On the second Sunday of the month I wake up early to have breakfast in the garden. In the sweltering heat, on a flimsy burning chair, as I listen to the neighbors' kids play on the other side of the fence and laugh easily as they throw water from their makeshift pool directly onto my feet.
I wear my best French-woman-going-to-the-market-to-buy-bread-and-olives-and-flowers outfit and make my way to my favorite spot in the city. I walk behind two dads pushing a pram and my heart does a little jump because London Pride was just yesterday and I will not apologize for being an Emotional Aquarius Baby. I get my usual order at the creperie stand and pick flowers to press and send to my grandmother in my next letter.
I dip my fingers in cheese and my feet in water, and tell myself it's okay if my breath still catches from time to time.
I have been good for a while now. Which is not to mean I haven't had bad days, but I have been doing good. Day after day, for more days than I could have hoped for less than a year ago.
With that in mind, I walk slowly, with no real purpose. I try so desperately to commit these moments to memory, as I've been doing ever since I realized things had shifted -I have rarely put as much energy into anything as I did trying to crystallize perfect solitary mornings spent on Santa Monica beach into souvenirs for my heart.
Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution.
Like my high school teacher once (really, actually) said, "Anna, if you put half the energy you dedicate to your own personal drama into studying, you'd be top of your class".
I mean, she was an asshole but she wasn't wrong.
Thing is, I believe there's power in paying attention to small victories and slow days and big moments because everything else just --goes so fast. I forget birthdays and cancel plans as weeks and months blur one into the other, I forget to water the plants and do laundry and come home at a reasonable hour and to remember to breathe. I answer too many emails and listen to too many podcasts on my way to and back from work, I take too many calls during lunch hour and never answer my texts or drink enough water and never ever go to the gym when I said I would, I spill sauce on white clothes and stay up late investigating conspiracy theories and I am terrible, terrible at taking care of myself.
But I want to.
So when I stick to the only routine I know is good for me, when I cancel out the noise and the messy and the complicated and just focus on here, now, still and silent, I am taking care of myself.
When I press play on Storms by Fleetwood Mac for the sixth time in a row just to hear the last minute one more time, when I get my skirt wet by jumping into the pond a little too hastily, when I spend five minutes watching a ladybug walk from one of my rings to the other and back, I am doing exactly what my heart needs.
I've been scared shitless of change and questions I want answers to but do not have the energy to start asking myself. I've been scared to write, ever since I turned my back on so much of what made up my identity. I've been slipping and slipping and wondering if this is how it starts or if I'll only notice when it's too late.
I’ve been restless and hard on myself and I’ve been wasting time waiting for something more, always something better. Always waiting for whatever comes next when the pieces align themselves and you’re not breathing underwater for the first time in years but still expecting something to drown you.
So I walk slowly, commit, commit, commit.
I tell myself perfect moments are worth celebrating more than a perfect life ever might be, and I breathe out my fear with every shaky breath.
I crystallize every moment, just as it is. Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution.
Mom visited for the weekend and she feng-shui’d my room and moved my Mick Jagger vinyl ‘cause it sat where the divinity and spirituality spot is in relation to the cardinal points and she wouldn’t hear me out when I said that worked quite well because Jagger is, in fact, my god.
I told her the story of good ol' Swifty in 2012 and we laughed and we laughed and we couldn’t stop laughing when we realized what it meant now in retrospect because, life is funny. Sometimes it takes a few years for it to sink in, for it to spin the right way, for it to stare at you right in the face -but it always does.
And it sure does so better when you’re not working against it like I have been my whole life, so.
That’s where I'm at.
Sat on a new pink stool mom put in the ‘dreams, ambitions and opportunities’ chakra-spot-corner, not really trying to get anywhere but letting it get to me.
Me and my eyeliner-wearing, lipstick-sporting, songs-that-make-my-heart-go-kaboom-writing divinity, obviously.
