Dave Eggers wrote in You Shall Know Our Velocity that, “You see the rest of the world and then you come back.” I had written that quote down and put it on my vision board. Vision boards were new in my life, mine was supposed to help me realize my dreams and goals and bring them to fruition. However, in the fall of 2010 a trip to England with my best friend Brandi beckoned; sure I had once lived there but all the pieces fell perfectly into place and so I found myself breaking Eggers’ cardinal rule by returning to a place I’d already been before seeing the rest of the world. Thankfully, our hostess and good friend, Janet lived in a part of England that I had not gotten the chance to explore previously, and so the three of us made a pact that we would only go places that none of us had been.
On the latter half of our trip, it became clear that there was one place that was calling my name and I just couldn’t resist visiting once more: Bath. I knew I would regret it if I came all the way to England and didn’t visit my favorite city in the world. We picked a day that we hadn’t filled with an agenda, loaded up the car early in the morning, and were on our way. Janet, living in Cambridgeshire was a little further from Bath than I had been living in Oxfordshire, so I had stayed up the night before making the most amazing mix albums that would make the time pass on our long drive. I decided it was time for these girls to be exposed to Laura Marling, a British folk singer-songwriter that I had discovered, oddly enough, once I was back in the States. Marling had won me over, with the line, “I throw creation to my kin.” I didn’t know what those words meant to Miss Marling, but to me they were my world.
The year 2008 had been a big year for me, I had moved back to the States from this beautiful country, survived a divorce, and was told that I would probably never be able to have children of my own. Depression settled in and needless to say, in 2008 I found it a miracle that I even woke up every morning to face another day. Granted, when I did, I was usually in an Ambien induced haze and I usually spent the morning cleaning up the trail of margarita salt that had followed me around the house the night before. In 2009 I finally learned how to push down the overwhelming feelings that threatened to take me over and I learned how to function again… until, I had a seizure! Tests were run and the only conclusion they could come to was that I was bottling things up inside too much and that I should see a therapist. So in a therapists’ room, on a couch, under a quote painted on the wall that said, “You will either step forward into growth or you will step backward into safety,” I unpacked the fact that my husband had decided to divorce me over the phone and that I would never see him again. I unpacked the hospital stay when I had surgery on my ovaries--- the stay that I couldn’t believe he wasn’t actually going to be there for, the stay where I had to change my emergency contact information from my husband to my mother, the stay where I stood naked in a shower with tears streaming down as my mom washed my body telling me I was going to feel better once I had a shower, the stay where I had to walk past a window full of newborn babies in order to be discharged from the hospital. I unpacked in that therapists’ room, on that couch, under that quote.
So here we were, in 2010, on a road to my past. As we drove those winding roads, the windows down, I started to panic… Was going back a mistake? What kind of issues was this going to bring to the surface? Would I have an anxiety attack? A seizure? Was I strong enough? I took a deep breath, and told myself, “You are going to be ok.” Bath had managed to remain my favorite city simply because of the fact that it was pretty neutral; I knew I wouldn’t be dodging as many emotional landmines as other places, namely Oxford. My memories of Bath were mostly filled with other characters from my past, not the ghost that had been following me around the past couple years.
As we got closer to Bath, the hills became an even more brilliant shade of green; the hedges stretched across the landscapes as far as the eye could see; and the stonewalls with moss growing in every crevice raced along the road beside us. We rounded a corner only to see the most beautiful hot air balloon perched in the bluest of clear skies, Brandi gasped and it reminded me of how I had felt the first time I ever saw the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull over for her to take photos, but I could hear her snapping frantically from the back seat having thrown off her seat belt and propped herself up in the window.
In my own photos of Bath, in my photo album back home, it was clear that England was always portraying its typical weather for my visitors and friends; but one thing you learn when you live in England is that if you have plans and it’s raining-- you go anyways! There were pictures of my sister looking glum in front of the Roman baths as a dark sky threatened another rainstorm (turns out my sister wasn’t the biggest fan of England and its weather, but I was so happy to have her there), pictures of Janet and her husband Thomas bundled in winter clothes sitting on a bench in front of the abbey from when they had come to visit, it was November and you could practically see their breath in the photo (they had loved it so much, however, that they decided to apply for an assignment overseas as soon as they got back home), photos of the Christmas market and my friends drinking hot cocoa or standing in the French Brasserie warming their mittens on the radiator. Turning into the city and seeing all the uniformed cream colored limestone buildings, it was abundantly clear that one thing about this trip was extremely different than all the other times that I had visited: the sun was shining gloriously over everything!
