My favorite stories begin with a dream. Not even a dream, really, but an idea or a feeling that something life-changing is about to happen. The thing is, it’s not difficult to find that feeling in a story. It is harder, however (in my experience, at least), to find it in life.
My husband and I just returned from our first international family holiday. We spent a few months planning the trip and then had to wait nearly a year for the damn thing to happen. The wait was long, but totally and utterly worth it. In case you don’t know, my husband is British (Cornish, to be specific). We met online a few years ago and were married in February 2011. I had occasion to meet his lovely mum Pam and her husband Brian in November of 2011 when they came to Florida to visit. By that time, our first family holiday to Xlendi Bay (which is on the island of Gozo in Malta) and London had already been booked.
We spent fourteen wonderful days in Xlendi and three in London. And while I could (and did) spend hours on Pam and Brian’s balcony staring out over the Mediterranean Sea, I couldn’t wait to get to London. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to see England period. I’ve wanted to go there for so long I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go…it’s almost like I was born on the wrong continent. Don’t get me wrong, I love America. And for a good number of years, I actually enjoyed living in Florida. But as Orlando has grown and tried to “keep up with the Jones’s” (as my mom likes to say), my enjoyment of Florida has faded. I imagine it is a wonderful place to visit for people whose homes are elsewhere. I’m not talking about a house. You can get a house anywhere. I’m talking about that place (and I believe there’s a place like this for everyone) you recognize as home, even if you’ve never been there. The streets, though completely foreign, are entirely familiar. You feel it in your heart and you know, in the same way you know when you’ve found your soul mate (or as they say in When Harry Met Sally, “You know the way you know about a good melon”).
When we landed in England, I felt it. I recognized the feeling because it’s the exact same way I felt when I met my husband. Instant, irreversible connection. Like I’d been there all my life…or my heart had been, at least. At any rate, it was surreal. The streets were familiar. The people were familiar. The shops, the way of life, all of it was familiar. And all of it was like a warm bath on a cold night.
Three or so years ago, my now ex-husband and I took a family holiday to Tennessee. Along with my mother and her husband Joe, my sister Courtney and Joe’s daughter Haylee, we stayed in a three-story log cabin. We were there for twelve days. By the third day, I was homesick. I was surrounded by family and truly enjoying the time with them, and still I was homesick. All my mother could say was, “Tennessee feels like home to me.” I remember looking at her and thinking, “She’s lost her mind. Yeah, it’s nice, but home? No way!” I couldn’t understand, no matter how hard I tried. My entire family (going back generations) has lived in Florida. I’m talking great-great-great-great grandparents. My family has always lived in Central Florida – all 75+ of us (my grandparents have 11 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren). We are horrible adventurers. If it was up to us to discover a new place to live, we’d just drive in a big circle and land right back in the same place.
A year after that trip, my mother and Joe moved to Tennessee. I have never seen my mother happier. While I have been happy for her (she’s my mother, after all, so her happiness is really all that matters), I struggled to understand how she could just pack up, move and suddenly be happy. Gone was the woman who sat at home smoking on the weekends, replaced by a glowing woman who jumped in the car with her husband on a moment’s notice and started driving simply because they “saw a road we hadn’t ever been down.” It makes me smile to think about how blooming happy she is, but lately it’s also made me a little sad, because while she found the place her soul instantly recognized as home, I hadn’t. Yes, I said hadn’t. Past tense.
England is that place for me. As I haven’t seen most of the country, I’m not entirely sure where in the UK I want to live. I’m not at all worried, though. My youngest is still only nine, so moving her out of the country right now (or moving away from her) isn’t an option. The way I see it, I have at least seven years to roam around the UK and find a spot to declare my own. There will be immigration stuffs to handle (as there was when my husband came to the states), but that, too, is no obstacle.
Why am I telling you all of this? Honestly? For two reasons. One: I haven’t written in almost a month and needed a warm-up. Two (and more importantly): I wanted to share some of the best parts of my trip with you. Time with family aside, there were about three pivotal moments for me, moments where my little girl self was laughing and crying all at the same time, tilting her head up towards the sun.
The first occurred when we were walking along and I realized I was standing at the back of Buckingham Palace. I hadn’t even realized where we were and then all of a sudden we were there. I don’t really have a thing for Buckingham Palace, or at least not a huge fascination, but still…I looked up and there was a sign for the Royal Mews. And I couldn’t stop staring (which only lasted for about forty-six seconds because Vampira, my fourteen year old, decided to have a panic attack at that moment and so my attention was diverted). She was a bit overwhelmed by the number of people, cars, buses and whatnot. I never did get to see the front of Buckingham Palace, but I’m sure it’s quite lovely. I doubt, however, that I’ll find it any more fascinating than I did the back side.
The second occurred when I walked into Hyde Park. It probably seems like a silly thing to most of you, but as a romance novelist (and, I’m learning, something of a nostalgia junkie), I’ve wanted to take off my shoes and walk in Hyde Park for ages. And that, my lovelies, is exactly what I did. My toenails were still painted fluorescent green and my feet looked much older (and tanner, thank you, Xlendi Bay) than I ever imagined they would when I finally crossed Walk Barefoot Through Hyde Park off of my bucket list, but it was glorious so I whipped my iPhone out and took video. Of course, my family wouldn’t be my family if they didn’t interrupt said video by acting like zombies and making groaning sounds, but it was still glorious.
The third occurred when we made our way to 37 St. James’ Street, where White’s Gentleman’s Club was supposed to be located. The exterior of the building hadn’t changed, but there were no signs, so I assumed it was something else. It has been hundreds of years, after all. Thing is, my husband is absolutely amazing, and when the Doorman slipped out to politely inquire why the hell we were all standing there staring at the building (my girls with bored looks, me in awe and my husband with a broad smile because I was giddy as a schoolgirl), he explained that I wrote romance novels and that White’s featured in them quite frequently. This is the point where the Doorman explains that 37 St. James’ Street is STILL White’s, STILL a gentleman’s club and that they were having a Diamond Jubilee event where the club’s members were allowed to bring their wives inside. As I’m not married to any of the club’s members, I didn’t get to partake in that bit of fun, but the wonderful Doorman (no, I cannot remember his name, unfortunately) did open the door long enough for me to peek into the foyer. Then he promptly shut them so I could take a picture outside. LOL And even though the picture has Her Highness (the aforementioned nine year old) standing next to me holding a Starbuck’s Double Chocolate Frappuccino cup (and pulling a face), I will always relish it.