I left my apartment in Brooklyn before dawn on Monday, December 18th and took Amtrak down to DC, en route to where I grew up in NoVA. It was the first leg of the extravaganza I planned for my holidays because I wasn’t hemmed in by work on either side. Usually, I can’t travel until late in the day on December 23rd and I have to back, conscious, at work at 8am on January 2nd. Not so this year.
I had a lovely lunch with my aunt, who is also my godmother. She’s always been very special to me not just because she lived closer than the rest of my dad’s family. She’s driven, intelligent, and kind. She’s also one of three women who read aloud to me when I was young, thus cementing my love of books and enabling me to imagine everything I read/hear. We talked about writing, both process and product. She offered to reach out to some people who might be able to help me with the jobs available that called to my heart loud enough to make me let Turkey slip through my fingers.
On Tuesday I baked Christmas treats with my mom after going to a genetic testing consultation. My doctor said it was better to have her tested for the various breast cancer mutations because it would provide us with more information and it would be covered by her insurance based on her medical history. It was an interesting conversation illuminating another wacky portion of my gene pool. Mom’s family was a mess. It punctuates just how poorly suited my parents were – and I say that fully aware that if they hadn’t gotten together I wouldn’t be here to say so. The world would be missing me and my awesome big brother, so I know grace is real even if I doubt many other things. Mom is negative for any known breast cancer genetic mutation, so I have to go back to my doctor for my early detection plan armed with the knowledge that as far as current science can tell, I’m not a genetic timebomb.
The baking though. My mom and I aren’t good in the kitchen together. We both like to do things our way, and as similar as we are, our way of doing things is not always the same. It creates a lot of tension. But we can also laugh about it and throw ingredients at each other and walk away knowing we love each other. That is a gift to me. I know I can depend on my mom for anything, most importantly emotional support and a laugh. And our cookies weren’t too bad either, even if we growled at each other more than a few times. They were truly baked with love.
On Wednesday, I got one of the best gifts that I decided to accept from the union. I wrote about it here. I don’t often worry about money (a sure sign of my privilege), but paying about $700 a month for health insurance wasn’t a prospect I relished. There are still social philosophies banging around in my head about it, of course. I’m choosing not to worry about it though, a new strategy for me.
Thursday was friend day – lunch downtown and a first post-surgical support group in the evening. I don’t think much of people in general most of the time. They are horrible. I’ve had a lot of those horrible people in and out of my life. The people I keep, though, are amazing. That day was just one of many examples over the course of the trip, even though I didn’t see lots of my friends in person. I’m blessed, so when I forget it in my darker moments, let me re-read it here if I can’t bring it to mind. For all the shitty people I’ve had to deal with, I have a precious group of golden people.
Friday I saw family for a quick hour – ships passing in the night. They had just gotten back from London on Thursday evening and I was leaving for Zurich on Friday evening. We live separate lives. I struggled with that a little bit, but a pint of ice cream and some consideration of what family means to me helped. As did the bacon my stepmom kept placing in the middle of the kitchen island as we caught up a little. It was also special because I suggested a sister scavenger hunt – I told them to leave something for me to find in London the following week. The result is my audition reel to be a TV personality, hosting a travel, food, morning, or late night show. (Would anyone watch that? I think I have a few former students who have suggested it before.)
Then it was off to Switzerland, leg two. I didn’t research the trip very well because I was excited to get a new country stamped into my passport. Mom and I went halfsies on it for the most part. I would go back, but there were a few shocks – like the stink eye we got from a lot of people, the price tag on everything, the outdoor seating in below freezing temperatures, and the being in the EU but not using the Euro because the Swiss can’t be bothered. Christmas Eve atop Mount Titlis, where I walked around outside without skiing, was a highlight. I recommend that everyone do something they are afraid of every now and again. For me, it was walking higher up on a trail than I thought safe given that I’d have to come back down. I stayed on my feet the whole time. I didn’t go so far as pants-shitting-fear… meaning, I didn’t even TRY to ski because I like my bones unbroken. Another highlight was finding an Anglican church that had a service in English on Christmas morning. For as much as we argue and misunderstand each other in recent years, worshiping on Christmas with mom is something very important to me. Then, of course, there was the fondue.
