Sometimes you just need to take action. It’s no use just waiting for your life-altering opportunity, because unless you do something drastic or make a big change, it’s not going to find you. I was happy back home. That’s where all my family was, and my friends lived nearby, and people knew me well. I was comfortable and I was content. That’s why I knew I had to do something about it. Content isn’t something you should settle into. Being content for too long is bad for your brain. It makes you stagnate and lose functionality. It makes you deteriorate. Contentment is a cancer.
I did some soul searching and thought of all the things I’d ever wanted to do but never actually done. I’d always wanted to visit Europe. Britain always excited me, it always seemed so grand and regal and I was interested in learning more about my heritage.
So, for the last two and a half months the United Kingdom has been my home. I did it, I flew the nest, and now I live in England. Except, where I live, the place I ended up, it’s not quite like London and what I’ve seen of England on the television, or read in stories. It’s the North East of England. It’s a little town on the river called Jarrow. I’ve learned that the town has a great and rich history, and it was the hometown of a famous novelist, which I find exciting, but so far I’ve yet to be inspired by the place.
I moved into this nice little new-build bungalow. There’s a row of ten of them, all attached, all brand new with laminated paper signs stuck to the front doors because in the haste to lease the properties, the builders forgot to install permanent door numbers. I’m told that the site used to be a workingmen’s club, popular with the gentlemen who worked in the shipyards, but I don’t know for sure. The lady who told me was buying milk from the local convenience store whilst still wearing her pyjamas.
The amenities are quite good. I am within walking distance of the town center, and there’s a supermarket, a few bakeries and a handful of clothes stores. There’s also a metro subway system, which links Jarrow with the rest of the county of Tyne and Wear. The county is named after the two rivers. It took me the first month to remember which one I lived near. I can now state with certainty that I live by the River Tyne. From what I’m told, that’s the best one. But then, I’ve only been told this by people who also live by the River Tyne, so I’m sensing a little bit of biased opinion. Either way, it’s quaint, and I like it, or rather, I feel like I’m going to grow to like it. I don’t know. I still haven’t adapted to the weather yet. At first it was a novelty. It’s always wet and windy, and it’s not humid wind like at home, it’s like that harsh wind that stings your face. When I go out walking my hair is blown up all around my face, whipping my eyes and nose. I had to buy a new coat from a store in the town center within the first week. My flimsy attire wasn’t up for the job of protecting me against the cold winds of the North East.
When I’m in my bungalow I feel happy and inspired. I can be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes there are crying babies that I can hear through the walls- the neighbors are all young parents- but I don’t mind them. Home is base, and home is safe. But I haven’t found inspiration from any external sources yet. I expected to come here and immediately be wrapped up in a frenzy of expression and self-discovery, but I think I’m working through an adjustment phase, which I really hadn’t counted on. I don’t know where to start, mainly because I don’t know what I really want.
I know it was for the right reasons, but my reasons for leaving in the first place seem hazy and distant now. Could there have been a way for me to stay there and be happy about it? But every night, when I lie in my bed, staring into the darkness, thoughts whizzing around my head, knowing I’ve accomplished that first big step towards freedom and the life I want, I realize, of course I had to get out. There was no other way to do it. I had to take the chance. It took a lot of courage and self-reassurance, but I’m so glad I did it because it is such a big step, and it is going to be worth it in the end.
I’ve had to make sacrifices. I don’t know when I’ll see my little sister again. But she’s always been very independent and career driven, so even if I’d stayed at home I wouldn’t know when I’d see my sister again. I can never remember her job title, but she does something important at a publishing house, and she moves around a lot. I wish I’d moved earlier like her. It’s all so new to me, this travelling business. But it works; I’m sure, so here I am. Mom and Dad were sad to see me leave. They said goodbye to me at the airport. Dad was straining not to cry, but Mom wore her tears like a badge of honor. She’s always been forthcoming and public with her emotions. I think that’s a good trait of a strong woman. Those that hold back their feelings in an attempt to look stern are often callous and manipulative. A woman who cries freely and lets the world see her pain is a woman with a good heart. Mom and Nana taught me everything I know about being a woman, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all that they’ve done for me.
Mom and Nana taught me how to cook. We’d spend hours over the stove, trying new recipes or just making it up as we go along. The simplest dishes were the best. My family has always loved pasta. We always tried to keep everything fresh and healthy, but none of us Henry women were ever above filling our faces with cheesy goodness.
