I spent most of my life trying to fit in, in London. The prim all girls’ schools, with the red and white finely checkered dresses as uniforms, and the boater hats and with the maroon blazers. My American mother thought it was cute. I felt it was more like an industrial-scale prison.
When I tell people about the trials and tribulations of English grade school and high school, they often say, “Oh, but high schoolers are mean everywhere.” Well, that may be true. But then how can anyone stand to continue to call a place home, when they experienced so much pain and hate there? So much unhappiness? Doesn’t everyone want to move away and start over? I don’t know why my instinct is to run, often. I numb the pain of distance by scrapping it all and saying, “I didn’t need those darned friends anyway.” It’s not the most nuanced or mature response, mind you. Definitely one of my character faults.
Coming back to London this time, I’ve already been here for a month and my energies feel off. I’m out of whack. Recently, I started meeting up with friends again, which has helped. But I still can’t pretend to live happily in this place that I haven’t called home for years now. I want to find somewhere which aligns with me. Maybe it’s warm. Maybe I can write there. Maybe they speak another language, and it’s cheaper to live than in New York City. There’s probably lots of places like that.
One thing that has made me feel like I belong in New York is Bistro So. It’s a French restaurant and bar at the end of my block, just two houses down. The inside is a dark wood, and they have a patio. But what has been most magical to me about it is the people I meet there, my neighbors, the people who also supposedly call this neighborhood home. That’s the thing about New York City. There are so many neighborhoods, so many endless streets of people, it’s better to park yourself someone and live there forever than pick up and move to a whole new place. You could spend multiple different lifetimes in New York City, endless ones, going to the same bar every night for your whole life, except in each life you’re a regular at a dinner bar. There’s something so beautiful, so magical about the concepts of regulars. Those people miss me because when I’m in town, I pass them multiple times a day.
I wanted to sleep with one of the bar tenders. I don’t know why every single one of my posts reverts to sex, but I guess I’ll let myself go there. I gave one of the bar tenders by number. His name was Jean. Turned out he was married but insisted that I was a beautiful girl and that if he didn’t have a wife, he definitely would have (!) His poor wife. If I was married, and they said that to another girl, I’d be furious. Anyway, then I moved onto the other bar tender, Jacques. He was bearded, obviously, and slim. I once bought him cat food and candy as a joke from the bodega. And he’d flirt with me, call me Mademoiselle. But over time, his crass jokes and teasing started to weigh on me. Then I found out from Jean that Jacques was in America illegally, and had been for 6 years, and even his mini cooper was in a friend’s name because he didn’t have a social security number. This man is 32 years old, for Christ’s sake. And luckily, I made the right decision to not sleep with him. Here was this skinny white dude, about 6’2’’ who was an economic refugee from Perpignan in the South of France. I didn’t realize the French economy was that bad.
I guess belonging in a place means caring about the people who are in it and being curious about what happens to them. I have no idea what will happen to Jacques, but I will sure be curious to find out how he plans to leave the US. Will the IRS bust down his door? Will he be taxed out the wazoo? That could make the start of an interesting crime-thriller novel, undoubtedly.
This piece was from my first time in the UnMute writing series, led by Ann Randolph, January 2022.