Que Sera Sera


Three years ago, on my first trip to England, I visited the Tower of London with my friends Tony and Emily. When I got home and uploaded my pictures, I found this strange blur of light on this photo taken outside the room that housed all the torture implements at the Tower:

ghost photo?

I had no idea what that strange blur was. I still have no idea. Probably nothing. I like to think I have a pretty rational mind, and don’t go in for much hooha, but I’ve had a few eerie experiences myself and have heard enough from trusted friends and family that I’m never prepared to truly rule out ghosts. I KNOW: why/how/wtf, etc., but still, sometimes there’s some weird energy or dread or chill some places, and who knows what sort of sad cosmic dust is trapped in whatever space or time involved. This is completely at odds with my feelings about death: I believe that when you’re dead, you’re dead. I’m not going to ask you to do my star chart and I don’t believe in psychics, reincarnation, heaven, hell, or the risen Christian lord, but sometimes I think that maybe there are unexplained things, and some of those things creep me out.

Antonia and I have been talking about going back to the Tower for the past year, and we finally went yesterday. We both love some history and we’re also both intrigued by ghosts. We spend a lot of time talking about creepy things that have happened to us or people we know, or places we’ve read about that are haunted. These conversations are usually punctuated by Ian, stopping drilling or sawing long enough to shout, “It’s not true because there’s NO SUCH THING AS GHOSTS!” from his lair. We ignore him and google “cctv ghost hampton court.”

I told Antonia about my weird photo from 2007, and how I wanted to take another picture in the same place when we went, just for fun. So the first place we went once we entered the Tower was the little plank walkway outside the room where they house the rack and the Scavenger’s Daughter, right outside Wakefield Tower, next to the Bloody Tower.

Unfortunately, the wall where I took my picture three years ago was under tarp and scaffolding. I went ahead and took the same shot anyway, even though I felt ridiculous.

I don’t see anything like what I saw in my original photo.

Then I turned back and took another shot of Esme on the walkway. And when I looked at it on my camera after, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Now don’t laugh at me, but do you see a sort of smudge to the center and right? Like a smudge made of light? Antonia saw it too but Nick didn’t, and Ian refused to even look.

So then we walked around some more. Esme got a princess dress at the gift shop and was making all kinds of friends.

Then we went back to the Bloody Tower, where the two princes were legendarily killed and buried at the foot of the stairs. You go up a tiny spiral staircase into a room that’s set up as an exhibit about them. The room itself felt pretty normal, but they’ve glassed off the top half of the staircase, so I took a shot, thinking, if there’s going to be a ghost anywhere, it’s going to be up there, away from loud people.

Then, after Antonia came up the stairs, I turned back and took one last shot of the empty stairwell. I realize the light is weird and shadowy here, and the Tower’s own spookified lighting doesn’t help, but I really don’t think there’s anything there. I feel like it’s a Magic Eye photo and I’ve just looked at it too long, trying to find some hint of the supernatural.

We went back out to the Green, and I listened to a Beefeater giving a tour about the people executed inside the Tower. I’d heard this same speech three years ago, about how most people were executed in public on Tower Hill, but some people had a more private execution inside the Tower walls. One of these people was Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. She was nearly 70 years old and Henry VIII imprisoned her just to be a dick, to get back at her son who was a Catholic cardinal who was opposed to Henry’s divorce. Margaret Pole refused to put her head on the block because she insisted she wasn’t a traitor, and the executioner ended up chasing her around the yard, hacking at her neck a number of times until she finally died. This story stuck in my mind because Emily and I commented that after two or three hacks with an axe, we’d both probably just lie down and let him finish the job.

A month or so after I first heard this story, I was visiting family in Texas, where my aunt was showing me the extensive genealogical research she’d done on our family history. In some branches of the family tree, she could only trace it back a few generations, but for some, she’d mapped it back to the middle ages. She was really excited to show me that my brother and I were directly descended from Chaucer. (There’s no non-dick way to say that, is there? You sound like you’re bragging no matter how you say it. But it was legit: there was an option on the program she was using that if you clicked it, would show you what famous people you were related to, to the nth degree, and basically, all of America is eleventh cousins of JFK or Elvis, but the Chaucer info wasn’t from that; it was a direct line, straight down to my grandmother’s name. Very cool.) Anyway, I remembered the story about Margaret Pole, and how the Beefeater had said she was a great-great-somebody of Geoffrey Chaucer. So my aunt is thinking I’m going to be excited about the Chaucer thing, but I get all excited and realize if we’re related to Chaucer, we’re related to the old lady who got chased around the Tower of London. She’s a blessed martyr and everything. I bet she’d approve of my Medieval Tapestry Poses Flickr group.

