Hugging a lamppost in solidarity with 17 year old me who used to live two streets down from this glorious establishment and spent many a night there, naively downing 3€ shots (lol) and excitedly making plans that she had exactly 0 chances of seeing through.
She used to go by a different name and dream of very different things, but as I walk the same streets all these years later I’m reminded that really, all she wanted was a tiny spark of magic. Back then it meant mattresses on rooftops and kisses under arches, cameras rolling and desperately loving anyone who’d admit to feeling the same. A language I’d come to claim as my own and one I would look for on every stranger’s lips (as I type this sentence I realize that in therapy this is what they call a breakthrough, and holy shit).
These days, I’ve given up on the show. I look for quiet magic instead. A letter from my grandad, a dog licking my cheek. Warm baths on a friday evening and really bad chinese food on the wonky piano at tottenham court road long after the last train has left. Still, I carry the lines I’d memorized for our final scene and the one our teacher spoke that july afternoon, and I know I owe them everything.
Also good to know I’m just as partial to a diy experiment resulting in accidental red hair at 25 as I was at 17. Watch me do it all over again.
We took about 1000 photos that evening on the balcony, as I fixed my hair and sucked in my stomach and tried to think of anything other than the fact that March made me sadder than I‘d been in months; which is to say the words printed on my eyelids were cruel but familiar, and sometimes pushing back is a bitch but that only makes it so much more important; which is to say I love this picture because I look like my mom, and I look happy because I was, and all things considered that’s good enough.
We got all dressed up ‘cause we were supposed to go to a boat party but it turned out to be closed down so we sat in front of the eiffel tower and drank wine and took polaroids and if it all sounds too chic it’s only because we got drunk and went to mcdonald’s right after. I lost a shoe. I didn’t think cruel words once.
"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.
the pink umbrella diaries: got caught in a snow storm in brooklyn, celebrated a kid's party in greenwich, got lost in tribeca, saw a lot of art, ate the best tacos of my life (sorry Nic ily), got approached by four different girls who winked and started a conversation over my 'treat people with kindness' bag, which greatly confused my dad but made me the very, very happiest, thought I could ice skate for a brief second then realized I really shouldn't, wore a lot of yellow, was very very cold, found broome and greene and cried a little, talked to a lot of strangers and cried some more, saved dad from a killer squirrel, met a dog named maisie, met a boy named Connor.
Made peace with New York.
I used to wonder how things would be different, had I ended up in NY as planned instead of London. I used to think I'd be a different person, perhaps happier, perhaps less lost -because however bad things got, I still had shiny new york as an ideal image of how life could have been. Because… that's the kind of thought an eighteen year old girl has, I guess.
And god, do I kinda wish I could still believe that.
In the end, it wasn't the dream that died nor me who killed it --it just twisted on itself one too many times and fizzled out without a sound. Without me noticing, really, until I walked the same streets I did all those years ago and struggled to recognize them. I struggled not to compare them to the ones I found across the ocean -the ones I made my home, broken bones and all.
I found a way to bury the dream and only keep the memories I wanted to keep.
The smell of coffee as I walked into a gallery on 26th and 10th, the spot I cried all those tears at when I was fourteen, the bagels by the bookshop. The square where I sat for 20 minutes trying to gather myself before going into the building because I was so nervous, road signs making me laugh, brooklyn in the clouds. The people, the volume, the glitter, the gold.
Myself at fourteen, and seventeen, and nineteen. At twenty-three, saying goodbye to a few things but also saying thank you.
Until next time.
So, the last couple of months have been tough.
Can't get out of bed tough, like, ignoring calls and texts and deadlines and meals tough. And while I love escaping from my problems as much as anyone, this time I'm very aware that they're just gonna be waiting for me at Heathrow with open arms, looming and cruel and snarky. Oh and it's probably gonna be raining, too.
But, there's something about big skies and shimmering lights, or are those stars, or are they your eyes, something about walking for miles every day and crying whenever you damn feel like it and drinking sangria at a table for one and meeting strangers in taxis and singing along to your favorite songs together with 6000 people on a hill under the stars swaying and swaying and swaying 'til you gotta hold each other lest you all go down.
And go down I did.
I spent July pretending I was fine, skipping lunch and dinner in favor of an entire box of chocolate cookies at one in the morning. Every morning.
I went home and kissed my parents and brother and dogs a lot, and thought maybe, the worst was over.
At the end of the month, I dialed a number I’d been avoiding for longer than I care to admit, and thought fuck, the worst hasn’t even begun.
I spent August working working working pretending pretending pretending dodging questions invites emails worried looks and frantic phone calls from my mother. I took down pictures from my bedroom walls and bought a lot of plants in an effort to feel like an adult, but they died within two weeks because life just, doesn’t work like that.
I cried in a tiny pharmacy in Kentish Town and a convenience store in Dalston and on Embankment bridge and at Waterloo station at rush hour where a woman asked if I wanted a hug, which only made me cry harder but in retrospect might have been the nicest thing a Londoner has ever said to me.
I went home again because my parents’ ultimatum was “either you do or we’re getting the first plane to you” and because twenty-three might not be that young but it might just be young enough for parents to still know best. I locked my phone in a drawer for ten days and read a lot of books, ate more pizza than anybody with a dairy intolerance ever should, and smiled in pictures for the first time in a while.
At some point I turned my phone back on and asked for help. I asked anyone who would have me, and I tried my damn hardest to actually listen, for once in my life, to accept the help I so desperately needed.
One friend suggested I dive back in the madness, one that I go back to university, one that I move home, and one offered me a job.
I got on a plane to California instead.
Before I left, my mother said to look for signs wherever I could find them, so I did. I looked for one in Silver Lake and Malibu, on Wilshire and on top of the Hollywood Hills, on boys’ lips and in songs and in friends’ warm hugs, in a sketchy vintage store where I found a Mick Jagger vinyl I’d wanted for months and in overspilling American portions of what could be described as “comfort” but definitely not food.
I watched the sun set in a blur of blue orange purple fireworks and cried a little, fell down the Griffith Observatory stairs, twice, got lost more times than I can count, walked out of a couple of pilates classes, sang, well, screamed every word to What Makes You Beautiful surrounded by teenage girls having the time of their lives, cried some more, mumbled something unintelligible anytime I got asked “what do you do?”, and decided that I like making signs up as I go along more than I do looking for them.
It’s an Aquarius thing.
It’s also a stubbornness thing -the stubbornness I’ve inherited from my father and two out of four grandparents, how we just can’t accept that sometimes you try and you try and you plan and it’s all for nothing, because when you think you’ve finally got it down life shuffles all the cards and finds a way to bring you right back to start.
So from that start you’re gonna have to come up with a new plan, and fail at that too, and fall on your ass so many times that you’re never gonna want to get up again. Until you do.
And like I said, go down I did.
But I'm also luckier than most, surrounded by so much love it makes my heart burst, and looking down at the city of angels with supernovas in my eyes as my plane takes off towards rainy Heathrow, right and wrong turns, real life.
It sings back to me, you're in repair. Not together, but you're getting there.