Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Nine months ago Sunday, I walked out BN2's door into the terrifying unknown.

For months I wanted to leave, but couldn't. I was afraid – afraid of being totally alone, without even an office to go to for distraction. I could barely afford to travel across London, let alone go out, and I literally feared I'd die of loneliness, misery, cold, or some combination of the three. I was afraid that he was my only chance. But mostly, I was afraid that all the things he accused me of were true – that I was selfish and thoughtless and, as he once memorably put it, incapable of adding anything to anyone else's weekend but more dirty dishes.

I catch my breath sometimes, just thinking about how bad it was.

My eyes can well up crossing a street, the thought or sight of something dislodging memories I can hardly believe happened in my life, not some horrible made-for-TV movie.

I remember the deep unhappiness that comes with feeling there is nothing to look forward to. And yet I did hope. I carried on hoping I could fix it, because that's what I was taught: With enough hard work, you can make anything work. But what was I winning in the end?

I didn't choose my time to leave. It was Saturday afternoon, six days before Christmas. BN2 had to pick something up in Clapham, and I went along, planning to sit in a cafe and have my planned Skype date with one of my best friends in the US. Then we were going to pick up a necklace I'd taken his daughter to make at a painting studio months before, but we hadn't gotten round to fetching.

I knew how to walk to the shop, but I didn't know how to get there by car. BN2 snapped at me that it was selfish and unfair of me to expect him to drive and navigate. I remember getting that familiar rollercoaster feeling in my stomach – that we were about to have a fight that there was no way I could stave off, and that it would get ugly, because every single fight with him got ugly, no matter what tactic I tried. I remember trying to pull up a map on my computer and panicking because it wasn't loading fast enough, and all the while he was shouting at me about how useless I was for not properly knowing directions.

I remember saying something about how I'd have printed out directions if I'd known we were going to drive, and he told me he was tired of my lying and dishonesty. He said that was a blatant lie and in his military interrogator way, began marshalling evidence. As he also did with every other fight, he stoked the flames with references to my every previous misdeed. He'd bought me The Tudors for Christmas the previous year, and I had a vision of myself bound in rope, a traitor hanging above the fire, the flames licking her feet.

"Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" I finally said timidly, on the verge of tears.

"Oh, so because it's not a big deal I'm just supposed let you lie with impunity?" he snapped.

I thought I'd always remember every detail of this fight, but like all the others that came before it, it turned my brain to mashed potatoes. I remember him yelling at me and me at one point daring to yell back.

He pulled the car over to the side of the road and for a fleeting moment I literally feared for my life. He shoved me toward the door. "Get out," he said. "You can make your own way home."

"Are you going to let me in?" I remember saying pathetically. He nodded. (He had taken my keys away after some previous misdeed.)

I stumbled blindly onto the sidewalk. Everyone who knows me well knows I am hypersensitive to the cold – it sounds princess-and-the-pea, but I have an autoimmune condition that actually makes my hands and feet freeze easily, to the point where I can barely walk – and it can be a half hour after coming indoors before I can type again.

I watched his taillights recede and thought: No one who loved me – or would ever love me – would force me out of the car to walk home in the dark, damp freezing cold.

And still such was my state of mind that I needed help leaving – I needed someone to make it OK; to tell me that I wasn't overreacting. I wondered about going back to my own flat, but didn't think that was the answer. I walked an hour back to his place, each footstep closer bringing fresh doubts and fears. Could I really leave?
He let me in and I went into the front room, got on my computer, and for moral support and guidance Skyped another friend in the US who was not exactly a fan of his. (Though honestly, none of my friends were.)

"Get out," she wrote. "Tell me when you're leaving, give me his address, and if I don't hear from you I'm calling the police."

I asked her a bunch of probably mostly irrelevant questions in what I recognize now was an attempt to keep the conversation going – both wrapping myself in her idea that everything would be better if I left and yet terrified actually to have to walk.

He came in and said: "Are we going to talk about this?"

"I'm just finishing a conversation with a friend," I said.

"Who's more important than me?" he bellowed.

I am, I should have said, but at the time, it would never have occurred to me.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


Yesterday was the sort of autumn day that's so beautiful it almost makes your heart hurt, the sun splashing everyone with a rare golden light that makes people look like they're glowing from within.

I went to the gym, worked on my morning story in the gentlemen's-library-type bar of a private members' club, and then raced off to a historic venue in East London to interview a band I love for Rolling Stone (!).

Then I went to an art gallery closing night and popped to a party.

Why, why, WHY am I leaving London?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

It's A Nice Day for A White Wedding

Nothing was how I would have liked it. Wrong dress, wrong shoes, face broken out, guests I would have wanted all out of the country.

My shotgun wedding to the Queen, as I started referring to my citizenship ceremony, was today. The only thing right about it was that I now have a piece of paper that gives me the right (well, as soon as I get a passport, which is a whole other production), for the rest of my life, to live and work in the UK. (Or as I texted O., "Who needs a British man?")I didn't want to take the job in New York without it, so I had to pay £125 for a private ceremony (yes, the ceremony is required).

