Sunday, 4 September 2016

Ten-year goal

Reading: Talking about Detective Fiction by P. D. James
Listening to: "Elastic Heart" by Sia
Outside: Rain shellacs the Victorian rooftops

A couple days ago, on Friday, September 2nd, I awoke to my tenth year living in the UK.

I got up and dressed and dabbed on my best effort at makeup (which is to say, not a lot), and, desperate for a coffee just like every morning of my post-teen life, I went to work. That first sip of the cappuccino purchased from Costa Coffee at the train station was, just like every morning, reviving.

I say this because the day started just like any other.

It didn't start like, say, the morning of your birthday, when you know you'll be subjected to plastering a smile on your face through the "Happy Birthday" song at work or at home or both, and (if you're anything like me) you have that immense amount of dread. Nor did it start like Christmas morning when you're seven, or when you're seventeen or twenty-seven; there was no sore-hearted wanting, no breathless worry of what you did or didn't do (was I good or bad this year? Did I put the turkey in the oven early enough? Did I buy enough mulled wine? Is everything just so? Will anybody notice?).


The morning, and in fact the day, was like these whole ten years: elastic.

I had all of the things I've had in the last 3,652 days: caffeine; laughter; friends; uncomplimentary office lighting; a train journey that, however sweltering, gives me the chance to read, which for me is like the finest water for thirst; a welcoming house to come home to; family.

I had all those things and more.

In the last few thousand days, I have experienced the full spectrum of emotions. I landed at Manchester International Airport as an exhausted 23-year-old, my entire life jammed into two bulging red suitcases. And I couldn't believe it, there he was - my best friend meeting me off the plane. I got to say hello again and give him a sweaty hug.

That first year was certainly the hardest. Songs I listened to then I can barely swallow now; they remind me so much of the homesickness I'd felt then and couldn't quite process. I dove into my studies instead, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going in whatever way possible. I got a job at the Co-Op, a little convenience store the size of a shoebox, and learned the brand names of cigarettes and potato chips (crisps) and candy (sweets), and how to count change (there's a ridiculous number of coins), and how to understand Yorkshire-speak (really, it was like starting my life over again). I felt like hey, at least I know how to walk but my newly-pedestrian feet got confused at crosswalks, always surprised the cars were going the other way). I graduated from the University of Leeds with my Master's Degree in hand, and got a job at the Doncaster Free Press, where I have worked ever since.

December 2007 issue of the Doncaster Free Press - and indeed, I am a "Taste of the States"

That person I was ten years ago, coming down the airport walkway with suitcases I could barely control, really didn't have a goal for her first year in the UK. Nothing except get to spend time with her best friend David and to get her master's. That was it. She expected to come home with her parents in July of the next year - she never thought she'd be brave enough to start a new life here, thousands of miles away from the cornfields and dirt roads of her youth.

Now, to be honest, maybe I did have expectations for the day that marked my tenth anniversary living in the UK. Maybe I did expect nothing less than confetti, balloons, a band, a giant cake with a stripper popping out of it, and Adele singing to me in my living room.

None of these things happened.

But something even better happened. I came home from work to cinnamon-candle-scented quiet (!) and my husband telling me to get ready, we're going out.

Me and my beloved, David, ten years ago. Impossibly young.

Now, let's talk about goals. Ten-year goals. You might sit down, tap a pencil against your chin and regard that blank sheet of paper, your list, with a sense of grim distrust.

I don't blame you. I'm the same.

But here's what I can say about my last ten years:

That girl stepping off the plane 10 years ago, she was lost, and, to be honest, pretty afraid. I said goodbye to her, unintentionally, piece by piece, over the years. Each day of those 3,652 have been a challenge, along with a sprinkling of boredom (guilty!), and big fear and big praise for what's possible in this world. The first time I rode the train by myself, and didn't get lost in Leeds, didn't get lost in Sheffield. The lonely nights when I wanted nothing more than to walk past rows of Indiana corn again, high above my head their silk tassels whispering unknowable things. Wanting the drone of cicadas. Needing to see lightning bugs stitching across the night sky. Getting through that ache. Hefting my things in boxes and bags into our first house, stepping through the uPVC doorway into our first mortgage. The afternoon I got my passport in the mail, endorsed with my Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, the ever-coveted Permanent Residency Visa. Learning to use an electric lawnmower for the first time and miraculously not cutting off my toes. Memorizing the bricked-beauty of the terraced Victorian houses I walk past each day. The landmarks in my day-to-day - each wobbly cobble, each familiar face. The afternoon I walked across the stage to accept my Master's Degree, and the moment I signed my marriage certificate, smiling up at cameras, those tear-filled eyes at Cusworth Hall. The feeling when I started or finished writing a new book. That sense of fear, and awe and completion. My wedding pen, poised and ready, over my literary agency contract. The moment I gave that final hard push and lifted my daughter up out of the tub's water. My hands the first to touch her. When I looked into her eyes for the first time.

Our wedding day, October 19, 2012

Our Lena Jellybeana's first hour, November 19, 2013

Each of these days, for thousands of days, I did the impossible. And with each of those impossible things, I filled the curves and muscles and mind of who I am today.

A little Italian wine never goes amiss - bottoms up to 10 years!
My ten-year goal?

I think the most important goal achieved is that I'm no longer lost.

What about you? How have you changed in the last ten years, and what made it happen?

Happy Sunday, everybody!

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