On loss (and other lessons of 2014)

There is no greater time to reflect and bathe in nostalgia than a Sunday afternoon. And as I do enjoy reflection and looking back on the past with fond eyes, here comes a post on some of the things that life has taught me this past year.

You know that good ol’ cliché ‘you may not always get what you want, but you get what you deserve‘, or the ‘one door closes, another one opens‘? Well it has proven to be true. This past year has been just that a closing of doors, and an opening of new ones, for there is nowhere else to go but forward.

The break up
For one, there was heartbreak. It was different than my previous experiences with heartbreak because it came to me in a time of acceptance. I knew it had to end, and I knew I wanted and needed more than what the person had to offer me. I also knew that there is no way, no matter how hard you want it to be untrue, to make someone care about you the way you want to be cared for, if they’re incapable of it. I knew not to dismiss my needs, but more importantly, I knew I had to let go. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to see things flourish, I wanted so hard for the nagging little voice inside my head to be wrong. I did give myself the time to mourn, and even in the saddest of hours, I knew that this too was fleeting, and I had an incredible curiosity about where life would take me. That summer, I spent the hours I would have spent on many trains, with my friends on various hills, in many parks, in other towns. I met so many incredible new people, and through a series of serendipitous events, I realized just how funny life can be.

The place where your heart was
As I was going through the break up, I was also dealing with severe anxiety, and dilemmas about the near future. See, my visa was expiring, and I was due to leave England in August. The last thing I wanted was to go back to Canada. I wanted my journey to continue, I wanted to keep on travelling, and so I was in the midst of making plans. “I’ll go to Melbourne” I thought. After all, it was discussed when the ex and I were making plans, and quite frankly, the entire time we spoke of it, I saw myself there without him more than I saw myself with him. I also had friends there and knew they would help me. “I’ll go to Spain and teach English for a year. I always wanted to learn Spanish!” was another solid thought in my mind.

In the meantime, I met up with someone I used to date, who turned out to be a better friend than anything else. We sat by the canal in Camden and spoke of me having to leave London. He told me there’s an opening in his company, and that they would probably be willing to sponsor me as long as I’m the right fit for the position. And so I prepared! Interview, after interview, everyone agreed that I was the right fit, from the head of sales in Europe, to the CEO of the company. As sponsorship is a long and intricate process, it was going to take time and effort, tremendous effort. Seeing as they were a start up without established HR processes, I spent days researching and going through hundreds of pages on the UK customs website. I compiled documents, and information. I knew I had to fly back to Canada to renew my visa, and so I booked my flight. August 7th, I was going to fly in, spend some time with my best friend, then go to Montreal to see my family and spend time with the rest of my friends. It was going to be a pause in my busy life, a vacation. I was planning to come back to London before the month of November. I had everything planned, and my housemate kept reassuring me ‘Of course everything will work out as planned, you just must believe it will.’ And so I went on with my life, without concrete goodbyes, with the knowledge that I would see all those amazing people a season later.

August 6th, the day before my flight dawned. I had brunch with a friend of mine who flew from Australia for a visit. We met up to talk about life, expectations, fears, and everything in between. He spoke of how it felt to go back to his hometown after living in London, and I sympathized, understanding the depression he must have felt with every cell in my body. We parted ways, and I headed down the stairs of Holborn station, when my phone rang. I went back up the stairs, as to not lose reception. That is when I got the news from my future employer that after months of effort, I wouldn’t be staying in London.

I felt defeated. I felt more heartbroken than I ever have before. The city I spent two full years getting to know, that had every bit of my heart in every corner of every street, was going to be gone the very next morning. I started walking aimlessly. I crossed the Waterloo bridge, and up there, in bright day light, I considered jumping in the river. My eyes were red, but I didn’t care what I looked like to the passersby. I made my way to the South Bank, and found the museum of broken relationships. I smirked, Emma and I had spent the summer looking for it, and there it was, right in front of me that day, out of all the days I spent by that river. I browsed through it, eyes vacant, glaring at the memorabilia. My heart never felt as hollow as it did that day. My limbs were heavy, and my stomach, albeit empty, was filled with firm heaviness. I felt nauseated. I tried looking everywhere at once, I wanted so much to retain it all – the way the sun made the Thames glisten on that early afternoon; the crowded souvenir shops along Charing Cross road; the girls in the high black heels on Oxford street; the view of Camden Town from the double-decker bus; the many people scattered on the streets; the Covent Garden streets I first stepped foot on the day I moved to England; the way I’d get lost on Flora trying to find my way back home to Maiden Lane; the little Cypriot theatre by Mornington Crescent station. All of that, I wanted to remain as tangible as it was to me all those years. But there it was with the inevitable orbit of the earth, fleeting before me.