I also loved this from Chani Nicholas' weekly horoscopes very, very, very much:
I relax knowing that all I need to do is show up in this moment as myself. For myself. In service of what needs me. This is the place I plan my days from. This is the place I run my life from. This is the place that I return to.
I am enough. I am everything that this moment needs. I am discovering who I am one situation at a time. I am not a mystery solved, I am a mystery revealing itself. Anytime I find myself struggling to get it right, figure it out, or fix myself to fit in, I remember that isn’t the point. The sharp edge of life’s sword is always asking me to cut through the self-doubt that inhibits me from doing what I can, when I can, as often as I can.
Might just hang it up on my wall.
Right next to Mick.
"Fight for the rebuild", a friend told me a while ago.
"You've got to fight for the life you want," she said. "It's worth every ounce of struggle."
Back then, I had no idea what that rebuild would look like. Six months ago today, I boarded a plane at LAX and landed in London tired to the bone but wide-eyed and weirdly excited about starting over, about building something back up from scratch.
I didn’t know what the life I wanted looked like, which made the whole affair harder than it maybe needed to be, but.
I’d just discovered what I didn’t want it to look like, and that had to count for something, right?
It was raining because of course it was, and as the plane touched down the speaker system started playing Carolina and I laughed into my pillow because I really don't like Carolina one bit but it still means something, you know.
Six months on, I think I'm starting to realize what it meant.
On my last night in Milan, the night before I moved to London, I walked around the empty (and rainy! what an omen!) streets of the old city center listening to Sweet Disposition and wondering what the future would bring -wondering if I was making the right choice, how long it would take before I crashed and burned.
It meant a lot to me in 2013, that song.
I loved the promise of it, the sheer possibility of it.
I’m only half kidding when I say I moved to London for the way Sweet Disposition made me feel, walking up Primrose Hill one morning and thinking well, isn't this nice.
(Mom, do you like the Alanis reference? I do.)
I might have crashed and burned, but I sure as hell haven’t forgotten that.
Another friend said to me the other day, “Every day of your life since 2012 has been leading up to this moment.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and she isn’t wrong. I have no way of knowing what else it’s leading up to, what else this rebuilt of mine might bring. But I know this: I have built something.
I’ve worked tirelessly at it, day and night at it, cried all my tears for it and waited patiently for it in a way that was so un-typically myself it shocked me with every moment passing.
Still I built it.
It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright. It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, I am terrified I will wake up one day and it will be gone, built from scratch and gone in a single night.
Runaway renegade, just like its architect.
I am scared it will do to me what I've always done to those of its kind, killed them off before they could grow legs good enough to stand a single chance. I'm scared to meet the person I'll have become next time I set foot in Los Angeles. I wonder if I'll recognize her, if I'll even like her.
I'm scared I'll go back on my words, I'm scared of long summer nights and faint promises and my friends getting tired of me pulling the same tricks, of the pictures losing their meaning and words I've marked in pencil on the books on my nightstand turning sour as I chew on them like I have any right to.
Still, I built it.
It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright.
It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, but it's alive for now.
It's trying its best now.
And the promise of it. Oh, the sheer possibility of it.
Happy six months back from LA to me.
And happy birthday to Sign Of The Times, because some coincidences are too good to be overlooked.
I think I'm starting to realize what that means, too.
"Peut-être que ma vie sera toujours ainsi,
on doit se résigner, bon,
il y a des gens et ils sont le plus grand nombre,
il y a des gens qui passent toute leur existence là
où ils sont nés
et où sont nés avant eux leurs parents,
ils ne sont pas malheureux,
on doit se contenter,
ou du moins ils ne sont pas malheureux à cause de ça,
on ne peut pas le dire,
et c'est peut-être mon sort, ce mot-là,
ma destinée, cette vie."
