I felt a click the moment the wheels lifted off the tarmac. As in: it’s too late, there’s no turning back now. The frost on the airplane window is telling me this is no longer your home. I watch London’s close packed grey roofs fade into squares of white, cordoned by dark green hedges. All of England seemingly covered in crisp snowflakes, never more beautiful than in this exact moment, gazing down from my window seat. Beautiful because it’s no longer mine. It is like the country I love so dearly is sending me a white flag of surrender, offering up a final goodbye. Or maybe the snow is a celebration (of me leaving? or of my years here?).
It’s December 12, the day my visa has ticked down to for the last 30 months.
The lump in my throat at having to leave England is balanced out by my tentative excitement for what’s ahead – career prospects, a slower pace, reconnecting with family and friends in Michigan. I have grown more critical of England over the last two years. Side effects of getting older, working in the NHS, living through Brexit, and meeting people outside my own political and ideological bubble. England is not perfect – it’s not all disco lights and midnight cheesy chips and Jane Austen on a mountain the way I knew it as when I spent my first year at Exeter. No. It’s also loneliness and waiting times and racist slurs and a bubble even thicker than my own, which I happen to be on the outside of. But for all its flaws, including that fatal one of, y’know, deporting me, I love England. England is where I am my best self. It is the country that I became an independent adult in, and it is where I have been my happiest. England is cold sea swims, rain on the roof, the spread of marmite on toast, walking hand in hand with Dan.
Whilst there are things about England that frustrate me, it still calls to me from a deep place. I think of the American woman I met at a bar in Athens four years ago, who said she stepped off the plane and knew this was her place, and never left. England is my Athens. There is an essence to England that is – to me – home, and has been since the moment I stepped foot in it four years ago. An intrinsic English-ness, formed by centuries of stories, something that will still be there in hundreds of years. A magical permanence. So while the lump in my throat remains, I am reassured that England will always be there for me. Maybe not as a home with a house and a job and a routine and healthcare and a bank account. But a home in a more ethereal sense.
And maybe I’m being naive, but I know my own story with England is not over. I’m confident I’ll be back. Not desperate for my return the way I was when I left Exeter after I studied abroad in 2013, but a calmer and more mature, reassured confidence. I will find my way back to you, beloved England.
Oh and P.S. Because I’m feeling nostalgic, let’s go retro. You can read my very first post about moving to England, appropriately titled “I’M AN EXPAT NOW”