Oaths of Foolishness
When I told my mom that I would never go back to the UK, she immediately said I would. As I’m on a boat going home, curving around the Thames, those five years seemed to have never happened. A lifetime has passed and I am doing exactly what I swore I wouldn’t do.
The first time I was in London, I constantly felt as though I was drowning. Going deeper and deeper it was clear that I was not in charge. My assistants were, and I would never be able to take the reigns away from them. From before we even left home in Chicago, the tensions were clear, and as we crossed passport control, I kept saying to myself over and over, “tomorrow I’ll wake up and everything will be better. Everything will be as it should be.” That summer we would spend three months based in England but also going to various places in Europe as I was completing my research for a thesis. My memories of those that time can be best summed up in two words: fear and hunger. Outside of that I don’t remember going to the Eifel Tower, or the first time I saw Big Ben. I don’t particularly remember the Swiss Alps or being in a bathhouse in Budapest. Fear because one of the assistants was constantly threatening that my chair would go into the river if things didn’t go his way. And since every major European city has a river, it was a constant danger. And hunger, because the assistants saw the fact that I needed help getting food as a way to maintain a level of control. Sometimes it wasn’t ok to eat anything. When they felt like it, it was, but the food was minimal.
How I ever got a combination between these two assistants, I don’t know, but after I had returned from my journey, several people commented that they knew these individuals better than I did and they immediately thought of it as a bad idea. Why didn’t they say anything before? I will never know. But before I left people encouraged me that these two would be good at keeping a schedule and help me with research. We did indeed keep our complex schedule keeping interviews and seeing resources at an alarming rate. By the end of the summer we had been in no less than 12 countries, and it had all gone exactly as I planned back at the university when I was setting up logistics. It was just that none of it felt the way I had planned it to feel. Several times my assistants told me that I should never leave the United States again because it was so difficult for me to travel and they had to do so much of the work. Six months later I finally had a doctor tell me that what I was facing during that summer was abuse.
When the psychiatrist gave me a diagnosis, I immediately asked if he was sure. “I thought that’s what they gave war veterans after being in horrific situations. I’ve been in nothing of the kind. Just a trip to Europe that didn’t go the way I thought it ought to.” He said to me, “But you were in a horrific situation.” It would take me several years to realize that he was right, that my once insulated world was shattered. It was almost as if I had a demarcation between childhood and adult life. And sometimes, despite the amount of grace for forgiveness I have sought, and successfully obtained, I still wish I could go back to before that world was shattered.
So, at home, I swore to my family I would never return to the UK. Without thinking, my mother made her response.
The promises we make ourselves when we are in pain are some of the most dangerous oaths we can ever commit to. These promises inevitably shut down our world and shrink life. On one level it makes sense. We are hurting. And who does not cower in the closet when they know there is a monster outside that is two big for them? Mom knew that my oath was quite literally taking the world and shrinking it down to places I would go and places I would not go. When I called her up exactly nine months later telling her that I had gotten an internship that I could not pass up, and I was excited to be moving back to the UK, she wasn’t surprised in the least. Sooner or later she always knew that I would find the strength somehow to re-open what I had locked away and refused to explore.
The boat culls around Canary Wharf and is headed towards home. The geometric skyline looks completely mythical and fierce in its proportions compared to the rest of London. I am lucky that, despite my diagnosis, I don’t get many flashbacks, and when I do, I can usually control them. I am headed home and I can see my dock from Canary Wharf as the boat approaches. It’s a Tuesday night which means there is Quiz Night at the pub with people I know and trust. Tomorrow I have and audition followed by a concert with a friend at Saint Martins. It seems impossible that a city in which I felt so much terror could grow within three years to be my home and is now a place for joy.
And I shudder to think what would happen if I kept the promises I made to myself while I was in pain.