Last night I had a conversation about identity and belonging, about the meaning of Home, and I found myself thinking about it a lot today. About how I've always felt split between cities and countries and languages and cultures and people, and how I've anchored myself to the places I call Home in hopes they start feeling like it, too. Places and songs and books and memories and foods: anything can feel like Home when you don't really have one. A few come and go, and some linger and shine just a little brighter, just a little longer, as if to say 'you picked us but we picked you, too, baby' -which is exactly what I imagine Home would say if she was an old lady with a kind smile wandering the streets of Hampstead. You picked us but we picked you too, baby. You picked us but we picked you too.
They say home is where the heart is, but that’s only half the story.
Home is the cake my mother made for Christmas when I was twelve and my father’s favorite songs, walls painted red and dogs barking in the distance. The weekend trips we used to take out to the lake, red boots filled with snow, books stacked near the fireplace and camera rolling in the background.
It's my heart split between three countries. A fake, a joke, a mix I say I never wanted but spent my whole life secretly running after. My soul a patchwork of cultures, languages and airports, suitcase packed at the end of the bed, rewind, repeat, start all over again.
It's sunlight through the windows and Van Morrison playing through the speakers, green hills and red trees and that one spot of the Heath that I know better than I know myself.
Home is the friends I know will pick up the phone no matter the hour, a really good book, the bench on top of Primrose Hill at sunrise, dancing on Millennium Bridge at sunset, walking my best friend home, my ex-boyfriend’s favorite poem, waking up to snow covering the streets outside my window,that one dress that makes me feel like I could conquer the world, free brownies because the waiter’s in a good mood, the Alanis Morissette album that’s lived in my mother’s car since we were kids, rain in the summer, a friend showing me around their hometown, the buzz of a third cocktail, warm rays on my skin, that time Jackie and I slept on a roof in Paris, the smell of real Italian coffee in the morning, that one paragraph in A Little Life, my grandmother’s perfume, my grandfather’s favorite dish that his mother used to make, swans on the lake in May, running after my brother in the garden in Clusone, the second verse of Sweet Disposition, my flatmate knocking on my door at 2AM when I come home crying and drunk, knowing my best friend of 22 years' phone number by heart, hot soup on a cold evening, my favorite corner of my favorite bookshop, the building painted green that was my heaven and haven for the better part of my childhood, that one video set to Feel This by Enation I still can't watch without breaking down in tears, the first house I lived in when I moved to London, the 214 bus, the last bridge in Gravity by John Mayer, the ice cream place in the square near my parents' house, the nook by the steps of the Griffith Observatory, the chinese restaurant on the way to my high school, my best friend and I filling our bags of candy up to the top before going to the movies, my mother making us tea and Gocciole, being the last person out of their seat at the cinema, unexpected kindness, a tuscan sunset, takeaway pizza on the beach in Sestri Levante, seeing the sea for the first time in Pescara, the chorus to Ruby Tuesday, my family making fun of me for Leviosa, not Leviosà, Nic welcoming me back with homemade limoncello, walking along the beach in Santa Monica, a helping hand when you need it most, the buzz of the radio while my dad has breakfast before work, crying at least once when I go to any concert, my mother’s favorite cocktail, the lights on the patio at the pub near my flat, my favorite Bukowski poetry collection, the chocolate birthday cake I've had every year since I was 9, the hallways of my high school, the parties I snuck into and had a terrible time at, the Rothko room at the Tate Modern, the boy I was desperately in love with for the better part of a decade throwing me into a pool, the last line of the last Harry Potter book, my first imaginary boyfriend, my brother burning incense by the fireplace, that year I spoke in a bad british accent, moments of fleeting bravery and reckless abandon, the photo my best friend gave me when I moved away and the one on my parents’ wall where I look exactly like my mom but have my dad’s smile.
Home is a crowd of 6000 girls singing my favorite song back to me, dancing till their legs give out, screaming, kissing, living, so fucking ALIVE
It’s that one line of that one song that makes my heart crumple up every single time.
