“Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Toronto.”
The pilot’s voice cut through the dialogue of the television show I was half-watching on the small TV in the back of the seat in front of me. I looked out the window and saw the familiar skyline below me, and I cried.
These were not tears of joy. The pilot’s words signified that my American dream was over. Five hours prior I’d boarded this plane in Los Angeles – the sunshiney city I had tried to call home for the last year. I’d just learned to surf in my last week, the remainder of my horrible sunburn lingering behind on my skin as the only proof. I didn’t want to be here in Toronto. This wasn’t my home anymore. My home was sunny every day; a bizarre little paradise of broken dreams reaching out into the Pacific Ocean. It was dive bars and sunglasses and traffic jams and palm trees and taco trucks. It wasn’t Toronto, and though I’ve been back here since August, it still isn’t.
I’d avoided the reality for as long as I could, sitting in traffic on the 405, eating In-N-Out burger (grilled cheese with no onion, please!), buying my 2-buck-Chuck from Trader Joe’s. In a dark and hidden little corner of my mind though, I knew no magical Visa was coming, nor any dashing American husband. I would have to let go eventually. I’d have to leave behind my friends and the places I’d fallen in love with, and admit defeat. Defeat is not something I am keen on. When the admission finally escaped my lips, over a glass of sparkling wine at my mentor’s house in the Pacific Palisades, it was time to discuss a new dream.
The new dream was actually an old dream, once a childhood fantasy, then toyed with but ultimately set aside in my early twenties.
My father was born in England, and I had been brought up on a healthy dose of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Monty Python, and Grandad’s curry at family Christmas (custard too!). England seemed like magic to me – I was so proud to be British, and while my schoolmates were daydreaming about someday trips to exotic tropical destinations, I was imagining castles, rolling hills, and cobblestones.
When I finally visited London in 2007 it was everything I had thought it would be. It was more. I remember getting off the plane at Heathrow and collecting my baggage. The friend I was staying with was at work and I was to find my way to him on the Tube all alone. I found it easily enough and squeezed on with my giant orange suitcase, pulling it tight to my knees as the train grew crowded. I remember the moment the train went above ground, light pouring in through the windows, and I could see row houses in the distance. There was no sense of nervousness, or even awe. I remember feeling a surprising sense of calm; a familiarity with the place. London was magic. I walked along the Thames alone, by human statues and old churches. I discovered a local band at a random bar that sounded like The Verve and I bought their demo for a couple pounds. I sat on the rooftop patio of The Hawley Arms, drinking a pint and looking out over Camden. London was home.
I came back to Toronto with big plans. I was moving there. I called the consulate. I asked my Dad for his birth certificate – this was going to happen somehow. I printed the application form and puzzled over it at work one day when a package arrived. I had been accepted into a college music program I’d applied to. Uh oh. I thought about it, I considered what I wanted and I considered what was “smart.” London would have to wait.
Seven years later I sat in Toronto feeling flustered and like a failure. I was puzzling over that same passport application again, trying to gather all the necessary documents, desperately seeking an English professional to countersign for me, working a job I hated (thankfully since replaced), and living out of a suitcase on my friend’s bedroom floor. I kept running into old friends and acquaintances who looked at me like they’d seen a ghost.
“Hey, don’t you live in LA?”
Each time, a little reminder; each time a little stab. As I explained my situation time and time again, a second question joined the mix.
“Hey, when are you moving to England?”
These two questions rang in my ears day and night, reminding me that my life didn’t seem to be moving forward in any way. Instead, it sat just kind of stalled here in Toronto, a city I’d given 10 years of my life to and was no longer in love with. My passport application was a difficult one. My Father was born in England, yes, but he’d come here with my grandparents when he was only 2 and he’d never bothered to get a UK Passport. On top of that, he and my Mom had not been married at the time of my birth. The stack of supporting documents I had to send was impressive, but it didn’t guarantee me anything.
It might take forever, it might not get approved, I might have to stay in Toronto. What would I do? Where would I live? How long could I keep up this transient in-between life?
“Hey, don’t you live in LA?”
Wait a minute. I did live in LA. I made a bold choice to go out there and see if I could, when all the while the odds were stacked against me.
The thing about doing something scary is that once you do, you get to know yourself as someone who does scary things. You become someone who is capable of doing scary things.
Was the application for my UK Passport scary? Yes. Was the outcome uncertain? Absolutely. But so was everything about my decision to pack my life into my Buick and drive to Los Angeles (read about that here).
So I filled in the online application form. I found the supporting documents. I sent the supporting documents to Her Majesty’s Passport Office. I emailed every two weeks, I called.
And then yesterday, this happened:
In two months that dream that’s burned behind my eyes since I first realized my grandparents had funny accents will become my new reality. Los Angeles, as it turns out, was a beautiful training ground for following my dreams and going for that which seems impossible.
See you soon, London.
BONUS – Here’s the song Allison wrote an recorded in her last few days of California sunshine: