Although I enjoyed the remainder of my visit in New York on that Fourth of July weekend 2005, I felt something was lacking. I regaled my wistful tale of an ill-timed relationship much to the distaste of my friends, who were already displeased that I had stood them up. When I returned to Chicago, I believed I was the unluckiest girl on the planet since everything that consumed my life preceding that fateful weekend afterwards seemed foggy and insignificant. By any conventional judgment I should have been happy. I received a promotion, a pay raise, and an award at work, yet I desired to run away.
I worked to save up money to travel. Motivated by hope, I mailed my unused passport to the Secretary of State to be amended. Finding work became an obsession. I trained for my new day job position with my supervisor until she had to train for her new position. Afterwards, I completed my usual tasks of taking photos for slides to be used in mostly art history classes, sending the film out to be developed, and retouching and digitizing the returned slides in Photoshop. Then I returned to the suburbs and toiled on my freelance commitments. I organized my own extensive concert photography collection and edited two stop motion photography music videos, From Now On for Kill Hannah and Depression Glass for Cameron McGill and What Army. I ran on a treadmill twice a day at the gym twice a day to keep moving, because if I thought about my life, I would admit that I existed, but I was not living.
The bumper-to-bumper snail’s-pace commute from Bensenville to Chicago slowly was extinguishing my will to live. I despised rush hour, complete with blaring horns and obscene gestures, but accepted it as a necessary evil since I conformed to business hours. Knuckles white, I clenched the steering wheel and desperately hoped not to get rear-ended or shot. If I kept the window up and turned on some music, I had time to daydream. I hungered to attend a Jesse Malin concert in New York and to finally travel around the world. Mostly, I yearned to temp fate by visiting this star-crossed stranger.
Months passed, and only a few emails and photos, brief updates detailing the monotonous reality of our daily lives from 4000 miles away, kept me optimistic. Nevertheless, the messages were saturated with sentiments such as: “I am so happy that the last person I met on my travels was you. Our chance encounter will really leave a lasting impression on my whole trip,” “I was at work and just thinking about this time last week, and when I saw you.” All of them signed with “hugs and kisses.”
I sent him sentimental song lyrics that reminded me of our encounter, and confessed how I wished I could journey back with my British girl friend who was returning to Surrey from her New York vacation. He replied:
“I have missed you. It’s kind of strange because we only had a day together, but looking at your photos…we would have so much fun together!! It would be really cool if you could come to stay here when your friend goes home.”
Honestly, I could not afford to travel. I was swimming in debt. I kept a suitcase filled with unpaid bills and paperwork to fill out for deferment and forbearance requests in the cab of my truck. I needed to find a small affordable studio apartment in the city. I had begun the aforementioned new supervisor job, but my did not get paid for a few weeks. My skin was more pallid than normal save for the dark, puffy circles around my eyes. Most days I dragged myself around in lethargy, resigned to the idea that life was as good as it was going to get. Everything I fancied was fantasy. I was not special. Any idiot could fall in love. Any idiot could take a photo. Any idiot could relate to a song. I questioned if I had lied to myself all year since I did not feel as independent as a year prior. Every day I became more withdrawn, preferring the company of my journal to humans. Every weekend I became more dysfunctional, erasing all emotion with cocktails. My composure was bent to its breaking point. I reasoned that I needed to get away or risked becoming a mean, bitter person.
That October, I secretly purchased a flight to London. I was scraping to survive, but scheming. If I had to throw in the proverbial towel and be one of those 30-year-olds who moves back in with her parents and gets a job at Starbucks for the benefits, I was determined to have one last grand adventure. When one has nothing, one has nothing left to lose.
Fate must have had some pity looking down at me, and she must have seen what a sad sight I had become. She spun the stars, and with the support of my boss and my friends, I was on a plane bound for London.
First, I was almost not admitted into the country. Apparently there is an asinine rule stating one must carry the address of the place where one is staying (which, of course, I did not since I am not a planner). After about 20 minutes, I persuaded Customs to allow me into the UK with little proof that I was not some young-crazy-vagabond criminal. Continue reading