You can get fondue with just bits of bread to dip in the cheese. That’s all well and good. But I ordered potatoes to dip too. Potatoes and melted cheese. There are pictures. I look very happy in those pictures. They brought me a bag of potatoes. I had a bag of baby potatoes and a pot of four melted cheeses. If this is not in Dante’s Paradiso, he missed something. As we ate, some cheese stuck to the very bottom of the pot and caramelized I guess. I called this FRUHMUNDAH (from under) cheese and did everything in my power to get all the globs into my belly. Mom was worried that it was too much for us to eat, but I assured her that no cheese or potatoes would be left behind. We sat and froze outside, but there were no potatoes or cheese left when the waiter handed us the check. And I could’ve done another round after a little stroll. I didn’t, but I could have.
The chocolate wasn’t too shabby either. Lindt makes Lindor truffles in more flavors than I could’ve imagined. I tried every one of them. The cappuccino one is pretty awesome, as is the strawberries and cream. And the orange. And the coconut. And the hazelnut cream. And the whole hazelnut. Okay, they were all good.
Mom and I parted ways at the Zurich airport – she went home and I went to London for leg three. I apparently booked a fare that was so low-class that everyone who looked at my ticket wouldn’t make eye contact except with a gaze that said they wanted to spit on me for being that cheap. I didn’t know this when I booked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have. I don’t like people looking at me like I’m garbage. I will say, though, that SWISS air has the best economy – wait, I was below economy – snacks. Chocolates, cookies, and a clementine. I was in an aisle seat for the first time in I don’t know how long. Good thing it’s a short trip from Zurich to Heathrow.
That night I fell asleep in my friend’s living room on an air mattress with a fire slowly dying at my feet. Remember earlier when I said I’m blessed to have amazing people in my life? Well, Lor! is one of them. She is generous to a fault. We had a walk around London the next day, completing the sister scavenger hunt and adding to her illustrious career in movies as camera lady. We went back to a restaurant I went to when I lived in London 15 years ago. They still remember me and ask after the large group of friends I used to go with. It always floors me because, yeah, I’d go at least once a week for several months and with a group of at least 6-8 other people, but the intervals between visits have been varied and lengthy since then… but they are always so wonderful and ask how I am and where my friends are, what they are up to. Punjab on Neal Street in Covent Garden gets my approval forever and ever. Then we hit a show because why not? Kinky Boots was highly entertaining and informative. “The sex is in the heels” explains so much!
The next morning I reminded myself how much I love being in that part of the world by taking a walk around St. Albans, grabbing a coffee, finding a cute winter set at Accessorize, and visiting Marks & Spencer to pick up lunch and cheese. The song “I’d go the whole wide world just to find her, to find out where they hide her” from Stranger Than Fiction was playing in the coffee shop, and, as I noted in my handwritten journal, I’m comfortable in the drizzle grey of England, Ireland, Scotland. This thought settled bittersweet into my brain, so I’m still exploring it.
One of the things I love about Lor! besides everything is that she’s cool to stay in and watch all of season 1 of The Fall or go to a musical or walk around at the Cezanne portrait exhibit, eat at Wagamama and shop for vintage dresses in big girl sizes and talk about movies and music the whole way. We road tripped together in 2011 and discovered how compatible we are as travel buddies. I think we could also be compatible roommates, but let’s hope we’re both far enough along in our lives and careers that we won’t have to go back to having roommates.
We gussied up for a fancy downtown London Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve party. Being the awesome person she is, Lor! did my makeup expertly and with successful results. I don’t like makeup much, but she let me choose my look and walked me through everything as she put it on, letting me check that I liked what she was doing along the way. If I ever do get that TV host job, I might demand that she be my stylist. We met some fun people at the party – a few teachers who had some advice and leads! A woman that reminded me of my godmother so much that I had to take a picture with her. Two women from Eastern Europe who demanded to know where the single men were: “They’re all in a couple or gay!” We had a good laugh about that. I could be wrong, but I don’t think a group of single guys would get dressed to the nines on New Year’s Eve to go to a party in central London when they can go to the local pub or stay on their couch. If there were single guys there, they weren’t in large groups making themselves known to us single ladies, so why did these women think we had a line on them? It was hilarious though.
