I find I have become addicted to whatever British television programming I can get: BBCAmerica (despite discovering it is woefully disappointing) and PBS’s Masterpiece, the glorious BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, and — tonight — the wholly disappointing Keira Knightley version. I should know better than to indulge myself, but they are melancholy eye-candy for the desperately homesick, and I find I cannot turn them off when I stumble across them whilst flicking through the rather barren desert that the rest of the cable’s offerings have turned out to be. I remind myself again and again that every-day on-the-ground British life is nothing like this — I try to poke my subconscious with deliberate memories of miserable drizzly rain, red-tiled cookie-cutter 1980s housing estates, the never-ending stream of litter blown about by the wind, the crippling cost of living, and the British tendency to see every glass half empty — but it doesn’t work. I can’t turn the channel over. I settle down in our only comfortable chair and wrap myself up in the fantasy before me, as if it were a warm blanket.
M is a morning person: by 9 at night, he is struggling to keep his head from bobbing onto his chest but, at 6am, he is wide awake, physically and mentally. And so, when his panics come, they come then, when his mind is alive to all the realities of what we’ve done and what — who — he’s left. I am of no use to anyone at this time day, but he wakes me nonetheless and then sits looking at me for empty minutes, before breaking into idle chat about nothing in particular. He needs me to talk to him about things that are too heavy for him, so he talks to me about bits of nothing instead.
The worst panic came to him the morning we were due to fly, as the blue light of dawn broke into our cheap airport hotel room and our flight was only hours away. He didn’t talk about nothingness that time — just broke into panicked sobs and asked me to fix this… please… And I wasn’t useless to him this time — I was awake, aware… mind racing… hunting for any solution.
A few nights before, we’d shared a late-night curry with our dear friends who had spent so many of their evenings with us as we scrambled to clear the house. They had said something that I had dismissed at the time, but which I grabbed onto now with both hands: they had said that if we didn’t like the States and wanted to move back, we would come back to no worse position than we were in already. We would be renting again, no hope of buying our own home, and living hand to mouth, but no worse than we were now… or had been for several years… nothing lost by coming back. I knew it was worse than that — we were also unable to live on M’s salary alone and so had been draining down our savings just to make ends meet month by month — but in that cold morning light, with my husband despairing in front of me, I pushed that to back of my mind and told him with decisiveness that we could come home again. We would live in the US for a while, get back on our feet, buy a house and then, if we wanted to, we could come home — just like they said. Even if we never bought a house in the UK — and rented for the rest of our lives — if we owned a home in the US, that would somehow be enough to silence the nagging feeling of inadequacy that had been eating away at both of us for years. He sat back in his chair, visibly relieved, and just like that, our plans — and our mindsets — were changed. This was not a forever move: this was a stop-gap, a temporary needs-must.
I don’t know if it will come true or not but, since that day, I have held onto a most heart-tugging hope. And when I come across these glimpses of home on the telly — these stylised, unrealistic, delicious glimpses of Britain — that hope flairs up so painfully. Tonight’s Pride and Prejudice was filmed partly at Stourhead — so close as to nearly be in our backyard and a place where we have had countless long walks. It hurt to watch… it hurt, but I couldn’t stop. M came up and gently kissed the top of my head. “Tell me we will go home again,” I said.
“I believe we will — I do believe it,” he replied. Faith against all odds… can it possibly be enough?