I sat in the diner, slouching over the third refill of my cup of coffee and let the tears pour down my face; the salty zigzag trails on my cheeks slowly drip-dropping into the dark liquid on the table-top below.
Ignoring the hustle and bustle of the brunch-time rush behind my booth, I peered through the floor to ceiling windows and took in the silent view of the people on the street outside. Looking at them wrapped up in thick winter coats bracing themselves from the freezing wind made me shiver, even though I was safely inside next to a radiator and bathed in a shaft of bright sunlight.
Feeling cold suddenly, I slid my hands back around the steaming cup of coffee in front of me. Jolting back to reality, I became aware that my tears were in full view of everyone, so I quickly wiped them off my face with the back of my hand and tried to compose myself.
“It happens every time I arrive here,” I said, taking a sip of my drink and looking up at my friend who was sat opposite, patiently waiting for me to continue explaining. “I always cry as the plane touches down on the tarmac. Every time.”
“From happiness at arriving here?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Only partly. Mostly it’s from sadness. From knowing that I will have to leave again. From knowing that my stay here is only ever temporary. And from knowing that each time I say hello, I am already saying goodbye.”
She gave me a sympathetic look and I elaborated.
“Being here is like being with a lover whom you lost your heart to years ago and you desperately still want him, even now, but you cannot have him. And instead of being able to mourn for him and move on, it feels like each time I return here I'm again faced with that love of my life - and yet, unable to have him. So arriving here and knowing I have to leave again breaks my heart; and each time it does, a little bit inside of me feels like it dies.”
I felt my lips tremble again and as my friend reached across the table to grasp my hand, I knew the tears were following the familiar trail down my cheeks. I bit my bottom lip hard, tasting blood, and tried to swallow down the pain I felt rising up in my chest.
"You've been wanting to live here since you were 14," she reminded me, and all I could do was nod. My first memories as a young child were of stepping off the plane here and arriving in a snow blizzard: I was immediately smitten. Returning throughout my youth brought more magic moments: the first time I fell in love, it was here; the first sexual experience I ever had was here; the first time I made love was in this city – not London. 21 years I've yearned to be here, feeling that this place is my home more than London has ever been; and each time I return, I am reminded of that – and it saddens me greatly.
I've always felt a fish out of water in London, my home city. I've never felt accepted, part of it, though I am a proud Brit, a Londoner, born and bred. But I have never fitted in there. It’s hard to describe to people who don’t know me why and how I can slot right in here and yet stand out like a sore thumb in London. Why my personality fits; how my humour suits; that my outlook and attitude matches the people and this city – but not in London. Maybe it’s because I’ve never felt judged here: I’ve never had to hide who I am, or pretend to be something I am not, and that’s a huge relief to me. Here, I can just be me. And that’s not something I can say I am able to be in London, especially now.
As I sat in that diner, crying, feeling like this double-life I have been leading is going to tear me apart sometime soon and wondering when I will finally be able to reconcile all the disjointed parts of me, that’s when it hit me.
Nothing is holding me back. I have no film career any more, no work based in the UK. I have no partner, children, mortgage. Besides my family and friends in London I have no ties. Why do I need to even be there? And in that moment it all became clear to me. Simple. The future is what you make of it. Why not make something of it? As the realisation filtered through me, I felt drenched in hope, and a wave of happiness flooded through me, making me laugh spontaneously.
“What?” my friend said. “What’s so funny?”
I grinned at her. “It’s time, it’s finally time. I’m going to move here. I’m going to move to New York.”
She smiled back at me. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome home.”
I felt the tears flow down my cheeks again. But this time they were warm tears of joy.