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Liza Evseeva / Staff Illustrator

February 2020

Bloomsbury, London, U.K.

Dear ———,

I’m alone here just as much as I was in New York, but the solitude tastes different. In New York, I was always overfull with tasks. The time we walked down to 72nd Street simply because we didn’t want to turn around, or laid on your bedroom floor too caught up in a puzzle to stop, that was joy wedged in among an overwhelming amount of work. In London, I am alone with ample amounts of time. The daylight hours are short, but my to-do list is shorter.

I unspool the time like yarn and lay it all around me on my dorm room carpet and marvel at its color. Today, to use it all up (and to avoid shelling out for a vitamin D supplement), I go for a run in Regent’s Park, where the trees are February-barren and stoic. Each individual twig pierces its own pinhole in the otherwise consuming gray of the sky. It’s my British substitute for the fog-laden mountains gliding past one another on Highway 17, or the ornate jewelry of the Upper West skyline playing against the sunset. I watch all of those twigs and trees move against each other to create infinite jigsaws of cloud and wood, a monochrome kaleidoscope.

In the park I cannot be anxious or circular or static—my least favorite side effects of being alone—because I must be centered and delimited and coordinated enough to drive myself through each step. I know exactly where I end and the world starts: nothing blurs. I’ve never been so aware of my delight in this simplicity as in Regent’s Park. Stillness and regimen dominate the garden’s many rows of trees, heightening the boundary, all meticulous planning and pruning. It is unapologetically regal. It insists upon attention.

I have the time to have a cup of tea when I get home, with sugar and cardamom and lots of milk, and always at least twice as many digestives as I intended to eat. I find it funny and embarrassing how much tea I’ve been drinking here, even as tea is really my family’s thing (on the Indian side, not the English). The British should probably stop drinking it because it’s just rude of them at this point. Last week, an English stranger in line for the bathroom told me that British tea is really just that much better than tea anywhere else.

After tea, I walk to my friend’s place for dinner, past the bookstore Gay’s The Word. Last month, I purchased a novel and the man behind the counter chatted my ear off about Little Women with no pretext and great enthusiasm, as if he could sense that I’d seen it once in California and once again in Camden. Days later, I went to my first lesbian bar and talked to every person in front of and behind me in the line for the bathroom with the same kind of cheeriness. I have enough time here that I notice the things I ought to notice, and do the things I ought to do.

I turn the corner and continue through Brunswick Square. I try to pick out the very earliest daffodils shooting up through the grass of the park. But my walk through the park, like my cup of tea, is snared in the vines of history. I cannot turn my gaze from the trees for long, nor can I turn from what I know: London is built on centuries of theft. It’s theft that tore my family out of their home and created the genocide that they then had to flee. I’m coming to love this city, and each tree in it owes me something.

While we eat, we talk about the news that Gay’s The Word had their storefront window smashed in last weekend. When I learned that, my chest tightened with the same tension that I feel when I approach a group of British men walking down the street. It’s the same tension that I feel as I write about a lesbian bar for a magazine that most of my friends and family read. I am drawn inward, my edges blur.

After dinner, I return home in the dark through Gordon Square. The path is lined with trees rendered half shadow by the streetlights. I have enough time as I walk to weave myself into and out of wanting to publish that sentence about the lesbian bar. The tension forks into a double shame: first at what I am, then at my own contempt for it.

What am I afraid of? Perhaps that I cannot write you a letter that is both honest and without contradiction. Perhaps the buds on some of the branches: the fact of impending spring, one thing becoming another, or becoming many things, nothing simple. I hear the voice—and who doesn’t love that accent?—of the Londoner who good-naturedly rolled her eyes at me (at the lesbian bar): oh, Americans.

“Who Said It Was Simple?” asks the Audre Lorde poem taped to my wall: “There are so many roots to the tree of anger / that sometimes the branches shatter / before they bear.”

I am American because London exists.

As I walk, I pick at the time balled up in my pocket. I think about knitting it into socks. I thread it through every place in each tree where a root forks into two, where a twig splits off a branch.

When I get home, I lay the time aside and put the kettle on.

Yours always,

Sara

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