by Anna Myers
Last spring, once the dust settled, I started to ask questions I didn’t really want answers to: how long before I break, how far can I push. How many ducks in a row, how many more ‘til I get there. If I am tethered to this city, if I’ve got this far, what will it take? And what then?
I became obsessed with the concept of exit velocity, which is the speed at which an object must travel to break free of a planet or moon’s gravitational force in order to enter orbit. I became obsessed with figuring out what my speed would be, and whether I’d unknowingly hit it.
But the dust had only pretended to settle, and not quite. I left my job but didn’t rent out my room. I booked a flight but told a man I loved him the day before my plane was supposed to depart. I had a goodbye party but cried the whole afternoon leading up to it, then proceeded to get so drunk I threw up all over myself and mumbled something that sounded a lot like ‘I don’t want to leave’ while Helena held my hair back. She told me it was going to be okay, but I never allowed myself to believe her.
I started imagining a scenario where I wouldn’t have to make that choice. I fantasied about the Home Office making it for me, the bitter tears I would cry but also the immediate and immense relief of getting away with murder. I tried telling myself that surely there could be other ways, that the psychology of guilt could explain every single one of my nightmares and still leave room for improvement. That sometimes, against all instincts, against all statistics, life still grows in the most unlikely of environments.
But I was hot with vengeance, filled with resentment, and too scared to admit it even to myself. On a hot afternoon in November, I stared at my own face in a foggy bathroom and only saw my madness reflected back. I saw hypocrisy, and contempt, and a fear so paralyzing I thought I would never take another step.
There’s steps I have avoided taking throughout the years, a similar fear stopping me. Memories piling up at the bottom of my stomach where they can eat dirt and twist on themselves but can never hurt me. One of them sits at the corner of Landsdowne and Gayhurst, past the off-license but just before the park gates. It could never hurt me. I made sure of that when I left, one bag in hand and the rest already in brown boxes I would wait too many months to collect. I made sure to avoid the voices in the living room for fear I’d inadvertently lash out, hating them for being able to stay when I had to leave. I called Carli from the bathroom and asked if I could come stay with her instead. I made sure to throw away the trash but forgot to pack my favorite fancy white pan. I made sure to crouch down on the grass by the broken fence for the last time. I breathed as deeply as I could, the cold December air fogging up my glasses and making my ribs hurt. But then again, everything hurt that night. What’s a couple more ribs cracking under the pressure, when I’m the one who caved as soon as things started to go downhill.
I made sure he wouldn’t see me cry as I called a cab.
All of it sits at the bottom of my stomach.
None of it can hurt me.
“I’ve learned by now that leaving is usually the safest choice and staying is the one that’s worth choosing.”
But it did today, as I passed it for the first time since then and wondered if I was imagining the prickling sensation taking over my limbs. Was I imagining the sheen on the windows, the slight silver brilliance covering my foggy memories of that December? That miserable December, the first of a few. That wicked December, the first time I almost got away.
I drank every night for a month. I hid the textbooks I couldn’t bear to look at under the bed. I locked myself in the bathroom to get off with silent, desperate tears streaking my cheeks. The saddest orgasm of my life, but that’s how I knew I was done.
Or I thought I was, for I was back in London less than two months later. I celebrated my 22nd birthday in my childhood bedroom, with my dogs on my lap. A week later, I walked through the gates at London City Airport and realised that I technically didn’t have a house anymore. But that didn’t make this maddening, terrifying city feel less like the home it’s always been.
I like to think that’s why I stayed.
Against all hope and every plan I’d ever made. Against what I promised myself as the cab drove away from Landsdowne and Gayhurst that miserable December, ready more than anything to see the last of that stretch of road. Against the many times I tried to leave at 23 and then again at 24. Not exactly against my parents, but surely not doing them a favor either, considering the way they still get teary every time they drop me off at the airport. Not exactly against my own interest, either, but in spite of the fact that I tried to move to Paris no less than six months ago.
I stayed for the way the sky sometimes tinges orange when I’m walking home, and the way it (still, god, still) feels when the plane touches down, and the aforementioned man I accidentally fell in love with. I stayed because it’s not time to go just yet, and the fear is very much still there but I’m not paralysed anymore.
I wanted to stay so badly, I started wishing they’d take the choice away from me completely. So I could blame someone other than myself for being a bad immigrant – or maybe just not an exceptional one. So I could hate the game and the players alike. As if that could make it easier.
But nothing makes staying easy.
I’ve learned by now that leaving is usually the safest choice and staying is the one that’s worth choosing. I’ve learned that building a life, no matter the city or country or extenuating circumstances, is terrifying and really, terribly hard. But there comes a time when it really might be the only thing worth doing.
I’ve learned that getting away with murder might be thrilling but still entails someone dying, and I’m done doing the killing. I’ve learned to stare back at my reflection with compassion rather than white hot vengeance. I haven’t learned how to trust the timing or the Home Office just yet, but I’m not in a rush. I know at some point, I’ll be ready to enter orbit. And that’s when I’ll hit the right speed.
Anna Myers | @annamyers139 | www.annamyers.co.uk
Anna Myers is a clumsy person and dachshund aficionado working in communications in London. Her words have been published on MTV, Dear Damsels, FGRLS CLUB, The Financial Diet, Thought Catalog and more. She likes waxing poetic about tall boys, forcing people to look at pictures of her dogs and crying to John Mayer songs. You can find her on socials @annamyers139.