I was busy working on another post about another topic, when my mother rang, absolutely bursting with excitement to tell me the news. She had just received the invitation to the wedding of the daughter of some old family friends and, while the wedding itself was not the news, the invitation contained a surprise that had her all in a tizzy.
I have known this girl all my life — she and my mother were fellow British expats here in the US, both married to men who came over with the Brain Drain of the 1960s. They lived only a few houses away from each other, had their babies around the same time, and became very close and dear friends. But where my mother ended up staying in the US permanently, my “auntie” moved first to Spain, then to Belgium, before eventually returning to the UK when her daughters were in their late teens. It was these two girls — both US-UK dual nationals just like me, but both very much settled in their British self-identity, unlike me — with whom I compared myself most when I was really trying to understand why I was having so much trouble with my own identity.
My mother has been debating with herself for months about whether she is going to fly over for the wedding. It’s a long way to go for a girl she probably hasn’t actually seen in years, but I know she’d love to be there. And I know too that she is concerned about how it would make me feel, for her to jet back to the UK — which I am missing so much– while I stay here in the cold pre-Spring with the girls. She’s even talked about springing for the tickets for all us, and I am touched that she’d consider it, but I know it’s unlikely — and probably not a good idea anyway.
The bride-to-be has lived in London for at least 12 years and her sister and parents are in the Home Counties, so we assumed the wedding would be there. But the invitation turned that on its head…
“Have you seen your email?!? I sent you an email. Have you seen it? Have you seen where the wedding is?!? You won’t believe it!!! You won’t BELIEVE it!!!” I walked over to the computer and began moving the mouse while she carried on at speed, excitedly spilling the beans before I ever got to the email.
The wedding will take place no-where near London, and not in the Home Counties either. It won’t be taking place in the town that the bride went to school in, nor where her fiancee is from. The wedding will take place a full three hours west of London, in a tiny Somerset village which, as far as I know, they have no connection to at all …but which I know like the back of my hand. It is a village that I drove through on tiny back-lanes every single day for years. It is the village that M was living in when we started dating. I know its pubs and its corner shop, I’ve attended its church and visited its fledgling art festival. I’ve walked all its little lanes, in the sun and the rain.
And for some reason which I didn’t actually understand, that went straight through me. I sat looking at the emailed invitation in disbelief, as my mother carried on nattering away in my ear, and in my mind’s eye I was driving those lanes again. Down the hill into the village, past the medieval tower on the left, over the little stone bridge that crosses a shallow river (a creek! a creek!) which swells so alarmingly each winter, then up the rise and, there, at the T-junction, sits that field which always contains a few sheep munching happily and which belongs to the farm where the wedding will take place. Oh yes, I know it well.
“M, do you remember? Do you remember that farm?” I asked him later. “Can you believe that’s where they’re having the wedding?” He looked at me only half interested and wholly uncomprehendingly.
“Where?” His wife’s yapping on exasperates him as my much as my mother’s yapping on exasperates me.
“You know! You go down the hill, into the village…” I went though it, image by mental image. It was as clear as if I were right there. “And then, you know the field, opposite the T-junction?” He shrugged. “The one that always has the sheep in it!” I said impatiently.
“Oh yeah. I know,” he brightened as recognition crossed his face. And then, he added,”They do weddings there,” as if that were going to be news to me and wasn’t exactly what I had been talking about anyway.
And then he went back to eating his dinner, and I went back to mine. And as I ate, I realised I had such a knot in my stomach that I didn’t much want my food. It took me totally by surprise, this physical reaction to such an insignificant piece of news. And it bewildered me.
Until… until I realised it’s because I had been there tonight. I had been there — so close, right there. It was all so close. The cowslip along the lanes, the brown sheep amongst the white… And the being there had made the actual distance suddenly so real. I can’t go to that wedding — that wedding that’s practically in my own backyard. I am on the other side of the world. And thinking about people I know going to places I know so well, when they don’t belong there and I do… that made the distance come into sudden and sharp — and painful — focus.
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