So I listen to hear if the Beefeater mentions Margaret Pole in his execution speech, but he just mentions Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. The crowd dissipates and Antonia’s helping Esme with her new tiara, so I take a shot or two of the green, which looks very peaceful. And again, when I look at the photo afterwards in my camera, I think I see something. It’s possible all the execution talk is messing with my brain, but do you see a sort of glow in the corner here, near the trees, behind those boys on the bench, way in the background?

We went in search of the bathrooms, and Esme was being cute, so I took a shot of her near an old black phone box.

I’m glad I didn’t have her stand in front of it, because when I uploaded these to my computer, I noticed a sort of cloudy light at the very top of the phone booth. Maybe it’s just a shadow or my camera is crappy, but these are starting to a) freak me out and b) make me wonder if I’m losing it a little.

I also took this shot, and it wasn’t until I saw it in the larger size that I saw that woman in the blue jacket in the background. It made my heart stop for a second. I’m clearly starting to see spooky stuff in places where there is nothing spooky to see.

By this time Antonia and I were tired and wanted coffee, but Esme got a second wind due to her pink princess dress, and suddenly wanted to go in every room of the castle. So we took her up to the bit of St. Thomas’ Tower that Edward I used as living quarters, which has been done up to look how it did in his day, 1270-something. This part was quieter and emptier than the rest of the Tower, and they had an audio recording of a crackling fire in the room with the empty fireplace, which was kind of creepy.

Here are some arty shots out the windows.

At this point I had to admit to myself that I was just taking photos wildly, like I was Egon Spengler, trying to get as much evidence for samples later. I was sure this poorly-lit staircase and doorway would turn up something, but no dice:

And the tiny restored private chapel, with the creepy recording of someone saying mass, only you couldn’t go in? I don’t see anything here.

I took one last shot of the main room. Notice how the light from those candles is sort of streaky? Like something’s passing through them? Or the light is refracted strangely? I don’t know, I’m obviously nuts by now, but seriously, tell me you don’t see something weird back there between the candles and the bed curtain.

Then we went outside and the sun was out and everything was shiny and golden and beautiful, and I felt like an idiot for my crazed camera ghost hunt. I want to believe that Ian’s right and there’s no such thing, but I’m still not going to google anything about CCTV ghosts until Nick gets home from work.


Last night I dreamed that we were back in New York, and I was sitting with a laptop* in a coffee shop** that was flooded with sunlight. All of the sudden I looked up and out the window and thought, “Wow, we’re really home,” and I started sobbing with joy.

It’s hard to say things like this, because it doesn’t mean that I don’t love London as well (I love it so much), or that I won’t miss it once we’re gone (I’ll miss it like crazy). The closer we get to getting home, the more torn I feel. I also feel guilt and worry, that I should suppress my glee in front of the friends here that we’ll be leaving and missing so much I don’t even want to think about it. It’s a complicated feeling, so there must be a German word for it. Probably Pangaeaschnitzel. Zan told me awhile back that once you fall in love with someone from another country, the rest of your life is going to be spent missing someplace, no matter where you are.

We submitted our packet of forms to the embassy yesterday, which means now we’re just waiting for them to schedule Nick’s interview, and then we can return to the U.S. within a week after that. (If we pass.) (Of course we’ll pass.) (Fingers crossed, knock on wood.) As we walked out of the post office, we high-fived and hugged and Nick said, “Soon we’ll be home!” Which is really sweet of him, because while he’s ready and excited about living in New York, I know it doesn’t feel home to him yet in the way it does to me.

When we first met, and both realized oh wait, I have strong feelings for this person who lives on another continent, Nick won a million points in my book by saying, “Well, our first priority is being together,” like it was the most matter of fact thing in the world. And then I said, “I can’t leave New York, my life is in New York now, I’m not ready to leave it,” which felt very ballsy and brave until the moment it left my mouth and then I was terrified he’d say no dice, but instead he shrugged and said, “Okay, so we’ll live in New York.” I’ve spent the past two years constantly checking that that’s still okay, but Nick’s way of thinking is that he’s lived all over the world, all big cities are pretty much the same, he likes New York, he loves our friends there, I want to live there: end of story. I realize how lucky I am about so many things in this arrangement. For someone who kept finding herself in long distance relationships in her twenties, and at the end of each one swore never again, the next guy I date has to live next door, the longest distance of them all turned out to be the easiest. Wanting the same things! And being prepared to do whatever it takes to do them! Who knew!

Earlier this year, during one of my many crying jags, I kept saying things like, “I just want to go home and get back to my life.” Then I had a talk with myself, and declared that sort of phrasing unfair and ridiculous, because it’s not like my life in New York is on pause, waiting for me like my books and my clothes are. This is my life right now. This has been my life for the past year. And (this is schmaltzy, heads up) this year has revealed to me that home is wherever Nick is. Many times while I was having a late night homesick sob, he offered to send me back to New York so I could be with my friends, and he’d stay here and keep working and saving and waiting, but that was never an option for me. I told him no, I chose you, I choose this. I’d do it again. We’ve felt like a team from the first minute, and separating the team was not part of the deal. And while this year has been really hard, the good parts have been really good, and our relationship is even better and stronger than I thought it was.