Still, life keeps a sense of humour, even when we are too caught up in ourselves to notice the joke. As I was busy in my state of limbo, attempting to break through the door that just closed behind me against my will, I somehow by sheer accident cracked the code of that other door they all speak of when they try to comfort you. That door, I had no curiosity about, nor did I feel like opening. That door was my return ‘home’.

 Found on cristinabarkerjones.wordpress.com
Found on cristinabarkerjones.wordpress.com

 The departure

I boarded the flight in tears. The flight attendants did their best to pretend not to notice me. An hour into the flight, the girl next to me reached out to ask if she can do anything to help. ‘No.’ was my very blunt reply. She told me she was just returning from travelling alone. I related, I have done the same years ago. She was going through a break up and spoke to me, nothing more than a stranger, as if I was an old friend. I warmed up and I had an urge to comfort her. Suddenly, my own tears ceased. I felt grateful that this stranger gathered up the courage to stop me in my sadness, and open up about her own sorrow. We spent the next six hours of the flight talking. I will never see her again, and I don’t even remember her name, but our talk inspired me to look forward from there. It was exactly what I needed in that moment.

I came back to the place I had left. Everything felt ugly, everything felt wrong. I felt like a stranger walking streets. Here I was, once again back to the place I was so happy to leave years ago.  I felt unable to communicate the sadness I felt, or the greatness of the experience I had lived to any of the people that surrounded me. I also felt incredibly self-centred and ungrateful. There I was, crying over other humans, and other places, a time now far away, when the people here were nothing but kind to me.

 Found on smokynoir.tumblr.com
Found on smokynoir.tumblr.com

The other door
It is in the midst of that egomaniac pessimism that I met M. He had just returned from living abroad as well. Both of us shared the same familiar sadness and existential turmoil. Our experiences, although similar, were lived in different lands almost in parallel. I remained self-centred and continued scheming grand escape plans. I had a few job offers to teach in South Korea and China, but every time something in me would find an excuse to not sign the contract.

M remained consistently kind and understanding, but most importantly, giving and so patient. And so I stayed, I had to see it through. For the first time in my life, there was no nagging little voice in my head telling me to walk away, or keeping me awake at night. And so very subtly something shifted. I started rebuilding my life, got a job that I wanted and that works for now. I understood I wasn’t “stuck” anywhere, and that just like my time in England, this too is impermanent and will one day lose its tangibility.

Now as I write this, seasons later I’m having coffee in bed with the most incredible human being. He’s learning German and I’m blogging. Later, we will probably cook something together, and play Bob Dylan songs on his guitar. Then, we will look at the photos of the trip we just took together, and plan where we will go this upcoming summer. We will perhaps go for a walk and talk about other cities, and make plans to leave this town.

Today, I understand that although I am perfectly capable of happiness on my own, having someone whom I think the world of, and who thinks the world of me makes for a much better Sunday, and a greatly fuller life. I understand that for all the times I felt unsatisfied, and blamed it on my own fearful train of thought, it was the situation that was simply wrong. There are the things that form out of thoughts, and then there are things we need to learn to walk away from and leave safely tucked in the past. Some of those things are better just as a memory, an essential lesson in our life. There are the plans that we try so hard to keep on top of, but that may never be. And that is okay, because there is plenty in this world to amaze us all. If I could give one single adjective to 2014, it would probably have to be surprising. Sometimes I feel like I watched a film unwind before my eyes. For someone as contemplative as me, that signifies the greatest wealth of all.

And as I sit here, still in my bed, occasionally glancing out of the window to catch sights of ugly government buildings, I realize how lucky I was through all of this, for there is no other place where I’d rather be on a Sunday afternoon.

 Found on britttxo.tumblr.com
Found on britttxo.tumblr.com
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