We are coming up on our fourth year of living in London, which is about a year-and-a-half longer than we (or at least I) originally counted on. We’ll probably be here another year-and-a-half, the way it’s looking. That’s more than twice as long as we (I) originally planned.
Our (my) plans to return to our life in the States after a couple of years or so got turned upside down, as plans do. The coronavirus played a part in that. Career ambitions did as well. Maybe America’s psychotic behavior did as well.
It wasn’t my idea to move here. I had to be talked into it, picking up and moving our family of four across the Atlantic in the middle of winter, 2017-18. Taking the kids out of their hometown and schools and away from their friends and grandparents and aunts and uncles and dropping them in another city in another country on another continent five time zones away.
But, it was an opportunity. A real golden opportunity – once in a lifetime.
Who was I to get in the way of that? How could I say no? I couldn’t. Who could?
Plus, let’s face it: A billion people the world over probably would have traded places with us in a quick minute. London consistently ranks at or near the top of best cities in the world, based on a variety of factors (history, job prospects, culture, quality of life, health care, things to do, living conditions, etc.). You’ll find the usual suspects on these lists: New York, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Barcelona, Singapore, Rome. You get the picture.
Moving to the UK in general and London in particular is one of the hardest things in the world to do because so many people want to do it, and there’s only so much room. This is not a big country. You have to prove that you are worthy of living here, such as providing a vital service that is underrepresented. My wife, who works for a bank, was given a chance to work in the London office. That’s what you call a gift from on high. So, we moved.
Living abroad for a while was always on my bucket list anyway, so why not?
The fact is, you can’t measure this kind of experience in any objective way. We’ve traveled around Europe and exposed our daughters to places and things they never would have back in the States. My main worry before moving over here was that our daughters – who were 8- and 6-years-old at the time – would have a hard time adapting to a strange place, around kids with different accents. I had nightmares about it during the months leading up to the move.
But, silly Daddy: Kids are kids, the world over. Their first day of school here in London a few other kids immediately greeted our daughters and asked them if they wanted to be friends, and away they all ran, smiles on their faces. That, my friends, was one of the happiest moments of my life.
For me, the experience has been mostly very positive. I’m a free-lance writer and editor, and work from home. My clients are in the USA. The work keeps coming in, which means I don’t have to worry about scuffling around and finding a job. I got a novel published by an American publisher. I got a couple short stories published by a British publisher. I go see jazz shows regularly, and hit the pubs, and eat the food, and ride my bike along the Thames, and see the continent with my family.
I’ve lived many, many places. From small towns down South to New York, Los Angeles and the Jersey shore. You adapt. You go with the flow. It ain’t that hard.
People tell me how lucky we are to be in London. And they’re right. We’re lucky, blessed. All of the above.
I nod my head and say yes, how lucky I am.
I don’t tell them that you can be lucky and still feel a little empty sometimes. Not all the time, or most of the time, but some of the time.
You don’t tell them that there are a hundred things you miss about back home. I can literally write down a hundred things, right now, this very second – chiles rellenos and fried okra, front porches and cheap bleacher seats at the ballpark, empty deserts and endless highways.
I miss the smell of humid Southern air, and the funk of New York City streets. I miss mundane shit like 24-hour restaurants and air conditioning.
My father is nearly 88 years old, and I want to spend every second I can with him. I tell myself there’s still plenty of time. He’s got another decade in him at least, he’s a freak of nature. I keep telling myself that.
I miss the feeling of belonging, the idea that this is your home and nobody can take that away from you. No matter how long I live in the UK, I’ll never truly belong here. I know it, and the people who belong here know it, because they’ve been here all their lives and they’ll never leave, and they just know who belongs, they just know.
I go on expat forums and hear people talk about how happy they are in the UK, they’ve never been happier, how can anyone not be happy here? And I want to tell them to just go fu….
But I don’t. I keep my reaction sealed up real tight.
It’s a lucky break, coming here. It really is.
I believe that.
It still doesn’t make it perfect, or anywhere close.