Once we had parked and made our way on foot to the square out front of the abbey, Brandi had tears in her eyes and she told us that this place was so beautiful it was making her well up. It may sound cliché, but it truly is that breathtakingly beautiful! We walked all around and inside the abbey; I pointed out the sculpted angels climbing ladders towards the sky on the outside, they had always been my favorite part. We walked around the outside of the Roman Baths and debated paying the steep price to go in, but since I had seen them multiple times and Janet had seen them we left it up to Brandi. She was more into staying off the tourist path so she could take pictures of the architecture and the locals, so we gave her a quick overview. Janet reminded me of the fact that Queen Mary (not the Queen Mary that everyone first wants to think of… this was a Mary that came much later) had visited the baths hoping the magical waters would cure her infertility, and it did! I couldn’t help but remember taking a tour of the baths with my husband and him daring me to touch the water despite all of the many signs and guards warning visitors to not do that very thing. Of course I had done it, and as Janet explained more facts to Brandi, I couldn’t help but wonder why the water hadn’t cured my infertility issues? That time I had visited the baths and had touched the water I hadn’t verbally acknowledged the fact that there was an issue, but multiple negative pregnancy tests had been weighing on my mind.
Deciding to skip the tour of the baths, the three of us girls headed up the streets to the Jane Austen museum, I had begun collecting a set of Austen books that I could only find the particular edition of at that museum. Unlucky for me, they still hadn’t released the edition of Mansfield Park that I needed to complete my collection, and sadly enough there was no publication date in sight. We made our way through the museum and decided to walk back down the cobblestoned street to the squares around the abbey and find a nearby pub. As we walked past a bookstore, I stopped in my tracks; in the window was a book with Jack Kerouac on the cover looking right at me with his mouth wide open. I went inside to examine the book closer; it was called Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, I remembered reading about the release of this book earlier that year. Reading Kerouac for the first time had been an experience I will never forget, it had been like an alarm telling me that I had been living life all wrong and that there was another me longing to be set free. Seeing him on the streets of Bath was like a sign that I was finally heading in the right direction. I put down the book and we pressed on.
Walking anywhere new with Brandi is a process because she sees the world in little glimpses that she needs to capture, she sees a photo opportunity around every corner, between every human transaction; yet she insists we don’t wait for her, so we end up moseying and it’s ok because I am able to soak in every step, and I know that later she will give me copies of her pictures and seeing Bath through her lens will make me wonder if we had even been on the same trip, she has such an authentic way of viewing the world.
We eventually stumbled across a pub that I happened to know had the most fabulous chips and mushy peas (I’ve never understood why everyone puts all the emphasis on fish and chips, when what is really delicious is dipping your chips in the side of mushy peas that inevitably comes with most fish and chips plates). Oh how I had missed the mushy peas! As we sat in a pub I’d been to before, in a city I’d visited many times; I couldn’t help but acknowledge how different it felt being there because I was different.
Feeling content now that we’d had something to eat; we decided to go enjoy the musician in the square before we’d have to get back in the car if we were going to make it back to Cambridge at a decent hour. As we were walking past a fudge shop Brandi told us to go on without her; she would be able to find us in the square, which was just ahead. Janet and I sat down on a bench and listened silently to a man in the center of the square playing a Spanish guitar. Tourists sat leisurely around listening and taking pictures, pigeons flew all over the square, and locals went about their usual business bustling through the crowd with determined looks on their faces. The sun was in a spot where the abbey’s shadow covered most of the square but we were sitting on one of the few benches left in the sunlight; I remember Janet putting her hand above her brow to shield her eyes and turning to smile at me. I adore her, I love the way she has a genuine kindness to every person she meets, and the way she sees the world simply, never over analyzing every little thing like Brandi and I do. As I look at Janet I hear bells on a door chime and see Brandi come out of the fudge shop on the corner of the square. She comes skipping towards us; her long blonde hair looks like spun gold glistening in the sun, her hands are cupped and they are filled to the brim with strawberries that had been previously dipped in chocolate and had now hardened; she looks like a little kid on Christmas morning, her smile stretched across her face.
In therapy I was later asked, “What do you think living at a “10” looks like?”
I looked at my therapist, smiled, and was instantly filled with warmth.