I remember a couple of trips I made from Grand Central to New Rochelle; it felt like nothing could go wrong in my life. It felt like I really had it all—a great job, health, and the love of my life. Now I find myself waiting for the train in Surbiton station in Bumfuck, Kingston-Upon-Thames in the pouring rain with a useless umbrella—the train that will get me to Waterloo Station in 15 minutes—and think, Did I really leave New York for this?
But I think this chapter of my life as a writer had to be written in London. Only the lesson is that perhaps I really can’t have it all; can’t have a fantastic career with you by my side. That I have to have one or the other. So I’m in London with my heart back in New York, and I need jumper cables to start my day.
I like to pretend you’re with me when I’m waiting for the train that is almost always late. I like to pretend you made the move across the Atlantic with me—like when I was standing outside Schmackary’s on a Friday night with one of your friends and I told him I’ll be moving to London and he just answered, “Oh, is that why C wants to move to London?” and my heart kind of skipped a couple of beats to your name and made no attempts to hide my smile. I like to pretend we’re making up all these little hilarious stories about the people around us; just like we used to when we woke up together on the Upper East Side and had breakfast at our favourite places. (She’s a werewolf, he got stood up for a date, they’re totally going home to fuck.) But there are other times—most of the times, nearly all the times—when my heart feels too heavy to even beat, and I stare at the cold, grey, slab of stone that acts as a wall for this station, and I wonder if perhaps I’m projecting my heart onto that.
Then my favourite part of the story rolls along: I like to think of all the bad things I did to you, to remind myself why I’m stuck here waiting for the train amidst this downpour and gale-force winds without you.
Did I really leave New York for this?
I like to think about the times I hurt you with my written words, over and over again.
I wonder about writers sometimes; surely we must be very cruel, manipulative, selfish, and emotionless people with black hearts if we are to write about the people we claim to love into our quote unquote fictional worlds. And I think I might have started to tear you apart when I first began writing my book while I was in grad school in Los Angeles. The same book that remains unpublished in a folder on my MacBook Pro, probably because of all the shame, regret, and guilt that snarl in my mind late at night when sleep refuses to meet me. When I replay all of our fights and tears and screams. It was a joke between us at first; after every fight you’d tell me, “Well, at least you’ll get some writing done,” knowing I’d use this as material, and I fell in love with you just a little bit more each time.
I never told you how when I wrote all of our bad times in my fiction—when I stitched worlds together that whispered secrets from our life—I unconsciously wrote you into all of the best and most beautiful scenes. And it wasn’t until one particular class when one of my friends pointed out that “Sofia has something with Alice she doesn’t have with anyone else in the book. With the others, it’s all about hideous imagery of Greek Mythology and Greek Orthodoxy, but with Alice it’s just… quite. Peaceful. Love and music.” And I never realized.
I’ll never know how you silently feel through the cracks of my fingers as I created a world I worked on for two years. I never knew until I took the time to read through it, beginning to end, and while I cringed and hissed and complained about what a cacophonic writer I am, the best part of that fucking book is you.
The train finally arrives and I have to fight to my death to get some space around me; but hey, this is where I discovered audiobooks are a great companion and I begin to listen to the New York of Edith Wharton’s world. And anyway, it’s only fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes.
So the train begins to move on ahead and I’m still very unhealthily writing the story of us in my head—like the last time we were both on the lower level of The Strand kissing and I wrote a silent promise that that would be the place we’d get engaged—while all around me are these cold people who are glued to their phones or their Metro in angles arms should never have to be in, and I so miss the New York subway.
Did I really leave New York for this?
But on Monday—the Monday that just left me—I realized that I didn’t want to listen to stories about New York on this stupid train that needs fifteen goddamn minutes because I don’t want to be anywhere else but where you are. And I know it’s been seven months and twelve days since I last saw you, and seven days after what would have been our third anniversary, but I still want you; you and only you. I don’t want to love somebody else and I know I had to leave and go somewhere where you couldn’t follow but sometimes people have to leave in order to come back, you know? And yeah, I might have left New York for this, but I’m coming back and you’re my New York anyway.
