The process of deciphering and expressing a sense of who we are happens in tandem with deciphering and expressing when and where we are .
In the summer of 1988 we went to Cheltenham for an intensive English language course. I stayed with Cathy and Howard and my brother stayed with another family so we wouldn’t disturb the immersive quality of the course. I remember Cheltenham as the England in the movies. I remember that Cathy and Howard’s house was “colour coded”, each room had its own colour. My room was pink and their wonderful living room was red. Red carpets, red sofa, red furniture and red wallpaper.
This was my second time in England. I had been to London with my parents when I was 14 or 15 and could not control my excitement at having a place to go with the language I felt in love with in school and getting the Smiths “The queen is dead” before it went on sale in Portugal.
There is a phrase: ‘the sweet smell of success’. And I can only tell you, I’ve had two experiences of that and it just smells like Brighton and oyster bars and things like that.
In August 1992 I visited Brighton with my parents to get things ready to start studying at Sussex University in the Fall. This is still the city that lives in my heart. My city.
Life was completely different now. A full time student with a library schedule and tutorial classes. Now, I was in charge and it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. Still, this is the city where, in a way, I grew up and everything was a promise of change.
And then I moved to London. I doubt it if I will ever feel the kind of freedom and happiness and warm loneliness and sense of belonging I felt in this place. London was my moveable feast and wherever I go for the rest of my life, it will stay with me.
In 2002 I came back. So did others. Some of us just couldn’t handle it and decided to head back to London. I have tried to justify my choice of coming back many times, knowing that in reality that choice wasn’t actually mine. I arrived at the same conclusion every time. Choosing to be who you really are takes a lot of courage.
Susan B. Kaiser