I felt strangely emotional during the ceremony – literally on the verge of tears. It was mostly a blur. The woman conducting it – who eavesdropped on my conversation with my two friends and actually commented on what we were talking about -- chastised me for reading my affirmation of allegiance too quickly. Then she read some prepared text that included something about hoping I play in active role in civic life and sit on school boards, and I had a flash of my imaginary young British son in his t-strap shoes, vanishing like something out of the film Back to the Future as I leave the country next month. I thought wistfully about my dad, who would have enjoyed the cultural experience (he actually would have flown over if he'd had enough notice), and one of my best friends, who is abroad and doesn't even know that I've taken the job, let alone that I would have wanted her to be there to watch me preserve my right to leave it and come back here.

Then the woman busted out an ipod and clicked it to play the tune of "God Save the Queen." She stared at me expectantly.

The music played. I waited, thinking maybe there would be a voice or some other cue telling me when to sing, but no.

"I'll start it over," she said, sounding irritated.

I felt like a child who hadn't done the homework caught out by a pop quiz. I don't know the words to "God Save the Queen," – I'm actually not sure I've ever heard it sung. (Why didn't they put it on that damn Life in the UK test I had to take when I applied for my residency a couple of years ago?)

She handed me a black binder with the words and – sounding like she was rather enjoying my discomfort -- said, "I'm not singing. But you have to sing. I'll turn up the music so maybe it will drown you out."

My two friends (one of whom was born British and herself didn't know the words; the other of whom got her citizenship last year) and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh. The woman dutifully turned up the music and my friends and I crowded around the binder.

The music started and so did I. The voice of my friend who sings in a chorus soared above us: "Happy and Glorious,/Long to reign over us;/God save the Queen!"

I was then given a passport cover – apparently Islington (my borough) did a poll to determine that people would prefer that to paperweights or mugs. (Are polls about gifts given to new citizens why we pay so much council tax? I certainly hope not.)

Then not one but two of the places we wanted to go for a tea (not tea as in scones and jam, just a cup of tea) were closed and I proceeded to spend 40 minutes trying to work out how and if I could apply for a passport before I leave the country. (Verdict: I'm still not sure.)

I felt exhausted, but I decided I'd have a more productive evening if I went to Pilates first (I will miss that class so much – I know for a fact there is nothing like it in New York). Then I had a not-exactly-celebratory egg and bacon sandwich and came home to work on my American taxes and freak out about how much I have to do.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The World Spins Madly On

I haven't even landed in New York yet and already it's messing with my head in some of the ways I feared. (I took the job. I start Nov. 1. More on that later.)

Tonight I spied a 60 percent off deal for a week's diet delivery meals and spent a very long time considering it. At 10 pounds above my average weight last year, I feel heavy. I feel too big to walk into that Conde Nast building. I want a buffer for all the eating I'll probably be doing over the next several weeks, and the uncertainty of my schedule in New York.

But the service only delivers Wednesdays and Thursdays and it's too late for this week and then at the end of next week I'm off to France and then the US. And then I'm back in London for only a couple of weeks, and I expect I'll be out a lot.

And I bet a lot of their meals have bell peppers in them, to which I'm allergic.

And their plans are 1200 calories, or about 60 percent of what I currently eat in a day.

I left the windows about the deal open on my computer, which is my way of saying, "I'll make a decision later."

And then I thought: No, no, NO. I know (mostly) what works for myself, and a week of reduced calories is a recipe for disaster. It will send my head spinning – plotting, scheming, thinking about whether and how much I should add – like no one's business. I really might start bingeing and never stop. And I don't need to find out.

To be fair, this reconsideration of diets started a few months ago, though New York has kicked it up a gear. I say reconsideration because years of dieting and bingeing – plus a job that involves writing about health and fitness – has left me with an unhealthy fascination with reading about diets. For me the boxes telling me what to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are like the promise of gospel: 21 meals plus snacks where I can get it exactly right; where someone is telling me exactly what to eat and how much and I don't have to think about it.

Mostly I know better than to follow those diets. Most of them are based on less than I currently eat or things I don't like to eat or outlaw completely things I love – or some combination of the three -- and I fear even a day or two on them could set off a binge cycle I am unable to stop.

Except lately, when – like foods I used to be able to ignore – they tempt me. They glitter with promise, the sparkly red shoes on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City of Fabulousness: You could just do this for a week or two and you'd feel less anxious about how tight your clothes have become, they seem to say. I try to work out whether I can afford a diet delivery for a few days (can it really be more expensive than bingeing, I wonder? Answer: Yes. Well, at least until that deal came along.)

Then I think about how narrow my life was last year, when I weighed between 140 and 145 pounds (and at one point even dipped briefly into the 130s). I was dating BN2, struggling to get work, had no money and felt isolated and depressed. The only thing I felt I could control was my food and my exercise, and for the most part, I did an excellent job at it.

Life had to be ugly and grim for me to get that slim, and yet I'm having a hard time accepting I may never be that size again – and perhaps that I shouldn't even want to be.