The food is quite different here. When it comes to fast food, there are all the same chain restaurants in this region that I’m used to back at home, but there are also a lot of bakeries. Pastry is extremely popular. I went into the butcher shop for the first time just last week. That was a new experience. I knew it was happening in some places in the world, but I wasn’t really expecting to see so much animal meat in one room. There was a full dead pig, just lying there on the other side of the counter, with an array of knives and cleavers hanging ominously above it. The butcher was a friendly gentleman. I explained I was new in town, and I’d walked by a few times and always wanted to come in. He was quite fixated with my accent, and seemed keen to know more about me, so we chatted for a while. I ended up leaving the store with a plastic back full of meat cuts, and something I’d never seen before that day called Pease pudding. It’s made from legumes, and although it’s yellow and looks simply revolting, it goes wonderfully with cured ham. Fish and chips are another story all together. Everyone here has a personal favorite chip shop, and I’ve heard people argue their favorites with as much passion as soccer fans on the day of a big game.
I didn’t follow sport much back at home, so I can’t even begin to comprehend what’s going on over here, but I know the two big teams here are Newcastle and Sunderland, named after the two closest cities. Newcastle, like Jarrow, is on the Tyne River, but Sunderland is closer to the River Wear, and they’re really close to each other, but a strong rivalry is apparent between people from the opposing towns, and it all seems to stem from soccer. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that a national pastime such as soccer or football, aimed at bringing people together and promoting an active lifestyle, can cause so much fighting and disagreement among people from similar if not the same backgrounds. I don’t get it, and I doubt I ever will.
A cab driver asked me which team I support. I said I didn’t follow the game, and then he went on to tell me how Newcastle are doing, and how he could manage the team better than the current manager, and how he thinks they’ve lost their touch… That was a particularly long taxi ride.
I found a job fairly quickly. I was pleased with myself. I think I’m quite good at reading people and giving them what I think they want, so I’ve always done well in interview situations. My job is at a drug store located within a shopping mall. It’s nice and busy, so the shifts pass pleasantly, and I don’t have to clock watch, longing to get out and explore my new surroundings. It wasn’t essential for me to gain employment so quickly. Nana’s money is still lasting me and I feel I could sustain myself without working for at least a year if I’m careful, but I didn’t want to just sit around and wait to run out of money. The plan was to explore. I wanted to get out into the world and make my mark on it. I want to have the underpaid, boring day job, I want to experience the world fist-hand and feel the struggle and work until I’m tired and sore. I want to fill my life with all of the feelings a person can feel, and I want to know what it feels like to have comfort and security, and to then suddenly have nothing, and to be alone in a foreign country, in a strange town. Then I want to channel it into my art.
It seems suddenly important to me now to review the events that have unfolded since I first came to Jarrow. I keep journals, and scribble my thoughts in notebooks by my bedside, hoping to one day relive what I’m going through. There is a stack of bills- addressed to Miss Jessica Henry, with my Jarrow address- in the kitchen, so it’s official. I really live here now. It’s time to get my thoughts in order.
The shopping mall is six stops on the subway and a short bus journey from Jarrow. I didn’t want to get a job in the town center because I knew I’d run the risk of never getting out and about. I hope to make friends in lots of different places, and figure out how to travel to meet up with them. I’m not planning on holding back. I want to buy food when I’m hungry instead of waiting until I get home to cook something from the freezer. I want to live impulsively and spend money on myself whenever I feel like it. I intend to spend Nana’s money like it’s going out of fashion, and when it’s all gone I hope I will have had some beautiful experiences. Then I’ll start from scratch, with only the money from my day job coming in on a monthly basis. There’ll be no more safety net, and I’ll have to be resourceful and careful, and I’ll starve and struggle, but that’s when the real learning will begin. This new chapter isn’t just a whimsical adventure. This is me trying to make something of my life, so when I’m old and gray I can tell people I lived my life on my terms, and was a free spirit until the end. I don’t see myself as a rebel, but rather a revolutionary. Why don’t more people do this? I’m so eager to let my soul grow. Why do people stay in the same place all their lives? What’s wrong with them? There’s so much out there, and I aim to do my damn best to see and do everything before the end.