I realize that just like this is my life, going home and getting married isn’t a happy ending. It’ll be my turn to support both of us, at least until Nick gets his green card. Things are still going to be hard and we’re still going to be strapped and stressed, and we’ll have a whole new set of people and things to miss, but just the fact that we’ll be officially starting on the life we want together is enough. Also maaaaan do I miss being able to walk to the bathroom naked in the middle of the night.

* I don’t ever do that, sit in a coffee shop with my laptop. I mean, I have a few times in the past, but I’m not one of those people that does that regularly. To me, those people seem far more ambitious than I could ever be. Once I’m up, dressed, fed and ready to sit behind a computer for most of the day, I never want to leave my house to do so. And if I want to leave my house, I’m sure as hell not bringing a laptop with me. I salute you, coffee shop workers, even though I’ve sat next to you and know you’re all just procrastinating on Facebook and YouTube like I am at home. At least you’re wearing shoes.

** It was a coffee shop I’ve been to a few times before, on University Place, with one whole glass wall facing the street. I spent half an hour trying to find it on Google Maps with no luck, until I emailed Josh Newman, whom I’ve met there on more than one occasion. Newman found it in sixty seconds: NewsBar. Here it is:

View Larger Map

Unfortunately all the shots are from the outside looking in, not inside looking out. I’m amazed that I am this close to showing the internet what I saw in my head during a dream. This is better than jetpacks, in my opinion.

Cringe tomorrow cancelled

London, something nasty is going around this week, and we’ve had to cancel Cringe due to raging illness. We’ll schedule another date soon, but until then, please, remain indoors.

Strawberry self-loathing

Earlier today I was just sitting there, wearing a cardigan and flats with my jeans rolled, eating some yogurt. I was really enjoying the yogurt, so much so that I lifted my feet into the air a bit, pointing my toes inside my shoes while the spoon was still in my mouth. Then I sort of stepped outside of my body for my moment and was flooded with disgust. What, did I also really love movies and animals? I bet I couldn’t wait to grab a box of tampons, throw on a polka dot scarf and go for a car trip with my best girlfriends.

Then I went to the store this afternoon and bought two more cases of it.

Oh yeah, this place.

I haven’t written here in so long I had to re-enter my password when I signed in. I actually have about five posts saved in the draft folder, almost ready to publish, but my mind has not been here recently. We’ve been balls deep in visa paperwork for the past several weeks, and hopefully about to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime, the non-visa paperwork part of my brain is pretty useless. Earlier this week, I was trying to find a way to get to Dublin to see Maggie while she’s there, and at one point I thought, “If I go to Dublin for four days, that nice salsa Jay and Patti sent us will go bad before I get back.” Priorities! Basically every thing I’ve said out loud for the past week, you could have responded by making an unkind and non-politically correct face and sound, and I couldn’t have argued with you.

What else is new that is shareable with the internet. Not a lot. Oh, I know… the other night I was suddenly seized with some ideas of how I wanted to dress this fall? Which is sort of weird because I’m not about to enter high school, and for the most part am a pretty boring dresser. I blame it on reading lots of crap magazines lately when I switch my brain off from visa mode. Anyway, I actually wrote these ideas down on a list and took it shopping with me—not that I can afford to buy anything at the moment; it was mostly a distraction mission. And. AND! One of my ideas that I thought was so clever and original was all over the place, and three others were things that apparently don’t exist. Does this mean I’m avant-garde? I’m not wearing treggings so it’s hard to tell.

I’m going to miss England when we go. I like to grumble about it, but I really do love London. I’m simultaneously nearing the breaking point of missing home—beyond missing people, just missing things. I miss my bed, I miss my bathrobe, I miss my desktop computer that doesn’t have an outdated operating system like this abacus laptop I brought with me. The other day I caught myself reminiscing about the sound our laundry room door makes when it closes. Kind of a whooooof-click, muffled by the carpet. Siiiigh.

I’ve made myself two separate lists, one of the things I miss about home and one of the things I know I’ll miss about London. The emerging theme is Places I Like to Sit (and Talk/Drink/Eat). I’ll miss a lot of British television, which is funny because the only American show I miss is 30 Rock, and we can watch that here. Sweets are better here, but it’ll be great to have real pizza again. This quickly devolves into bad stand-up cliches. White people be dialing the phone like this, black people dial like this! One thing for certain is that after a year of living with just a fraction of my belongings, I have a whole new understanding of what I actually want and need. Not that I don’t want and need some really superficial, unimportant stuff: now I just know which stuff. There will be a massive cull once I get back. If you need a bunch of black shirts and old lip gloss, let me know.

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