14 December 2006

Without Even A Whimper

So ends thirty one and a half years of my life in London. I predicted to a friend that I'd have broken down in tears at least once before I completed the process of packing up what was left of my belongings, closing up the flat for the last time, and heading off to the USA, but I was wrong.

The city has never looked lovelier that it has these past few days - well, objectively it probably has, but bear with me - and friends have been popping out of the woodwork in alarming abundance to tell me how much they'll miss me and urge me to come back and visit soon. Most disconcerting have been the sudden recollections of those picayune but nonetheless piquant pleasures of everyday London life and the realizations of how I'll miss them.

But despite all this, I went through my last 24 hours in London dispassionately, almost mechanically. Perhaps I was numb, in shock, even, at the prospect of having such an enormous part of my existence summarily amputated, or perhaps I'd simply reached a level of acceptance wherein I understood that there's no point in brooding or grieving over the inevitable changes that make life what it is.

I flagged down a cab to take me and three boxes of seemingly essential clothes and books to a UPS depot (this after spending an hour on the phone with UPS the previous day, during 59 minutes of which somone continually assured me that UPS would come pick up the packages only to be told in the last minute that no, they wouldn't after all), and then struggled for half an hour with some incredibly opaque US customs forms, including two entire pages devoted to explaining the exact construction, model number, form and function of two pairs of shoes that were already wrapped up tightly within miles of cardboard and duct tape and which I hadn't seen or worn, let alone described, in at least a year.

Then it was off to my local bank, once a place of constant sorrow which only years of mingled schmoozing and bitching were able to turn into a useful institution that I didn't particularly mind visiting and now will almost miss. A stop at my doctor's to get the results from my latest exam and be told that I was in excellent health and would be in even more excellent health if I'd only stop eating most of my favorite foods. Then a long trek across town to Hampstead to see a solicitor and fill in several acres of largely baffling forms relating to the sale of my flat. One last load of superfluous books and clothing (but not so superfluous that I hadn't only last week sworn I could never be separated from) to be hauled down to Oxfam in Auntie's old shopping trolley, and then it was back home to cram what was left of my London life into two suitcases and a backpack.

As usual when faced with the prospect of hard work, I promptly fell asleep, and woke up shortly before dawn with my suitcases still unpacked and only a matter of hours before it was time to leave for the airport. Still, I made everything fit, if not in the suitcases, then in the copious bins outside the back door, and was even able to do a bit of cleaning and laundry to help ready the place for its new owner (who happens to be a dear friend of mine, though he may grow a bit less dear if various towel racks make good on their threats to fall off the walls.

I actually was out of the house about 10 minutes early, made my way to Paddington and thence to Heathrow, arriving more than two hours before my plane was due to take off and three hours before it actually did. There were seven different movies showing on the flight, all of which were crap, and though I'd picked up copies of Metro, the Daily Mail and the Guardian to read on the plane, I barely had a chance to open them, thanks to being seated next to a very loquacious Kiwi on his way home to Auckland.

We talked about Sydney, London, New York, San Francisco, Cape Town, Canada, Texas, the relative merits of the North Island vs. the South Island, rugby, cricket, football, divorce, child-rearing, dodgy politicians, and that was before dinner. Apart from a brief nap, we talked all the way to San Francisco, about ten hours and fifty minutes all in, a record rivaled only once before, some years ago when I was flying the same route and unexpectedly found myself seated next to Dr. Frank.

So it wasn't until I was riding BART into town from SFO that I finally started reading the Daily Mail and experienced a moment of mild panic at the prospect of no longer being able to read ten pages devoted to cricket and/or the threat posed by mass immigration and the decline in public standards.

Nonetheless, the die is cast, the Rubicon crossed, and I'm an American again. Well, for the next three days, anyway; then it's off to Sydney where I'll be holing up on the beach until spring finds its way back to the Northern Hemisphere and at long last I take up residence in New York City. One closing note, though: the train line from Paddington to Heathrow leads directly past my (ex-)building, and normally when I go away I'll gaze out the window at it and at least mentally wave goodbye.

But this time I decided not to risk turning into a pillar of salt, and resolutely stared off in the other direction until we'd crossed Portobello Road. And here I am tonight, over 5,000 miles away, my longtime London home shut up tight, dark, cold and empty, gone now from my life like so many people, places and things before. And though it's a bit chilling and lonely to think too terribly much about it, for the most part I feel fine. Exhausted, yes, a bit more emotionally charged than usual, but overall at peace with the world and ready for the next big adventure.

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