Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 1: I Before We Except Overseas)

[First of a three-part post.]

“It’s one thing to write letters to a woman you don’t know; it’s another thing entirely to call on her and make love to her.”
—Henry Miller

Shortly after Feb. 17, 1982, a letter from Abigail arrived at the Family Project farm in Minnetrista. She wrote:Juniors Farm 1982

“I loved your tapes 3 & 4; Mmmm… Your voice got really sexy by the end of tape 4; Mum saw my face as I glided down the hall, having just heard it. She was convinced that I had a man in my room! Seriously, though. You’re a treat to the senses.”

The snowy winter of ’82 was melting into spring, and both Abi and I were writing letters and sending cassette tapes—strengthening a bond that promised we’d meet in person late that summer.

Sometimes we phoned each other long distance, much to the mortification of her mother and my parents. “Maybe the cassette tapes are the best way to stay in touch.”

Well … sure. Good idea.

AbiAbi sent a photo (at left) from her previous summer at a kibbutz in Israel. I don’t recall feeling any trepidation about our differing religious backgrounds—I’d formally resigned from the United Methodist Church after I was 18, and she considered herself a “lapsed Jew.” Her mother was a lawyer in Glasgow, but her grandmother, also in Scotland, regularly attended synagogue.

As for the Family Project? No clue what they thought, positive or negative. Perhaps they realized I was lonely on the farm: working at the print shop, then coming home for supper and not really dating anyone at the time. Few people expected Abi and I would actually meet in person, so what was a harmless little pen pal correspondence?

As spring bloomed into summer, so did the number of letters and tapes. On June 12, Abi was despondent and wrote:

“I was absolutely desperate to talk to you—I felt nearly suicidal. …So, I walked to our new phone and dialed your no. The rest is history. I was giggling like a 2 yr. old, wasn’t I? I felt like crying, though. I have 2 months of holiday to kill, until you arrive … I’m not exactly an optimist—never mind, wait till you come over; that’ll make me look on the bright side.”

But I was having doubts. A month earlier, on May 17, I confessed to the journal:

“Tonight I have listened to two new tapes from her. I have noticed this thought I have had: ‘Could I run away? Just not answer her back? Cancel my flight? I would be miserable. I will go back to school, bitterly go about my work, sullenly go out with silly young women who enjoy art, theatre, Christian sentiments, romantic walks … Killing myself is as silly an idea as joining a youth club.’ I am afraid of that grin of hers, I think. I think it is my grin. Hers is shampoo, coffee, Victorian dust, redheaded guys puking their guts out behind a shrubbery, old world. No. I’m not sure; it becomes hazy behind her giggle.”

What’s more ironic, over these many years, is discovering a copy of a letter I’d written to Abi one day before that journal entry, which in part read: “I am writing all the time, by way of little notes and all my letters to you … and the real story of us has yet to happen!”

I’d let her into my fictional world, describing a place “called Dumond, Michigan, where my name is Matthew and I live with my mother’s sister and her husband. I have an older brother and sister. They live in California, not far from where my parents live. They have separated. They used to live in Lansing, Michigan. The story of my life has yet to ‘flesh out.’”

Then, in the same letter, after a 20-line typewritten rant about modern American pop culture, this:

“The American Life I know is dark, moody, never at home, dead, dying, crying, smart-ass, religious, cruel, lonely, homely, pockmarked, bent, at extension 411, up for rent, pissed off at the missus in the big white house, and hoping like hell to be loved someday.

…My parents are sure, dead-certain they feel, that I will die a lonely, bitter old man unless I change my attitude. But you know why I say all this, don’t you? I want to grow, but the encouragement is not there.”

***

Suddenly it was July.

I boarded Northwest Orient flight #448, departing out of Minneapolis, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27. I’d be in Great Britain for 35 days, living and traveling with Abi. The roundtrip flight cost $629. I’d fly into Gatwick, take a coach up to Victoria Station, then meet Abi there after landing at 7:00 a.m. the following day.

The journal came with me, but all the entries over the month-long trip were written as brief sentences with short datelines. Rather than writing “in the moment” and “at length,” I gave most of my attention to Abigail—and to experiencing our journey. However, at 37,000 ft., while nursing a beer “and feeling it a bit,” I wrote: “We are over Michigan. It is now 7 p.m. I feel like Jack Kerouac in Tom Sawyer’s best jeans.”CITD_Britain1_Nichols

In the seat next to me was a British businessman named Harvey Nichols. He gave me newbie advice and offered his phone number in case I needed help (clipping at right torn from his copy of the Manchester Guardian).

“I am overseas and the people are kind,” I wrote later in the journal. “I have been like a child since I arrived here; eyes bobbing at the sights, nostrils sensitive to all new fragrances. Tonight Abi and I will go for a walk in Hampstead.”

The coach had pulled into Victoria Station. I’d gotten my bags and went to meet Abigail at the appointed spot, recognizing her from photos she’d sent.

So, what did we do upon first meeting? There’s no record. I want to remember that we awkwardly hugged and acted a bit distractedly.

Maybe she threw her arms around me. Maybe I did first.

But that’s all memory—completely unreliable.

Big Ben 1982What I do recall is we took the Tube back to her older brother Gary’s flat at 28B Lymington Road in West Hampstead. Gary was in Holland on business for a week or so, and we had the run of his place.

I put down my stuff, she showed me my bed (the sofa, while she took Gary’s bedroom), then we went shopping for food. Later that evening, after the aforementioned walk in Hampstead, we stopped at a pub for drinks.

Then we walked back to the flat.

And tried to sleep.

In our separate rooms.

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~ by completelyinthedark on January 9, 2015.

2 Responses to “Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 1: I Before We Except Overseas)”

  1. Found this by chance! I remember it well😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry I didn’t give you a forewarning I’d be writing this, but as you can see I’ve “at last told our story.” Hope all is well, dear! MM

      Like

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