My next-door neighbor speaks pointed BBC English. I’ve met her only once, this morning, as I was heading out for the day and she was carting out the week’s trash. She knew me as the foreigner, and greeted me in kind, and I was startled by how unstartling that tone was in my ears again. But then, I felt compelled to wear grey to match the clouds this morning.
I waded through Avenida Santa Fe in diminutive ankle-height rainboots, missing my knee-capping bright red wellies as I do every time it rains. There aren’t many shoppers out this early, so I have the puddles mostly to myself, and the squelching sidewalks, too. (The sidewalks are so broken they get their own slang: odio las baldosas flojas que hacen chof en los días de lluvia.)
My morning coffee is terrible. It won’t be sugared into palatability. I drink it all anyway, because it’s free, even though things are cheap enough here I don’t really have to. It’s important to me not to get used to that feeling. Which is easy because it’s so new, and so fleeting.
Everyone is atwitter about the royal baby this morning. And by everyone, of course, I mean my friends. No one here cares, and my friends say they don’t either. I can admit that I do. I kick off the family email chain: whoever guesses the royal baby name picks the restaurant next time we all go out together. (I won last time, with George, and got tapas. Thanks, little man.)
And just when I think I’ve hit the cap, I look down at my tablet screen to realize my only remaining library book is Austen’s Emma. Page one. Emma’s twenty.
Something about endings brings us back to beginnings. I’ve spent the better part of a year remarking upon all the ways in which London and Buenos Aires couldn’t be more different, joking about how much I miss zebra crossings in the midst of porteño chaos, enjoying the presence of the sun, longing for a good queue, celebrating fútbol properly. Today, though, I see one all over the other. It’s a way of taking stock, I suppose. I tie the ends of an experience together so I can manage it as a whole, at a distance, separated from me as it soon will be.
No, I got that wrong, because on my way home from my last day at work all I wanted to do was listen to You Me At Six of all things. I hate to say I told you so / You’re never gonna let this go and even though the signs say King Street there I am on Mecklenburgh Square. I’m eighteen in London, all underground pop punk in Camden, but more often emphatically above-ground arena shows at Wembley, angry, relieved, more of a blank slate than I’d ever be again.
I didn’t know it then but I loved that music for its religion. These boys who croon lazy metaphors of sin and gospel think they’re so radical and blasphemous and over it. Yeah, I thought so too. But it only feels good to shout like that when you know it matters to you at some level. You honor the seriousness of the matter in your rage and transgression and that’s exactly where I was back then. After all, that same year included Latin Mass at St. Etheldreda’s, Divine Liturgy at St. Botolph’s, kneeling helpless in St. George’s Chapel. I got every teenager’s dream: the freedom to run thousands of miles away and scream what I wanted. And when I was tired of that, I started to admit what I wanted, come to terms with what I wanted, pray what I wanted. And in the process I learned to get over myself. It was a damn good year.
I’ve got a playlist called in this lab we defend pop punk (that’s a quote from my otherwise inscrutable lab instructor in sophomore physics) that I find myself revisiting at times like these—that is, endings. It’s not just nostalgia that brings me back to it, it’s something sillier and stronger. In Argentina I mistook this pull for a desire to tie things together, a narrative need driven by my endless capacity for self-mythologizing. I wasn’t wrong, exactly. I’m a writer before I’m even myself. But I didn’t finish the thought. This music represents beginnings to me, the creative destruction I occasionally wreak upon my life, fleeing the country or changing my religion or ditching a profession. It’s my constant longing to open things up again, to be that blank slate once more.
England was only four years ago but I feel impossibly older since then. Solidified. It’s not just that my D.C. commute hardened me into routine, but that this year—at work, at home, at church—has confirmed my values. I’m making career choices centered around vocation. I’m in communion and it’s meaningful. I’m leaving my hometown with gratitude. I’m putting aside childish things. And then the music comes on and though I have nothing but love for the girl who made this playlist, and I’m better for having been her, I smile to think how hard she’d roll her eyes at me now.
Someday I’ll laugh at all this, at the idea of feeling ancient and formed and complete at twenty-two. And I don’t, you know, I just feel grown. But you have to understand that so many of my patrons were martyred by now, others married, plenty vowed, all fairly sure of themselves, or so I think. You can’t blame me for the urgency. Even so, I have a sneaking suspicion that if English pop rock were available to them, they’d have shouted with me. You never got to heaven / but you got real close. That’s what I’ve always liked about this music. It’s high stakes, no chill, catchy as all hell, unashamed. I’m never going to grow out of that. Part of me’s always going to be in London. Impetuous, brave, willing to start all over again. It’s just that this time I’ve found out a few more ways how not to make a lightbulb.