I am slowly coming back to life… I wish someone were in love with me like boys were ages ago before I was sick. I suppose it will be years, though, before I could think of anything like that. – “Tender is the Night,” F. Scott Fitzgerald
It has been a year now since Miss Mal and I sat at a Thai dinner in London, then stared at each other over a nightcap before then being convinced out to a nighty-nightcap at a nightclub. We had, over dinner, done the difficult work of viewing hard things from near, after having looked at them from faraway. And we had decided, then, what was wheat, and what was chaff, and what was worth getting into a taxi with strangers over.
The aforementioned taxi, and our benefactors (and by association, we) sped across the city, and as we crossed a certain part of Mayfair, Miss Mal trilled in her sweet 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.
And that was how last summer began: with a bang, and a whimper, and Bobby Darin cum Miss Mal in my ear, and Adele on the radio singing Someone Like You, with Frederic marrying in precisely the manner I’d predicted years before.
What exquisite heartbreak!
On this week last year, all that happened, then I left London the following bank holiday Monday, sobbing all the way to Heathrow, for no apparent reason.
(In the present day, my leaving London was on a Wednesday, and my destination was not New York, but Madrid. I had been lost last May, a native daughter of nowhere. And now, found — an international woman of mystery.)
As last summer grew warm, I had lunch one day with a particularly opinionated friend. For instance, it perplexed her that I had ever married Andrew or loved Frederic and she had no problem saying so.
You always go for the Dick-and-Nicole scenarios!
That was a first. The implication that I was crazy in a cosmopolitan-Swiss sanitarium-baby bird-to-phoenix sort of way was both deeply disturbing and utterly intriguing.
I mean, you’re pure Nicole – your neuroses come for a very different reason, of course. And your men have got that sadsack Dick thing down pat. Get away from the narcissists.
I considered her crazy statements before moving on. Then our lunch continued without further literary allusion.
But by last August, I was back in London for the umpteenth time, exhausted; bored of the British boys who didn’t understand an international vocabulary and dry wit on an American girl. The locals were rioting even in Notting Hill; the markets were crashing. All gods were dying; all wars were being fought; I was kissing cads in the lobby of the hotel that practically backed on to Berkeley Square.
As far as I could tell, there were no angels dining at the Ritz, and the nights were anything but tender.
The denouement-into-ending in a Fitzgerald book always came fast and furious, and left someone unsatisfied at the end. In poetry, it was always love or death — sometimes, just a little love, or heaven help us, la petite mort. With songs, however, one learned to be suspicious.
By Fall and Winter, the leaves had fallen, and the birds had stopped singing. After the New Year, as if to compensate, I debated paint choices at home in New York and, sick one Saturday, chose for the bathroom”Nightingale” over “Silver Fox.”
But in context, the night bird and the fox were one and the same.
Meanwhile, back in present day London, I’d spent the early part of this week at my usual hotel that practically backed on to Berkeley Square. Everything was the same as a year prior. It was mostly me that was different.
My week was jammed; my exit from London hurried. My driver took me to yet another meeting, and then back to Heathrow — but not my usual way.
As I finally got to the airport with no Adele; no Bobby Darin this time, it was like slowly coming back to life. London had been hot and sunny, just like it had been this week a year prior — we’d been spared a British summer for just one week.
We drove, and I remembered parks, and sunshine, and ice pops in the summery weather. But that bit was done. Over. I left London without tears.
What was I doing with all these narcissists?
The day prior, I’d mentioned to a friend that in a fit of fear, I’d drafted a list of things I wanted in a partner. He’d asked what it said, and I told him. The items on the list were ordinary; expected. But they were the items a woman emerging from a dream might’ve written — so clear and simple that only someone who’d spent the last few years in a state of shock might need to be so obvious with herself about what was right and wrong.
I exited the plane and was whisked through Barajas Airport by a helper.
It had been a year since that transformative week in London. But it was over. Had it been a vision, or a waking dream? It all seemed very surreal: the wheat, the chaff; the good, the bad; the selfish, treacherous men.
Out of London, in the hot Spanish sunshine, I was slowly coming back to life.