good things, we grew in ways that brought us to different places and spaces. Most of us have lived out our days and have come to part ways with the city and are now scattered around to world. Some are back in Ontario, while others have headed off to Australia and America, or back home to Ireland, a few have been pushed out of the city into other parts of England, and there are also those who are still there. I periodically keep in touch with some of them and often wonder if they struggle with the same addictive emotional yo-yo-ing that seems to stalk my subconscious.
(click on any of these images to see the debauchery in full glory)
Draw Another Breath
How can you be sad and heartbroken over a city and yet not willing to return? I don’t know, but I am. And I have been for the last six years. I don’t want to be anymore. The solution? Short of winning the lottery and giving myself 2-3 extended visits each year I don't know. At the moment I'm trying to wrangle out a life plan that helps me work through this. Short of digging up my home, my job and my social connections and transplanting them into the city I know my options are limited. Moving back isn't one, as I know that eventually with time, I would end up unsatisfied and wanting to leave again. Sometimes I think of spending summers there, grabbing a flat and renting it for the two months I am graciously afforded here at home as holidays. Other times I think of just plunking in more random trips to hit the city at different times, as a stepping stone to another location. The solution, like much of life, is a work in progress. In the meantime, there will always be reassuring second home comforts like imported Malteasers and a warm cuppa tea with a fresh scone or a pile of biscuits.
Well, that was a bit emotionally draining eh? Good news is it's time to eat your feelings. Want a delicious scone recipe? Head on over to the baking archives via the image below:
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