Every morning in Massachusetts, I make a pot of tea. Black and white china decorated with the names of English foods (“Fresh Milk & Jersey Cream” says my milk jug), tea cosy covered in a flowery print, tray I bought at John Lewis. And strong Assam to drink. Some days, I make myself a slice of crisp toast spread with marmite.
I left London 15 years ago with two preschool children, to find a better life in a small town, in the country where I was born. But back in England, that foreign land, I spent a week walking down familiar streets, seeing old friends (some from nearly 30 years ago – I was a teenager when I first went to England), meeting new ones, and talking. Talking about music and literature and technology, politics, gossip. I had a week breathing the cool, slightly sooty air of London, watching a sky that is much brighter than when I lived there because of global warming.
A woman I met when I came to Great Barrington – an erratic escapee from New York like so many here and, like so many, heavily medicated – said one day that she thought I should move to a university town, somewhere I would find like-minded people. I was grateful for the thought, because she was the first person who had actually seen me, who I was, not just assigned me to a category – poor do-gooder single mother or rich hippy single mother, or whatever it might be. But in the years since, I’ve found that there is no category that fits. Or, rather, I just don’t fit in.
I had good reasons for leaving London. My partner had moved out, leaving me with two children, a small flat, and huge monthly payments. British Rail plans had blighted our neighborhood so I couldn’t sell the flat, either. I was tired of the dog poop on the pavement, tired of the small frights about mugging nad burglary, and I wanted to raise my kids where they could run in the grass and climb trees. I wanted them to have a place they could call home.
Eventually, we landed in a small New England town, Great Barrington. It is beautiful, surrounded by low wooded hills and set in a river valley that winds gently from Vermont down to Connecticut. Great Barrington seems to most people a perfect escape from the city, an ideal place to raise children. And we have a perfect life, with a Victorian house on the Hill, and a small business in a building on Main Street.
But my search for community has failed. Much as I love this place, I haven’t put down roots. I haven’t found the kindred spirits that would make this place come alive as a home. I look back to the decision to leave London and wonder how, after all these years, life could take me full circle: to wondering if I might – now, with an American husband – move back to the place I fled.