This time last year, I was readying to visit Tom in London a second time. The plan was to spend a weekend in Cambridge, return to London and rendezvous with some friends who were also visiting the city, attend Tom’s raucous company holiday party and then, the morning after and presumably hungover, board the Eurostar to spend two gluttonous days in Paris before heading back to London to pack and move Tom back to New York.
I packed, among other necessities, a white party dress dress, a pair of velvet heels, and a leopard coat. I thought Tom liked the leopard coat because I had sent him a photo of it and he had replied, “Hot.” Over text message, I could see neither a look of disgust nor hear a groan.
So I thought, “Yeah, super hot.”
I landed at 7AM on the morning of Friday, December 6th and met, at the customs border, a surly, sleep-deprived woman who could be classified as “matronly” in the worst way possible, and “bitchy” in its usual way. Her hair was thinning and her skin, sallow and splotchy, sagged like the elbow patches of her dumpy blue sweater uniform. I wondered how many cigarettes she smoked during her infrequent breaks and how often she thought of shooting herself. Or cheery young foreigners like myself, who came with the expectation to have as much fun as possible. I smiled at her as I always smile to such personnel. I read in a magazine that sometimes smiles are infectious and she looked like she needed one. However, my smile bounced off her soulless eyes and she remained dour. She dully asked how many days I was staying.
“Ten,” I said.
“What are you here for?”
“Visiting a friend.”
She nodded as she paged languidly through my passport, yawned. Perhaps she found it boring – I had renewed my passport prior to starting school in New York and had just one stamp in it, from my first visit to London back in October.
“How did you meet him?”
“We met in New York.”
She stopped turning the pages and looked up at me. Her expression grew annoyed, then weary, like a haggard schoolteacher having caught her student in a lie.
“So he’s a boyfriend, then?”
“Um…” I thought back to a half a month before, when Tom and I had defined the relationship but had also not said expressly, the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”
“…I guess?” I started to explain that we were dating and we hadn’t really ever said those words, and I cringed as I spoke, part of my consciousness stepping out from my body and watching me explain a rather simple but in the same way complicated situation to a woman who honestly had no business but who seemed at once to care too much and too little. She didn’t have time for incoherent explanations, thank god.
“Look, he’s your boyfriend,” she snapped, “So just say ‘boyfriend’ and not ‘friend.'” She manhandled my passport, stamping it with a withering look and then waved me off.
A few feet past her cell there was a massive, brightly lit banner that said, “Welcome to London!” and showcased many a smiling Brit. Not surprisingly, my customs officer was not among them.
|The view from Tom’s window.
Two hours later I was at the corner of Curtain Road and Old St., where Tom’s corporate apartment was located. We stood across the street from each other for a few moments, waiting black London cabs and red double-deckers roll by. I smiled between each vehicle. Tom waved to me from across the street. I waved back, the hem of my leopard coat billowing in the brisk London air. The light changed and he walked over. I thought he was smiling but as he came closer, saw it was a pained expression with a smile plastered on.
“What are you wearing,” he said.
I was confused. Hadn’t he said it was “hot?”
“You don’t like it?”
“You look like you escaped from the jungle.”
I was thankful to have brought along another coat in a much more subdued black. But still, I liked the leopard and felt that he should know.
“Okay so what? If I wear it you won’t walk with me?”
“Oh I’ll walk with you,” Tom said, taking my suitcase, “Right into a coat store.”
|Sure that’s all they took?