An English Romance, or I Spontaneously Flew Across the Atlantic to Meet a Singer From One of my Favorite Bands
Harping did not define the emotion I experienced, for several months, after Axel had left me.
Of course, Axel was not the only man I had pined for; in fact, there was Jack, the other musician who had flown across the Atlantic at summer’s close; there was Tim, a film professor at my university, and Enrique, a South American artist who had told me he was possessed by the devil. But Axel, the New York singer and delicatessen owner, had been special. He was thirty-five, six-foot three, and rail thin, with a vague Williamsburg air that was pretentious enough to clot a Californian cocktail. His first record, evocative of Blade Runner’s score, was perpetually spinning in my bedroom. He was a frequent collaborator with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who I had admired twice as Axel, though had little fantasies about (I will admit I had developed crushes on several of my favorite artists, though James was lower on the totem pole aesthetically than someone of Axel’s caliber).
This recollection isn’t about Axel, but I cannot tell this story without him.
My twenty-first year had proven uneventful – I still spent too much time in collegiate cafes, scrolling through online-dating profiles, and reflecting on whether or not I would ever be ready to leave my comfortably suburban dwellings. I sensed a trace of finality about this season. It was my last autumn enrolled in university, and I would be deciding whether to pursue a professorial path, or obtain stability between the walls of a cubicle. My distraction, Axel, visited biyearly, when we would meet either at The Standard or The Roosevelt, and I would make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles. Already half a year had passed, and Axel was not to return until the following January.
My town was in its final stretch of Indian Summer on this particular evening. The saffron sun unfurled the paper night, brittle and arid. I settled into my bedroom, arrested by the mushroom clouds of milk enveloping my black tea. Halloween was a fortnight away, though I would be spending it in class. I thought about Axel regularly, simultaneously a daydream and a diversion, envisaging the perpetual cigarette dangling from his mouth. Tonight, he weighed heavy in my mind. I picked up my phone, and began to stalk his social media.
Nothing remarkable, I thought, as I peered at his posts. One of Axel’s newest videos, a capture of him expertly playing with a Moog synthesizer, had an entrancing, obscure comment. My ex-girlfriend told me she hates music. The commenter was familiar. I tapped on his thumbnail. The eyes, mass of ginger hair, and Cheshire grin, were reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. His profile betrayed him. Beneath his portrait was the name of his band, which I instantly recognized as the English musicians who had scored my first break-up, and had several alternative hits in the US. Lovehurt, I recalled, and began to murmur the lyrics. I thought nothing more of it, and decided to follow him.
I returned to my homepage, and began to think of getting ready for bed. A silent banner flashed across my screen -- GeorgeGibson has followed you. I reclined, falling betwixt my pillows, and held my phone over my head.
No harm in liking a few of his photos – Is three years ago too far? I sensed my desperation. I was in bed, fully-clothed, and it was nearing midnight. My tea had gone cold, and my cat was fast asleep at the foot of my bed. George was sensationally attractive, though I couldn’t imagine being so ambitious as to write to him.
My phone vibrated with another notification.
Hello Madame, it read, in the form of a direct message. I hesitated to respond. Is this really happening? I rolled over onto my belly.
Where are you from, I typed. It’s quite late here.
I live in London, he replied. Have you ever been?
We corresponded via WhatsApp over the course of two months. He sent me music; I responded with poetry. FaceTime became our preferred mode of communication, though the time difference made it difficult to coordinate our video chats. I began to fear that our contact would eventually taper off, especially when my boredom seemed so conclusively quelled. I blocked Axel, in case George ever asked about us.
I’ve never left the country, I wrote, but I’ve always wanted to see England.
He had spoken of the prospect of me visiting him in prior conversations – I conjured up possible stories to tell my family, if I hypothetically, unexpectedly set off for London. We’re still strangers, I thought. Constant correspondences or not – But when will I ever have the chance to take a trip like this again?
I basked in this quaint fantasy by making an appointment to apply for a passport. No harm in having one of these on hand. I drove down to Orange County, two hours south of my house, to retrieve a copy of my birth certificate. My passport arrived within two weeks. Tickets to London were unreasonably cheap, though I had heard London in January was brutal. I wavered between fiction and reality – George, the famed musician, and George, the friend I had made, so eager to take me to the stationary shops with Italian stamps from the 1970s. I checked plane tickets daily, and told George I was on the verge of making a life-altering purchase.
Know I can only spend a couple of days with you, Taylor, he typed. My band will murder me if I’m away from our recording session for more than a weekend.
I was at my local café, alternating between sips of black coffee and bites of an overcooked frittata. My bangs had grown long enough to tuck behind my ears – I nervously fingered each strand, calculating my response. Christmas was to come and go, as though the seasons had become perpetually stagnant. It could rain for days, and the sky would still be a blaze of azure at dusk.
It doesn’t matter, I answered. The tickets are mine, and I arrive three weeks from today.
