Song during the horror: “This City” by Sam Fischer
A lot can happen in 50 hours, especially if you’re awake the entire time. When I woke up on Monday the 16th at 8:30am to start my day I had no idea that I wouldn’t get to go back to sleep until 11:30pm on Tuesday the 17th, in California. Monday morning I said goodbye to the last two girls in my flat before they headed home, and then I set out for a long day of adventuring with my grandmother before my physical therapy appointment at 4:30. We knew at this point that I was going to leave London on Friday, so I started packing in more and more things into the schedule so I could see them before I left. That morning we visited Marleybone and had brunch, winding through the quaint homely area and shops in beautiful alleys. I found this beautiful French shoe store with velvet slippers costing upwards of 200 pounds. After, we split up to check different things off our lists and I headed to Camden, since it’s one of the top places to visit in London and is famous for the markets. It was really fun to go through the stands, ranging from fake Gucci to luxury leather, and dozens of street food pop-ups from all over the world. I tried some amazing Thai and ate while having a conversation with a very determined bird. After spending some time exploring and bargaining I headed back to the tube (during which time I passed a crazy person yelling “I HAVE CORONA!”) and realized my Oyster card was gone (my means of paying for public transport). So, I either dropped it or I was pick-pocketed; I’m guessing the latter. I ended up having to buy a new one at the station and then load it with a few pounds to get me there and back to my flat. WELL, the end of my tube troubles continued with getting lost when the tube split and I hadn’t payed attention to which direction I was going, so it took me farther East instead of West. When I finally arrived, I really needed treatment. Since last Thursday when I saw him, my program basically shut down, all my friends flew back to the States, my grandma showed up and I had been incredibly stressed. I definitely needed the relief. We had three sessions scheduled for the week before I was supposed to leave on Friday, so we used this first one as a set-up for the next two, dancing around the main problem and loosening up things around it in preparation. My next appointment was the following morning at 9:00am. I went back to the flat, ate dinner and changed into a nice outfit for the show we were going to see, “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie. It’s the longest running show at 68 years, and I was SO excited to watch a murder mystery, especially with my grandma because I knew she was going to enjoy it. We walked through the West End over to the theater, but when we approached an Usher told us the show had been cancelled 30 minutes prior due to Boris Johnson’s announcement to prevent large gatherings. My heart sank as we walked back because this meant that the rest of the West End was going to follow, and so would the rest of London. Everything was going to be shut down in a matter of days, which meant I had to get out while I still could. There’s be no point in staying if everything I still wanted to see was shut down, including the public transportation system, which was my means of getting to physical therapy. We went back, I called my mom, and after some debate we decided I needed to come home the next day. I agreed as long as my physical therapist could see me earlier the next morning so I could see him and still make it to the airport on time. He hadn’t worked on my main issues yet and there was no way I was leaving for a horrible plane ride and a 14 day quarantine in the States without being set up first. I would be in an unimaginable amount of pain. I texted Mike and he called me ten minutes later, bless his heart, and said he could see me at 7:00am and work on me until 8:15 to give me some extra help. I was very lucky and grateful he could do that for me. At this point it was around 9:30pm, and nothing was packed. I had three suitcases, two carry-ons, and 8 hours to get myself packed, showered and ready to leave for PT. I decided to shower first, then began packing. It was a nightmare. By 3:00am I was calling my mom begging her to switch my flight because I didn’t think I could get it done in time. I was so tired and delirious as I tried to get everything to fit, crying through the whole thing over being SO tired and heartbroken I had to leave. I never got to go to bed. At 6:00am when it started getting light again, I got dressed, did my makeup to cover up my tired face so the flight attendants didn’t think I had coronavirus, and left for PT. Mike did a fantastic job setting me up. He hit all the major problems and then some, and helped me calm down my nerves from having to leave. He kept the room at 78 degrees, but I was shivering. He explained that when that happens and your stomach hurts it’s because the nerve that stems from your brain down your spine and into your stomach is affected by emotions. So my brain being nervous and upset was sending glitched signals down though my nerve pathways. The way to help this is to take big breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. After saying goodbye to Mike, I stopped by my favorite shop, Panache, to pick up a bag of chocolates to share with Mom and Tal and my last coffee from them. I was one stamp away from getting a free coffee. I’m saving my card for when I go back. The rest of the morning is a blur now, from lugging my suitcases down four flights of stairs with my grandma, asking my driver to help, turning in my flat keys and crying having to say goodbye to sweating in the backseat of the car alone as I drove away from my city. I was so over-tired and fatigued when I got to the airport, checked my luggage, glided through security and waited for two and a half hours for my flight. The flight was fine. Could’ve been better and could’ve been worse. I sat next to a grad student who was also forced to