And all of these doubts people expected me to have about you couldn’t have been further away—probably in Bumfuck, Ohio. Because I love your heart and your soul, and the way you smile sleepily in the mornings. I love being the first thing you see when you wake up and the last thing before you go to sleep at night. I love being the name you moan under the covers and the reason why God comes down just a little bit closer to you every time I’m between your legs. And the train just passed Clapham Junction so I’m only eight minutes away from Waterloo and thank God for that, but I love the way you see the world in straight lines and right angles that so harshly clash with my language and all of my grey. I love the way your whole world changes when you look through a camera lens and I still judge people when they hold a camera wrong because I know how to properly hold one thanks to you.
I love the way your hand finds mine—even if the first time you tried to hold my hand was when we were in the American Museum of Natural History under that massive, gorgeous blue whale, and I was so engrossed in reading about jellyfish that I jumped ten feet into the air as soon as I felt you brush against me, making you red in the face and never trying anything again until you found the courage to kiss me in that café on Broadway a couple of days later. I love the way my fingers find the back of your neck when we’re out with friends and it feels like we’ve been doing this for ages and like maybe we could keep on doing it forever. And somehow forever doesn’t seem as scary as it once was and I want forever and I want it now. I love how funny and great your friends are and how they accepted me without any questions; did I ever tell you that? I even love how you put all that kale in your morning smoothies.
And finally—oh god finally, fifteen minutes are over and why don’t people ever say ‘excuse me’ over here if they want to pass instead of just digging holes in my back cause I’m not a mind reader—we’ve arrived in Waterloo and now I have to battle my way through the slow-crawling hoard of people and dear god, why is London so SLOW? And I think, my God, Grand Central was the most exquisite train station and everyone knew the dance of how to walk and get around others. That’s what I used to think every time I was there; of what an ethereal, well-oiled machine it is, like the most heartbreakingly beautiful symphonic orchestra. But Waterloo… Waterloo Station is a cacophony with clanging noises that heaves and groans, and no one knows what to do.
Did I really leave New York for this?
But I stopped on the escalators on Monday; I didn’t push or walk down the left like I usually do (and who walks on the left anyway?). I stopped because I just want to love you. I want to love you now like I did two years ago and how I will still love you in fifty years time. I will love you then like I love you now, and more. I will love the lines on your face that will tell the stories of every smile and laugh we’ve had through time. I will love the grey in your hair that you’ll want to dye and I’ll tell you, you don’t have to because it’s been a privilege and an honour to grow old with you.
It’s only fitting that my love story—our story, our fairy tale—began writing itself on a cold January day in New York City, where on the corner of 12th and Broadway, right in front of The Strand Bookstore, I first saw your face. And from that moment on, I promised to love you on your worst and best days; and I want to be part of it all. I want to write myself in the rest of your chapters, until the very last page, the very last sentence, the very last word. Even though half the time we were together I was so worried that somehow you’d end up erasing me from your life, and the demons in my head would come alive every night as they never stopped breathing these fiery thoughts into my ears. But you were right there; you were always right there with your breathtaking, “I love you.”
And I fell in love with you through your words; with your words. You made me want to write books about you and I filled notebooks with thoughts of you, and I can only apologise for all the times my words somehow came out wrong and ended up breaking your heart. Because you took away the dark; you shone a light onto all of my deepest secrets and made them fade into the background. You shone a light on all of my sickest, darkest, and coldest parts of me and loved me even more. Those same parts I tried to keep away from the world—especially when my world became you.
And now I’ve been writing this essay for so long that I’m not really sure if I’m narrating anymore or simply living entirely in my world inside this goddamn loud mind of mine. And it’s in this moment of ungrace that I realize I can write all the stories I want but that still won’t bring you back to me; and I am so very sorry you fell in love with a writer.
I’m not too sure what I’ve learned about writing or about love except perhaps that I finally wrote a dedication on that unpublished book:
For you; for bringing me home.