I feigned connectivity issues. I silenced all notifications, and then turned on Airplane Mode. I wanted to be certain – I wanted to be confident that not a single person, even those I had entrusted with my private line, would contact me for the next five days. LAX was bustling with people, and I was anxious to remain remote until we were tens of thousands of feet above the technicolor skyline. I had no idea that there was one terminal for all departing international flights. I wore three sweaters to lighten my carry-on, and arrived six hours before my flight.
My parents did not know I was leaving until I boarded the plane. My mother sobbed when she found out, and I consoled her by stating I would phone her the second I landed. I didn’t. My story was simple: I was off to London for a girl’s trip with one of my best friends from high school. It was a spontaneous, last-minute decision that we decided we had to do before graduating college.
George was concerned. How could you not tell your parents, he had written, moments before I boarded the plane. My story was partially true – It was spontaneous, as in, I would have never left America if I hadn’t felt compelled to conduct a transatlantic, pseudo-love affair. George had urged me, and now my departure was met with cool reserve. I started to question my mental state. I ordered three glasses of wine, one after the other, upon takeoff.
I touched down in London around 10 in the morning, and the ground had been veiled by impenetrable clouds, as though I had fallen into heaven – all was in reverse. I noted the specks of cars lining the roads in the opposite direction; the silver buildings and the lush foliage. The tarmac was barely visible from my window, but the jet bridge was clear – and on the other side would be a man and a city, and he was to be my tour guide for the first two days.
Before dealing with border control, I hurried to the airport’s restroom. No toilet seat covers. I caught a glimpse of my reflection -- Perspiration ruined my hair and the little makeup I had applied. Fortunately, I had a spare pair of hoop earrings in my purse, but my complexion remained ghastly. I rushed through the border, anxious in line. I quickly handed over my unblemished passport to the border control officer.
“Who do you know here?” I paused, searching for the answer in the lines of my arrival card.
“It’s a friend – An Internet friend, whom I will be checking into the Hilton in Islington with.”
The officers, an elderly man and towering woman, exchanged dubious glances. They asked for more information. I acquiesced, thrusted my return ticket in their faces, and after several minutes, was allowed through.
The escalator was in sight, and I began to sense an onset of anxiety – I am in a foreign country, about to check-in to my first hotel. I stumbled over my carmine suitcase as I approached the exit; my luggage matched my tired eyes.
The heels I had worn so well in Los Angeles were unfit for cobblestone streets, and I clumsily found him, in the front of the crowd, with a ticket for the Heathrow Express in his right hand.
We embraced, and upon contact, my visage colored damask rose.
He was five-foot-eleven, and wore a brown bomber jacket with black leather boots. He pursed his lips, full and heavenly, while I stared, in awe. George was cool in a European sense: all cool boots, cool trainers, foreign vintage labels, but was a minimalist and adored neutral colorways. His accent, crisp and clipped, was warm, and I instantly wondered what it would be like to miss him after only two days.
He took my luggage with his left hand, and we dashed toward the train.
We arrived at the Hilton in a black cab. He upgraded my room. We made love for an hour, and I thought I was going to faint.
“I want to take you around Islington,” he whispered.
Morning had bled into afternoon, and we were languorous, lazy and lounging. I happily obliged, sensing the ghost of passion about my being. I changed into a dress, and reapplied my eyeliner, but remained equal parts self-conscious and jet-lagged. Does he find me as attractive as he did online? It was frivolous to question this, though my mind was tainted with uncertain thoughts. He put on his trousers, then laced up his boots. My parka, bought at a discount, was colossal for my frame. He smiled endearingly, and we took the elevator to the lobby.
I was clumsy against cobblestone, my ankles buckling beneath me – George caught me twice, and kissed me with each fall. We arrived at a bijou cocktail lounge in Clerkenwell, which appeared to be a repurposed home – the corridor led into segregated rooms, with hundreds of vintage books along each wall. We both had whiskey – This will wake you up. I quietly quaffed my drink, while he took apathetic sips of his. He grasped my hand.
“It’s so lovely that you’re here,” he paused, studying my expression. “Are you feeling okay?”
I was drowsy, disengaged, and enamored. The stained-glass windows could not hide the somber skies, yet I gazed at each cloud lovingly. Everything was perfect.
He took me to another lounge, and then to the British Film Institute, where I imbibed a glass of Malbec in the café. A Hot Chip song boomed through the stereo, and he reminisced the time that he played at a festival with them. Alt-J played next, and he discussed his disdain. I finished my drink and wandered toward the gift shop, where I searched for obscure British DVDs, blissfully unaware that they were region 2 locked (until arriving home). I hung onto his every recommendation, as a schoolgirl would a handsome instructor. I chose Jean-Luc Godard cinema critiques and Stanley Kubrick’s photo book. He picked up a copy of Caligula.
By nightfall, we had arrived at our final bar.. A beautiful woman in a blue beret was reading Proust by the entrance, and he commented on the pretentiousness of the lounge. We went back to the hotel shortly after, as my exhaustion had faded into delirium.
