We rode the Tube to the West Kensington stop and got off to visit my old friend there, who lives across the road from her ex. We took the elevator to the top floor and when we got out she was roasting a chicken, asked if I could carve it, handed me a knife. We hadn’t seen each other since 2009, and that was the time she was living in Rome and they’d rented a Tuscan villa for the summer, and Lily almost drowned in the swimming pool, and my friend saved her life. And now that story is part of Lily’s fabric; I overheard her mentioning it the other day (“the time I almost drowned”).
Mid-January in London and it didn’t rain once the whole week, not a drop. It was cold but dry and the sky seemed constipated like it wanted to snow but it couldn’t—instead each morning we got a hard frost. And while our flat was part of a house with other apartment units we never saw the other tenants, only heard the crunch-crunch-crunch of their footsteps across the gravel going to work every morning and coming home after dark, every night.
Dawn and the kids had never seen London so we tried to do about everything, but realized by then they were totally done with castles. Leaving the city on our way to Bath for our last stop in the UK, we stopped at yet another one and they had a kind of meltdown. And all the spiels given by the castle tour guides started to sound the same, and we realized there was a pattern to things involving power, greed, and deceit.
My friend Alex and his son came down from Chester and we met at a museum, and after, walked past the Royal Albert Hall, across the road to a park, drinking in the scale of things: the kids like ants crawling on the statues and monuments, snapping pictures of them, our breath in the cold air, people-watching.
And though I’d been to London twice before I didn’t recognize much; I thought I’d kind of bump into things or places that would trigger memories but didn’t. My stepdad John had a couple friends who lived near Arnos Grove, that was the Tube stop, and I stayed with them longer than I should have, it was August so I went to the Notting Hill festival at the end of the month, met my friend Loren who was there for a music conference as a guest musician, went to a Rough Trade record store where he sold some of his CDs (CDs he’d made, with various bands/projects) and they paid him for in cash, a wad of pounds we took to a pub and spent, sucking down bitters and toasting, oblivious to how good things were at that precise moment.
And back to the south of France to where I was staying, surprised when I had to blow my nose the inside of my tissue turned black, that was from London.
Throughout our time in the UK and Europe last year we amassed a bunch of keepsakes I stowed in a trunk in our bedroom: maps, beer coasters, now a box full of stuff, a mishmash of those nine months, including our Tube passes with our photo ID I think I will always save, as it caught us in a precise moment with a flash, like old driver’s licenses we sometimes save, someone we once were, now vaguely familiar.