Mike and I let go of London bit by bit.
We had a few last dates with friends, a few last visits to favorite places. It was sad, but it wasn’t too sad — all those visits were still fun visits, not so defined by their nature that they couldn’t be enjoyed in the moment, and because we never planned anything for our final night in town, there was always a lingering hope that we’d have one more final visit at a later time. Denying reality that way, in those situations, is just fine.
And then, all of a sudden, last Tuesday night was our really real last night. We had a very delicious dinner with Mike’s family at a modest and friendly South Indian restaurant in Soho that’s a favorite of ours. And then, faced with a beautiful rare warm night and several remaining bottles of booze in the apartment which would certainly not fit in our luggage (which we’d already stuffed to the last tenth of an allowed kilogram, using our now-indispensible luggage scale), we prepared to drink the rest outside in Hoxton Square, and posted an open call to friends to join us.
The square was locked, as it usually is after dark, so we jumped the fence, which I have always wanted to do. Once you’re inside, no one seems to bother about you as long as you’re not asking to be noticed.
The spread was respectable, considering it was the last bits from our kitchen: two Carlsberg tallboys, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of champagne, a quarter of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin, a few mini cans of tonic, some spicy Balti snack mix and two dozen full-butter Marks & Spencer’s shortbreads (in a commemorative double-decker bus tin, no less). We even had a sliced lemon for the cocktails, and just enough intact IKEA drinking glasses to go around.
The company (seven in all) was perfectly perfect. There was picnic-style sipping, the warm summer night, the square, the feeling that we might get caught, and the notion that maybe we aren’t too old for this sort of thing. It was, I’m convinced, the best goodbye party ever. And by 1:30 am when the guests (who had to wake up for work, after all) went reluctantly home, there was sufficient champagne in my system to keep me from feeling the full sorrow of goodbyes to the people or the place.
Because my life in Shoreditch faced the constant presence of a time limit, I found myself preparing all year long for the big goodbye. There was a particular ritual that I created without ever even really meaning to: mentally memorizing the look and feel of Hoxton Square each time I crossed through it and walked home through the impossibly charming, uneven brick streets. I would look around at each building on the square, and down at each brick in the road, and think to myself how sad it would be, how weighty, when I walked through those streets for the last time before leaving. That was my tiny square of London, it was the one I saw at least once nearly every day, and I was sure that walking through it for a final look would naturally be the last thing I would make sure to do when it was time to leave for good.
Instead, the next morning, we ate scrambled eggs off paper plates, wrestled the last things into our suitcases, carted trash to the dumpster, gave a final glance to our clean and empty 380-square-feet slice of the world’s best neighborhood, pulled the door shut behind us and climbed into a cab. It was practical and surreal.
There was no great “last.” There were just all the times I had already walked through those narrow streets, on my way someplace, living my normal life, which made them really mine (to me).