I woke up around 2 am. I noticed that he had spilt tears of wine; red vino, according to the bottle, a Tempranillo. I think I had it in Echo Park one lonely summer ago. The crisp, white sheets were speckled with blood. He turned over, noticing that I was awake. He kissed me, and I realized that I was ravenous, for the first time since leaving Los Angeles.
He went to buy us a kebab, England’s guiltiest pleasure (I found this out much later). He left the BBC on, and the reporter was exploring Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency. Not here. I changed the channel, and absentmindedly flipped past an Amy Winehouse documentary. I began to thumb through my newly acquired Jean-Luc Godard book, then sifted through the treasures of the day.
By the second chapter, the door swung open, and George appeared, grinning, with a fistful of candy and two kebabs. I pulled the covers over my head as he fell into bed next to me; devouring the kebab, popping open a can of Coca Cola. He unfastened his duffel bag, and revealed bags of chips not sold in America. I clasped the delicacies close to my heart, and dissected the Reese’s Pieces bar.
“You don’t understand,” I laughed. “This is a novelty to me!”
We finished our respective dinners, and slept until noon.
Our room was littered with candy-wrappers and wine bottles; our ardent affair had been in view of several landmarks – the London Eye was in sight, and Big Ben was covered in scaffolding.
The following day, George showed me his favorite stationary store, Present & Correct. He bought a stamp book, and then promptly lost it at the second scarlet pub we went to. We began our afternoon at a café, where everyone drank their coffee black and from a French press. The coffee was rich enough that creamer was unnecessary – I tasted it slowly, for pleasure, and because I knew he would be leaving at midnight. We went back to the British Film Institute, and he explained a music project he conducted, where he had recorded the sounds of London, while I examined other books from more obscure directors. I kept forgetting that I listened to his music for a number of years before knowing who he was. He stopped speaking for a moment, and shyly reached for my hand.
“George,” I paused. “Do you really have to leave tonight?”
He waited, appearing distraught. “I want you to come be with me in the summer. Can you do that?”
We sauntered to another pub, each one more grandiose than the last. I began to drink out of apprehension, dissolving my worry with each swallow. I wasn’t sure if he noticed – If he did, he didn’t seem to mind. I grew bored of the pub; I grew exhausted of our reservations. I remained awestruck, which translated into perceivable uneasiness, and called for medicinal drinking.
We stopped in Charing Cross, London, after mindlessly walking through the city. He stopped to show me his old apartment, which was built beneath one of the many cobblestone streets. I was two glasses of wine in, and twice as lecherous. He took me to Foyles, knowing such bookstores had fallen out of popularity in America. I bought a book on witchcraft, a Gustav Klimt novel (solely because of a chapter titled “Klimt’s Women”), and an autobiography entitled Art Sex Music (a friend I met later would call this his curriculum vitae) at George’s urging. I didn’t want to forget my fleeting emotions, nor him. I knew our time together was rapidly dissipating. The sky had blackened, as had my mood, though the wine began to enhance my synthetic insouciance.
George chose an Italian restaurant – Why not beans on toast? I knew nothing of British cuisine, and trusted his selection. We sat next to a heat lamp outdoors, in the frigid night, as there were no seats left inside. I peeled off my homely parka, even though I was cold, to remind him of desire. We caroused some more, and I embarrassed myself with comments of a dramatically wretched past – A lack of female friendship, men in power that had plagued my adolescence, and inappropriate commentary on my familial ties. He politely beamed the entire way through, even as I mistakenly slurped my pasta, and messily consumed a slice of his pork pizza. I poured the remainder of the Tempranillo into my glass, and asked him again to stay.
I was not immune to the social anxiety I faced at home – Abroad, I was aware of my unpalatable Californian accent and absence of fashionable clothing. I became hyper-conscious of my unnaturally stiff disposition. He was understanding, but courteously, clinically so. I knew I would be infatuated with him for months after our transatlantic love affair -- I silently wondered if he would ever tell Axel about a young, nameless brunette girl from Los Angeles, who flew across the Atlantic Ocean to make love to him.
He walked me back to the hotel, as I half-smiled and asked him to be with me one final time.
“We’re never going to see each other again.” I spoke with finality.
“I know we will. I’m coming to Los Angeles soon, don’t cry.”
As soon as the door slammed shut, I undressed, filled the bathtub, then mourned my solitude – a constant sob ebbed and flowed. I wrote, incomprehensibly, in my sanguine, store-bought moleskin journal. I took my phone off airplane mode. I sent him a thank you note, fully understanding that I would never see him again. Several moments passed, and twenty text messages from my family came through. I turned on the BBC, and stayed up all night. I became pragmatic at the break of dawn.
I texted my friends, those of which who had known of my secret trip, and then fell into fits of laughter, for two reasons:
I had no idea why I was crying at the Hilton, in a double bed
and God, I had gotten stupidly wine-drunk.
By: Taylor La Carriere