leave her program, and she was super sweet. They fed us a really good chicken curry and we had afternoon tea before landing. I watched three movies: The Devil Wears Prada, a Dior documentary and Frozen 2. All very Bianca films. Most of the time I listened to my “London” playlist on my headphones, letting everything I’d done in the last two months replay in my head. The landing was really smooth and I was excited to get off because I knew my mom would be around the corner. They wouldn’t let her in the bag reclaim for international flights, so her text told me she’d be down the hall after I got my bags. It took me two hours to get to her, which was absolutely RIDICULOUS, because LAX was acting like they had no clue our plane was flying in. Going through customs was so disorganized and understaffed, and we all waited in line while the airport security argued with customs, who was arguing with the CDC. It was a mess. And because there was no service in the hot ditch we were all shoved into I couldn’t let my mom know I was okay. I’m sure she was worried because I had just been on a 12 hour flight, so she hadn’t heard from me during that time, and it was another two hours before I got my temperature taken to be cleared to get my bags, and she couldn’t even be sure that I landed! The nice couple behind me in line missed their connecting flight to Seattle because it took so long. At this point I was way past tired, moving into my if-you-look-at-me-right-now-I’ll-*!@#*-slap-you phase as I loaded all my bags onto a trolley and heaved the cart down the hall. From a few yards away, I saw my mom. She bolted around the crowd and came running around the corner, and I ditched the cart to hug her. We both started crying at how surreal it was that we were in the same room in the same time zone. The same weird feeling continued as we got all of my stuff in the car, drove an hour home, stopped at AT&T to change the SIM card in my phone back to my US number, and finally collapsed in bed at 11:30pm. Slept like a rock in my own bed. The next morning I had just woken up when my bedroom door opened and Talia came in; she wasn’t supposed to be home from Hawaii yet, so it was a huge surprise to see her. We practically squeezed each other to death, both crying over seeing the other and over how sad we were about both of our trips being cut short. It’s good to be home purely to see them, and after I’m done quarantining myself for 14 days I can go see my other friends and family; it’s so strange being home but not being allowed to go anywhere, but I’m not about to contribute to this pandemic in any way, no matter how much I want to go to physical therapy or even just the grocery store.
Being around Mom and Tal the past couple days has helped keep me distracted from how heartbroken I am over this. I feel completely robbed, ripped away from my program when I still had 6 weeks left, with so many things planned and places left to see. I’ve know for over two years I’d be going on this trip, since the day I got into Chapman. I saw a lot of people around me before our program gave us the choice to leave wanting to leave, hoping they could get out; that always made me feel very angry. I couldn’t understand how people could act so ungrateful. Why would they leave London before having to? It took me a few days to realize and accept that each person’s situation was completely different, and in my rare case, London wasn’t worth loosing until I was forced out. I found out just how much uncertainty I would deal with in order to stay. It proved to me that London is where I want to be, especially after having been to other places in Europe for comparison. I found my city, and I was willing to do anything to keep it. Finding the place where you truly fit in cannot be described, but the connection is so incredibly strong and I feel like I left a giant piece of myself behind. California feels empty to me now, like there’s nothing here for me. The last thing I want to do is get in my car. I miss my day-to-day life in London for endless reasons; I miss climbing four flights of stairs to get to my flat, I miss swiping my Oyster card to let me through the gates to the Tube, I miss walking down the street passing old buildings, I miss the fashion, I miss seeing a show every week in the West End, I miss my physical therapist, I miss my Italian coffee, I miss Panache, I miss the culture, I miss the things I was learning and the people I came close to, but most of all I miss the incredible independence. I feel like I’m missing my life being back, and all I can think about is how to get back. All of a sudden the word “home” is fuzzy. My roots are in California but my heart has chosen London.
I’m determined to continue this blog until I finish writing about the last of my experiences, but I’m not sure how long that will take. Sometimes I feel like I have to sit down and scroll through weeks of pictures just to feel like I’m still there, and sometimes I have to ignore it completely to cope with the loss. I’m doing my best to only have positive memories and not think of my trip as being “killed by corona,” so I think using this blog to write about the wonderful things I got to do will save my memories. Unfortunately during this pandemic we are all loosing something, and the best thing to do is lean on each other for support. There are different scales of loss, but the last thing anyone needs to be doing is attempting to compare hard situations; this is not a competition to see who has it the worst, it’s a time for us all to acknowledge that it’s all relative, so we should be staying inside with our relatives and get through this as soon as possible. We all need to step up and be as selfless as possible; it is no longer about protecting ourselves, it’s about protecting the people who are in vulnerable positions. I have faith that everyone will come out of this stronger and more humble than before, and in 50 years when my grandkids ask what I was doing when COVID-19 hit I can say, “oh, baby, I was in London.”