Some with my old friends and our secret memories.
Some with the sidewalks I walked on daily.
Some with the swans owned by the Queen.
Some with the British accents that made my heart swoon.
Some with the afternoon cups of tea.
Some with the little FIAT 500's, Mini Coopers, and Beatles.
Some with the charming landscapes.
Some with old lovers.
Some with my current love.
And some with past me.
Yesterday, January 2nd, 2019, I flew back to the U.S. from London Heathrow, terminal three. This was the same terminal I used to fly from when I lived alone at boarding school in Jordan (#King'sAcademy), and my parents were living in Reading, England. It felt surreal. I could see 15-16 year old me walking around nervously, wearing a brave face, not letting the world see how scared I really was. I was a little baby, flying across the world to a foreign country where I lived and studied all on my own. Sometimes, I look back at those moments and wonder how I survived. Yesterday, though, was different. I could see 15-16 year old me. And it surprised me how little had changed. There I was, again, leaving my parents to go to a foreign country where I live and study all on my own, but it was the U.S. this time and not Jordan. It was grad school this time and not boarding school. It was 10 years of prior experience of living alone - not my first rodeo. And yet, I was still as scared and sad as ever, putting on a brave face so no one could see my weakness.
The first time I moved to England, I absolutely, positively hated it. I had so many expectations. My friends back in Udhailiyah (AKA "The Middle of Nowhere, Saudi Arabia") had pumped me up so much.They had told me I would have the best time, and how jealous they were of me. They would have given anything to be in my shoes. But no one told me how Virginia Waters would smell like horse poop on the daily, how I would have so much trouble understanding what people were saying because of their thick accents, how I would feel so alone and secluded, even though the U.K. is so diverse, or how much I would miss my first two homes (Islamabad, Pakistan and Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia). I was miserable. I hated England and couldn't wait to leave. When we moved to Milan, I dreaded it so much, expecting to have the same experience. I just wanted to go home to Udhailiyah. But Milan was different. People welcomed me with arms wide open. I didn't have nearly as much trouble transitioning.
When I was 16, my dad told me his project in Reading would be lasting a year or two longer, and asked me if I wanted to move back to the UK and go to boarding school there instead. 16-year-old-me was foolish and "in love" with a English boy who had broken my heart (but I was not ready to let go, hence, "foolish"), so after much debate - even though my heart knew I was set on going - I moved back to the U.K. To be fair, he wasn't the only reason I wanted to move back to the U.K. My parents were there, after all, as were two of my best friends (Zain and Mu'min). But if I'm honest with me and honest with you, he was a huge, major reason for me to move back there. I had finally began to feel comfortable in Jordan. I had an amazing group of friends. Sometimes, I wonder, if it wasn't for that boy, would I really have moved back? Either way, when I moved back for whatever reasons, I fell deeply in love with the place.
The accents were no longer foreign to me. I adopted the mannerisms and slang. I understood that when people said, "You alright?" they meant, "How are you?" and not is there something wrong with you, which is why I'm asking if you're alright, which is what I had believed before. I didn't mind that things were small, there was no central heating or A.C., and that it rained so much. I no longer lived in a village that smelled like horse poop, but rather on my school's campus with all of my friends. I guess the best way to describe how I felt was that I found England to be quirky, and as a quirky teenager myself, I quickly learned to call it "Home". Soon, I felt like I belonged. Even though I had an American accent, even though everyone could tell I wasn't really from the UK, it easily became my home. I fell in love with it as quickly, easily, and foolishly as I had for that English boy who broke my heart.
My deep love for England was foolish because from day one, until now, I knew that the U.K. was not my permanent, forever home. I am a Pakistani citizen; I am not legally allowed to live or work in the U.K. I can always apply for a visa and go visit, but I can't stay... At least, not now, and not in the near future. Who knows what will happen 20 years from now? Maybe I'll find a job there and immigrate, and eventually get citizenship. Or maybe I will never visit again (I doubt that, though).
Even though I knew it was foolish to fall in love with the place, I did. Again, and again, and again, I did. Every time I visited, I fell in love with it all over again. And I know nothing with certainly except that goodbyes never get easier, no matter how many times you say them. I also feel like I grew up in England. I went through some of life's major milestones in England, such as falling in love and having my heart broken. I found myself in England. I became "me" in England. When I moved to the U.S. for college from England, everyone called me the "British" girl (even though I still had an American accent!), which made it feel even more like home. The fact that I spent 2011-2012 living with my best friend, and my parents just a short train ride away, surely added to why England felt like home.
I honestly don't know where I am going with this piece. Perhaps it's best if I just stop writing now. I am looking at my computer, smiling. It was really hard for me to leave yesterday, because every part of my heart, body, mind and soul wanted to stay (and for the right reasons this time!). But I am a believer in the saying, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all". So, cheers, England, for stealing my heart and for all the memories I have left to make in you. See you again soon, "home" <3.