Last week I did something that terrified me – something that years of dieting and bingeing cycles has conditioned me to think is beginning of the downward spiral (or really, upward spiral): I pulled out a pair of bigger size jeans. The world didn't come to an end. I didn't eat any more or less than I normally would.

I met a friend for lunch Sunday – one of the few with whom I will discuss food and weight (besides, um, the Internet). I'd binged the night before, then cried the whole way home – for the record, not because of the binge but because of something that may have contributed to the binge: Sadness about leaving London, and tidal waves of nostalgia. My route – one I haven't taken in years -- took me the way I used to go home from work on Tuesday night late nights, in the days when I loved my job and my boss and our offices in Covent Garden.

"I know you don't feel it, and it doesn't help for me to say it, but you don't look any different," my friend said gently. "You look great."

I'm trying to believe her.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Hanging in Midair

I have started so many posts – about my obsession with fat (both my own and the consumption of – I'm attempting to eat good fats at every meal), about what happens when I read about diets, about discovering that way more people than I thought thought I got too slim (!) last winter, about trying to make peace with the fact that I may never be that slim again.

But it's hard to write when you haven't slept properly in days, when you spent time you used to spend blogging (and time you used to spend working and exercising and doing all sorts of other things) on the phone with New York editors and New York HR people and your family, hoping desperately someone will say or do something that tips you one way or the other.

The job offer is on the table. According to a former executive editor I contacted, it is a compliment to me – both the salary and the fact that someone would pluck me from London for the job. But the job is not my dream job.

I love to write. And at least as much as I love to write I love to report – I love asking people questions; learning (as I have often put it, not very poetically) things about things. A new friend said recently that she hoped to one day get as much joy out of her job as I seem to get out of mine. An old friend pointed out that even when I am not delighted by the subject matter of what I'm writing about – "driving the typewriter"-type-pieces, as an old mentor of mine used to put it – I still light up when describing some factette I've learned or person I've met in the process.

But this job does not involve writing – or at least not in the way that I know it. It's only a slight oversimplification to say that I'll be coming up with (hopefully fun) little stories about fitness, diet, fashion, nail polish, and probably the occasional home decor or travel or... well, anything I can make relevant. I'll be paying other people to write them, and then – if the edit test I did is any indication – I'll then spend a very large chunk of time rewriting them, plus coming up with headlines and captions and meeting with the art department and, I don't know, doing all the things that editors do.

Some of it will be fun, I'm sure. Some of it will seriously suck. I won't have to worry about getting in enough work to pay the rent, but my time won't be my own (and I'll have, thanks to the American way, very little vacation).

I'll have to leave London, but I'll be closer to my family (which 8 years ago wouldn't have been such a great thing but now seems more appealing).

I think about doing it for a year (the longest I can bear to think about right now) and go back and forth between "no way" and "hell, yeah." I'm about to get my citizenship, so I could come back to London if I hate the job. What is a year, right? People go on six-month secondments all the time, don't they? (I considered going on one myself – to Los Angeles – several years ago.) At the very least after a year in New York I'd likely have better contacts to freelance than I do now. (After I had a stable job, though, would I have the nerve to quit? I can be terribly conservative sometimes...)

What do I really want? I want to be happy. Sometimes I'm happy in London; sometimes I'm not. (London in August at age 35 and single is a horrific time to assess one's happiness in a place – everyone is away, there's not much going on, and the weekend could be pretty empty. Weeknights are super easy to fill, should one want to.) Would the ratio of happy to unhappy change at all in New York? I just don't know.

I always thought (or really, dreamed) I'd meet someone here – someone who called me darling, loved books and lazy Sunday lunches and the country (and me, of course, me!), and maybe even wore those hideous pinkish-red trousers that only men in this country seem to wear. Maybe we'd have kids who said "Mummy" – maybe they'd be little boys who wore those girly little T-strap shoes no little boy in the US ever wears. Honestly, I never really got to the kid part – it's sort of an embellishment.

I've always been a daydreamer. It's hard to stop. Hard to think about going back to my country, where I'm just the same as everyone else. (Except not the same, of course, because I'm me – yes, I know that.) But maybe it's time to stop letting daydreams get in the way of real life.

Everyone I know has thoughts about what I should and shouldn't do, sometimes well-meaning and sometimes not. I'm easily swayed by (almost) all of it.

It's (possibly) interesting to watch someone you know grapple with a decision like this (at least good for the "what would I do in her place?" game, if you're prone), but when the popcorn is gone and everyone goes home it is just me who has to live with the consequences of whatever I choose.

I have to call the HR woman in 15 minutes to discuss details.

Someone – I'm too tired to try to figure out who said it first – said there are no mistakes in life, only lessons.

I know I'm lucky to have this choice to make, but still I want someone else to make it for me. Or to make me OK with whatever I choose.

I've been craving food and drink and anything that might possibly take the edge off. But I know that I need to make this decision whole; not colored by the post-binge haze of gray. Ten days clean.