Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year. Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!
Prompt for December 21: Decision: What big decision(s) did you make in 2011? How will those decisions affect your 2012?
I can trace all of the big decisions of the year back to one week in London in May.
That I had decided to go in the first place was indicative of sea change. I generally avoided London — it was a place to pass through; it sprawled incomprehensibly; it was the Los Angeles of Europe. The weekend before I left, a school friend and her husband had come into town, and we’d gone to the birthday party of another friend at a rooftop bar. It was slightly chilly night at the end of May. Bill was mid-exit from my life.
When there’s infidelity, there’s often that stunned phase at the end of the relationship where you can still stand to be in the same room, but you stare at each other in a state of what the fuck. Maybe it’s Kubler-Ross-esque – that falling-action into denouement. On the day I left for London, my friend’s husband, the MacGuyver of Amish Country, had prayed over us. I think that startled Bill – that I was actually that kind of Christian, the kind who relished having people praying in my foyer. (Love, faith, and hope are scary. Involving others in any of the aforementioned is an exquisite kind of discomfort.)
The prayer ended; the friends left; I got on a plane. For the first time on travel, I left my wedding band at home.
There was lots to do once I arrived in London, but among those things was deciding when we’d order in Chinese for lunch. We decided Monday. My fortune cookie read:
I laughed, because I had no intention of it.
However, the next day I met someone who looked a bit like Frederic and a lot like my friend who always shows up at exactly the right time. This Englishman asked me to dinner. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d never have agreed to go out – I don’t date, really.
But for many reasons, I said yes, and dinner turned into a nightcap…
(We’d wanted to remember what we were drinking.)
Late drinks became lunch the next day and Why don’t you stay the week-end and come to this barbeque with me? My friends are hosting.
I’m meeting my parents in Edinburgh then on to Dublin.
I’d like for you to come.
There were other events in London that week – dinners and reconciliations; deciding that a friendship was worth fighting for; foolishly opting to take a taxi through Berkeley Square with strangers as Miss Mal (who’d come to town) sang in her soprano:
I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I’m perfectly willing to swear
That when you turned and smiled at me,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.
We danced till champagne o’clock, courtesy of our benefactors. The next day, still winesoaked, I arrived in Scotland in time for dinner.
I sat through dinner with the family – Mums, Dad, Auntie, Uncle – in which we discussed my future. Uncle Sam spoke for the group:
We’ve all been together forever, so we don’t know what you’re going through. But I think, Mere, I think that you’ll probably wind up with someone you’ve been friends with for a long time.
I thought on that. I thought about my friends; the ones on whom I relied. That night I went back to the hotel and I cancelled the flight to Dublin.
What did you decide?
I decided to come back to London.
The next morning, I got on a train, deciding to take a chance. As it happened, that day was Frederic’s wedding day. Would he call from Denmark? Once I arrived in London, I decided to turn off my phone for the weekend.
The Englishman and I went to his friends’ barbeque. There was laughter, drinking, and fun. We were all very familiar, despite having just met. The hostess and I resolved to stay in touch as I left.
I was back in Paris and London ten days later:
Paris changed things. Getting to know someone is hard work. The current went up and down. None of it made sense; there was a lot of mind-changing; plan-changing. There were beautiful moments. Laughter, levity. Me screaming and twisting on the end of a long wire. Deciding not to overthink, then thinking: Grow up, you fool. You are not the Hugh Grant character in a rom-com.
Maybe people can’t be changed.
The upshot was that I decided to laugh at myself more. I decided to stop taking all the advice of friends, because friends are well-meaning, but they’re not always right. Summer faded into Autumn as things fizzled and faded; circuits lost polarity, only to occasionally flare.
I got sick in September. Being sick brought me to my knees. I celebrated what would’ve been my sixth wedding anniversary feeling like the lyrics to a Joni Mitchell song — something off of For the Roses.
The day after my anniversary, the friend who always managed to show up in the nick of time — the one who the Englishman looked like — arrived in New York. I’d always known that you know some people by heart upon meeting — I knew Frederic that way; I recognised the Englishman’s friends that way. I’d met this particular friend years ago, and had known him instantly by his voice. He said we’d known each other in a past life. Maybe we had.
He came uptown on a September afternoon and we talked. And there were moments between us, too, that were not hotels and airports, but perfectly ordinary Upper East Side moments. I decided that day that there was magic in the ordinary.
The Autumn dragged into October, then November – more illness; more wake-up calls (literal, figurative). I decided I couldn’t keep living the way I had been, but I didn’t know anything else. I was back in London and elsewhere; back in New York. I arrived in London again in November – post-marathon; post-Washington; head spinning; spent.
At the moment of my bending-but-not-breaking, my friend again arrived. Startled by the happy accident, we spoke in present tenses in a hotel bar. Can you make decisions without knowing you’re deciding? I decided over drinks that complicated things are actually quite simple as long as you bother to show up for the challenge.
Before leaving London to go back to New York, I cracked a fortune cookie in my office.
November shattered into December, and my head wasn’t spinning any less. So early in December, I had decided to have dinner with a friend in from London – the hostess of the barbeque back in May. The Englishman and I had fallen in and out but had kept talking; the hostess and I had stayed in touch throughout the adventure.
She and I met at a rooftop bar at a hotel on the West Side; she introduced me to some of her friends.
I feel like I’ve known you forever, she said over drinks, and I felt the same way about her, just as I’d felt when I met her in May. We chatted about our lives to date; about things to come, then moved on to dinner with in the West Village.
Dinner was lovely — the company more so. We parted ways on a chilly December night, resolving to meet up in London in the New Year.
This year was all decisions, you see — jump started by the decision to get on a plane in May — to accept the care of the people who pray; to leave Bill behind; to say yes to dinner; to forgive; to get on a train. It was the decision to laugh; it was the decision to let things go; to cut my losses and move on. It was the decision to rejoice in the magical mundane. It was decision to stay; decision to leave. The decision about the simple and complex; decisions that ripple. Decisions not to decide. Decisions to know people by heart; to be open to hope, faith, and love.
A series of decisions that were prefaced by a West Side rooftop had an epilogue on a West Side rooftop, too — this time, in a hotel bar. Of course, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.