Fairytales for Grown-Ass People: London Edition

Once upon a time….o.k, 1981…there was a young girl who lived way out in the dusty fields of West Texas who became infatuated with princesses and castles and royalty.

One day when she was nine years old, the little girl got up very, very early to watch a beautiful blonde maiden in a humongous poofy white dress marry a not-so-fine prince in a gorgeous spectacle in a faraway place called England.

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Princess-in-training. I think this might have been around 9, but honestly, I have no idea. None of the photos have any info on the back of them. Let’s just go with this one, which is embarrassing enough. Also, someday I’ll get unlazy enough to scan my photos in, instead of taking a photo of a photo. (#glare)

Everybody on the television was lining the streets, cheering and wearing jaunty party hats and waving Union Jack flags as very refined-looking people in brightly colored jackets and matching hats and red military uniforms made their way towards a giant, Gothic church in horse-drawn carriages. There were trumpets. And commemorative tea mugs and towels. And a big fancy photo op, complete with a kiss on a palace balcony.

It was nothing short of magical and about as far away from the reality of everyday life in a dusty West Texas trailer park as you could get.

And that was the day that I fell in love with England. Actually, obsessed is probably a more accurate word.

I become obsessed. Completely, singularly focused on all things British with the ultimate goal being to one day live there. And lo and behold, thanks to a student work visa, I did get to go live in London for six months in 1997.

London Poe

And it was freaking awesome. Everything I dreamed it would be. Believe it or not, England totally lived up to all the unrealistic expectations I had created. I embraced it whole-heartedly. I bought a bike and on my days off, I would take it on the train out to small country towns in Essex and Kent and Surrey and would ride around just gawking at the adorable small towns and the patchwork quilt fields. I joined my friends Jill and Gil on their drive through the Lake District to Edinburgh, then rode the train back to London. I went to museums, stately homes, churches, West End matinees for musicals. I sat for hours in pubs, just listening to the accents all around me. I went to Glastonbury and got stuck in the ridiculous mud. I made amazing friends, I made bad decisions, I made so, so, so many memories.

I loved it all.

So when my personal travel planner XFE asked if I wanted to go to London for my birthday, oh, and sorry it’s not as exotic or as exciting as Australia or Japan or any of the other places he’s taken me for my birthday the last several years, I jumped at it. It’s not every day that you get a chance to travel back in time and see a place again with completely different eyes.

And this visit to London was equally, if not more, awesome than my first stay. Because this time, I had a co-conspirator to share it all with. I got to introduce XFE to all my old friends and favorite places. We went to see a show and we didn’t have to line up for the cheap seats. We visited new places and sat in pubs–and also, really, really nice restaurants–for hours on end listening to the accents around us. And I got to make a ton of new memories with my beloved, ever-patient schmoops, who had to hear me wax nostalgic and tell the same damn stories over and over again, all of which started with, “When I lived here 19 years ago….”

Not pictured: my schmoopies, XFE, who prefers not to be on the blog. And no, that’s not him sleeping at the theater on the bottom right. That’s a grumpy old man who scolded me for having my coat sleeve hanging over his seat arm. 

Even if I have (technically) outgrown princesses and fairytales, and I no longer fantasize about living in England, I still pinch myself every day that I have my own super-fine prince–with a very nice mini-castle here in Northern Virginia–who has created this wonderful fairytale life for both of us to share and enjoy.

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Let’s Raise a Bartles & Jaymes to Memories

He was my first kiss. He was tall and lean and blonde. He didn’t look like the other guys in El Paso, Texas. He looked like he should be on a surfboard or a beach somewhere in California.

He was my best friend’s brother and I had known him since eighth grade. He was four years older than us and for years, we considered him a pest. Until one day, I didn’t.

I spent most of my free time at my best friend’s house. She had a pool and a fridge full of snacks. They had a microwave—a luxury that was not yet available in our double-wide trailer—and a VCR. We watched “Weird Science” and “Labyrinth” and “Princess Bride” until we could quote them word-for-word, our re-enactments often punctuated by the “zzzttt” of the hanging mosquito zapper right outside the den window.

When I was 16, we went on a double date with my best friend and her boyfriend to a drive-in movie. I think it was called the Fiesta, and it was way out on Montana Avenue (although, the only Fiesta I find now shows an altogether different type of movie these days, so I might have the name of the place wrong.) It was a long, dusty desert drive, with few houses and almost no businesses. The stars were bright pinpricks.

I don’t remember what the movie was. Since it was the summer of 1988, it was probably “Die Hard” or “Rain Man.” Apparently, 1988 was a great summer for movies.

We were drinking wine coolers and he had his arm around my shoulders. My stomach was nothing but knots while I tried to keep my breathing normal. When I’d finished my wine cooler, he offered me a sip of his. Then he laid his line on me: “Wet your whistle? Here, let me.” And he bent in for a kiss.

To this day, cheesy though it is, I still think that’s about the smoothest thing I’ve ever heard.

Not surprisingly, we didn’t go out again. It was too weird. We were too close. More like brother and sister. I’m sure he let me down gently and I probably pined for a little while, but soon there were other crushes to distract me.

He moved on with his life. I moved on with mine. I lost touch with my high school best friend as college and marriages and children and careers moved us further and further apart, both emotionally and geographically.

I learned this weekend from a high school friend that my best friend’s brother had died, apparently taking his own life. He was only 44. I don’t know why, nor does it matter. I have no idea what had happened to him over the years to put him in that dark place. But just hearing the news sent me spiraling back to a warm, West Texas summer night sipping wine coolers on a warm car hood under the glow of a large screen and a million stars and the softest lips touching mine.