It’s the language I taught myself at ten years old because I'm as stubborn as they come but also because part of me somehow must have always known, the first time I watched an english movie without subtitles, the purple notebook I used to write all those poorly translated Avril Lavigne lyrics in, the surname I chose for myself.
Not out of spite, but out of love for this home I’m building.
It comes in waves, bright and harsh and just out of reach.
Every time a little closer but never quite enough.
Here’s what you’re missing, it seems to say; here’s what you gave up, vanished westward into smoke but stayed closer than you realized,
push it aside
but know it’s never the last time.
It feels good to linger until it doesn’t.
I trace the days and months and years backwards until I find it and press down like a thumb on a bruise,
purple and swollen and mine mine mine
all mine to keep secret.
Words I was born to speak pressing at my teeth, pushing for release, saying you’re not fooling anyone and least of all yourself. Words I keep safe in their locket waiting for a better time, for a not-so-secret life.
It comes in waves, on nights like these but sometimes when I least expect it.
It’s in the lies I tell strangers with practiced ease, in the shot to the heart when a friend says just the right thing. It’s an itch to scratch and sweet bliss come passing, heart ringing with remorse and hearing gone static.
Moments I wish I could change,
but I was carried
"I'm a little lost at sea
I'm a little birdie in a big old tree
Ain't nobody looking for me
Here out on the highway
Baby, I'm a runaway train
Baby, I'm a feather in a hurricane
Maybe it's a long way game
But maybe that's a good thing
I will be found when my time comes down
I will be found
It feels fitting, to run into you and your beautiful new girlfriend today of all days.
Thinking back on how badly I wanted to start anew, even back then. Even when I was completely oblivious to everything else that was going to happen, as that summer unfolded in a haze of color and stardust -part of me probably already knew.
It took the rest of me almost two years longer than I thought it would, but.
I got there in the end.
It's still a little crazy to me.
I still don't know how to talk about it.
I don't think I'll ever be ready for your smile changing as I listen and take my punishment. Soft and pitying, your eyes zooming right into my face as I ramble and swing my hands around like it doesn't cut a hole in my chest to be saying any of this out loud -please don't make me hide in the bathroom again. Look away, make it easy, just this once.
Timing is a funny thing.
So is hindsight.
I wasn't meant to stay in that flat, or the one after that one, just like I wasn't a lot of other places, metaphorical and not, that I ended up at.
I wasn't meant to be brave, not with you, not that time.
I wasn't meant to live the life I was living, but I wasn't to realize that until much later.
It's almost comical. But it's also real life, not some fantasy I made up at seventeen. And god, does the real thing feel better than the fantasy ever did.
Not because it's perfect, not even remotely close. But because I've worked so fucking hard for it, given it everything I had at times when I really did think there was nothing left to give.
I had to learn how to be brave after finding every excuse not to.
You see, I couldn't have done that with you.
But I also think I couldn't have done that without you.
You hold the door open with your foot as your girl looks on and our friends come calling. I've got two years on my mind and one evening at heart. It's over now and it was when it started but it lives on as it lived then. Another life, maybe.
(I would not make the same mistake twice)
A friend recently told me, completely unprompted, that she was worried for me. Specifically, she was worried my life wasn’t ‘fun enough’. When I asked for clarification, she explained that my social media feeds didn’t look particularly fun: it’d been a while since she’d seen any group outings or nights out on my Instagram, there was no drunk dancing on my Stories, and I just stopped using Facebook altogether. Twitter is the one I do use the most, but it’s mostly yelling about politics and gushing over Harry Styles, so I didn’t tell her that.
Confused, I assured her I was having a great time and didn’t give it much more thought. It was almost funny to me at the time, how she seemed to jump to conclusions based on what my feed showed – first, because this is a friend who knows me quite well in real life, not someone I talk to once a year whose only way of keeping in touch would be through Instagram. Second -because she must have known, on some level, that not posting anything for a couple of weeks does not equate staying in bed and actually doing nothing for two weeks… right?
I started to wonder, and then to panic.