On a hot, sunny day in the summer of 2012, I arrived at the Los Angeles airport with three suitcases packed to the brim.
I was moving from Los Angeles to Marseille, my hometown in France. I had spent weeks sorting through all my clothes and belongings, painstakingly giving my friends what they could use, selling whatever people would buy, and giving away everything in between. According to my electronic scale from Target, my three luggage pieces each weighed exactly 50 pounds.
Except when I dropped my last suitcase on the scale at the busy Air France counter, it was three pounds overweight.
In any other circumstance, I would have been upset. But I was forced to move back to France after five incredible years in the United States, the country I called home. I had to say goodbye to my entire life, from my friends to my career to my awesome studio apartment and adorable car. Nothing mattered anymore.
So I opened up the overweight suitcase, transferred my jewelry pouch to my handbag, and grabbed an old pair of PJs from the front pocket. I’d bought them a few years back after my luggage was delayed in Paris due to a snow storm, and they’d served their purpose. I put the suitcase back on the scale and ta da! It now weighed 49 pounds.
The Air France attendant pointed at my bruised and battered PJs. “Do you want to put them back in the suitcase?”
I shook my head no. “It doesn’t matter. They’re old. I wasn’t even sure I should keep them.”
“Are you sure? It’ll just take a second. You’ve got extra weight left.”
Just the thought of packing the PJs again exhausted me. I’d been doing so much letting go over the last few weeks, and I’d already let go of the stupid PJs, damn it. But for whatever reason, this lady cared about their fate. She looked devastated when I asked her where the nearest trashcan was. So I took her advice and slid the PJs back into the suitcase. She smiled and wished me a good trip. I mumbled a half-hearted “thanks” and lugged my suitcases down to the security screening carousel. I dropped them off, passed security check, and then I was walking to my terminal, and boarding my plane, and when the wheels took off the tarmac, tears streamed down my face.
I didn’t understand how this was happening to me.
I didn’t know who I was outside of the US. I didn’t know what to do with my life outside of LA. I didn’t know how to keep on living when everything I ever wanted had been taken from me because of some stupid immigration law.
After five torturous months hiding in my parents’ house, dodging everyone’s calls and sinking into a bottomless, spiraling depression, I’d almost drained every ounce of energy left in me. The idea of celebrating Christmas was torture. In fact, I dreaded the mere thought of a whole other year of feeling like I’d lost my way and I’d never get it back.
I mean, what was the point?
The only way I could see out of my labyrinth of suffering (thanks, John Green) was moving to London. There, I could at least speak English again, and maybe even find a job in TV. I might even learn to tolerate my life again. I had to try. The alternative was unbearable.
So on Christmas Eve, I booked my tickets. Come January 2013, I was moving to London.
At that point, I was just grasping for any chance at even a slither of happiness. I had no idea what to expect. And honestly, if you’d told me five years ago that I would be living in London, and deeply, madly in love with the city, I would have laughed in your face.
The truth is, London is the love story I never expected.
London is the hours I’ve spent talking to my flatmates in our rundown yellow kitchen and staying up way past our bedtime. London is the summer days drinking Pimm’s in the park and calling anything above 25C a heatwave. London is walking through Regent’s Park under the snow and stopping for a cup of tea in a random coffee shop to avoid frostbites. London is Broadway Market on a Saturday morning, an iced Vietnamese coffee in my hand, deciding between pulled pork or a fresh cup of Pho and strolling down Regent’s Canal on my walk home. London is working ridiculously long hours for an even more ridiculous paycheck and making new best friends along the way. London is getting rained on while picnicking at a Farmers’ Festival and running barefoot in the grass in search for shelter like a character in a Jane Austen novel. London is riding a red double-decker bus and snatching front seats on the top deck to watch the city sights on the way home. London is music festivals and food markets and Tinder dates and 3am shots and cheap vietnamese food and rooftop bars and fifteen people crammed into a small flat and layering all the clothes you own. London is unexpected and exciting and welcoming and exhilarating.
Today is the two-year anniversary of my arrival in London. My life is still a giant work-in-progress but I love it to pieces. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now. (Okay, maybe somewhere warm and sunny for a few weeks.) The last 730 days have been filled with joy, friendship, grief, love, happiness, euphoria, change, pain, heartbreak, beauty, and so many second chances.
I feel a little bit like I’ve grown superpowers: not only did I survive, but I lived. I really, really lived. I’ve never been so comfortable in my own skin, or sure of who I am and what I want out of life. Which isn’t to say that I don’t still struggle. I do. But I’m okay. In fact, I’m good.
When I left the US, I thought I’d lost everything I ever wanted. I wasn’t entirely wrong. But here’s the best part: I had so much wanting left in me.
And you know what? I still have those PJs the attendant encouraged me to save on that fateful day, 929 days ago. Not only have I worn them loads — you really need winter pjs when you move to London in the middle of a freezing cold winter, duh me — but they’re a reminder that sometimes the things you thought hopeless are really just opportunities waiting to bloom. Life is hard and things get tough and they don’t often make sense. But good things happen, eventually. All of a sudden you’re out dancing on a random Friday night and you catch your reflection in the mirror on your way out of the bar, and you realize you’re happy again.