I lost a day in there somewhere to a sleep that might have been a coma. I wasn’t hungover exactly. I got up on New Year’s Day to get some hot chocolate and have a little stroll. I ate mid-afternoon and fell asleep first at 7ish. I woke at 10 and took some Advil for ankle pain. I turned off the TV at 12:30 and didn’t become conscious again until 12:49. My body told me I had been asleep longer than 19 minutes. Blackout curtains are usually my friend, but they did a number on me this time. I realized it was afternoon not morning when I opened the blinds. Ooops. I guess I needed it? I got ready and had enough daylight to walk around a new neighborhood (St. Johns Wood) and pass through my old stomping grounds (Baker Street and Regents Park). I also earned the badge of honor of being asked for directions in a place where I could actually give them. WHAT?!
My last day was for some shopping, which may have been a mistake, but everything still fit into my suitcase, so who cares? First I sat in a Caffe Nero (which I call Caffe Nerd because of the font used on the sign) where I will set the opening scene of an x-rated romance novel, if I ever finish writing legit stuff first. I laughed to myself about that as I wrote an entirely unrelated poem (below). Then I got on the plane and wondered why the seat next to me was still empty. It didn’t show as empty on the seat map online, so I knew someone had to be sitting there. I was flying business class again. Flying into and out of NYC, this means that I sometimes have a celebrity sighting. Not that I recognize anyone because I can’t see. I glean that the person is one of the beautiful people through context clues. I don’t like to stare while my brain scrolls through images until one matches. I was flying into Newark, too, so I thought this significantly reduced the possibility that anyone recognizable would be on the flight.
Then a tall redhead boarded and the guy who’d been making a nuisance of himself already had a moment of verbal diarrhea followed by a request for a selfie. Request politely (and in my opinion understandably) denied, the redhead eyes our shared overhead bin… the same bin I already felt bad about taking up too much space in. That’s when I was staring. And I was caught and felt stupid, but then it registered who he was. And his most memorable role, to me, is a Victorian asshat who makes his wife’s life miserable. I know he’s well known for other stuff that probably paints him in a much better light (stuff that I’ve been streaming the last several days), but all I could think was, “asshat, asshat!” Of course the character is an asshat, not the man. I offered to remove anything from the overhead bin if necessary, but he assured me there was plenty of space. In an American accent. He’s English. This struck me as weird. His accent only slipped once or twice the whole flight. He plays Americans more often than he plays Brits, I think, and is currently in an American TV show, so method acting maybe? He reviewed one his peach paged scripts, so I got an elbow view of his rehearsal, murmuring the lines and dialing down the hand gestures. I wanted to bother him with chitchat many times, but I don’t think he was feeling very well, and I usually wouldn’t strike up a conversation on a plane, so why act any differently just because I recognize him? It struck me funny though because there aren’t tons of tall redhead actors and I’ve recently become obsessed with one, so it was like the universe was teasing me because this wasn’t the one. But I’m calling it the year of the redhead anyway. It’s like the Chinese calendar but not.
On the plane I also read an article about teaching English that got me fired up to get back to work in that field, just in a different setting. It was an article a former teacher had shared, so it was also a sweet little moment of legacies. I might not be as recognizable as the guy who was sitting next to me, but I have had (and will have) an impact on the lives of my students the way my teachers have influenced me. It’s a kind of stardom (I tell myself because I know I probably won’t ever host a travel TV show).
I came home to a fucking bomb cyclone polar vortex though. I’ve been essentially hibernating since I got back because it’s been too fucking cold and windy to leave. It’s given me time to get to know the actor’s repertoire beyond Victorian asshats. I ventured out to the grocery store and post office only to learn that a mile in frigid temperatures is unlike any other mile I’ve ever walked.
I leave you with that poem I mentioned above.
As Yet Untitled
~LJD, January 3, 2018
Days of dread
all passed to nothing.
Great pitch and moment
yes, the butterfly effect,
but more often for naught.
Not even a good bar anecdote
because no one wants to
re-live your fruitless fretting.
Cycle says you’ll
Waste worry again
Have more wakeful nights
Live dozens of days in dread
Before you learn
It’s all for naught.
Ride the waves
It will all pass
whether you worry or not.