A month ago I was in England. Most of the time we spent with dear friends — we lived in England for the first ten years of our marriage — and our favorite cousins, but the first day, when we were on our own, still adjusting to British time and British ways, my husband suggested we should take a bus tour of London.
I looked at him as if he were crazy. A bus tour? Of London? Yes, that was what he had in mind. And because I was in a mellow mood, sitting with him for a proper English breakfast which now along with eggs, bacon, sausages, braised mushrooms, and fried tomatoes apparently features baked beans, I said sure, and so that was what we did.
It was very odd, the bus lumbering up and down familiar streets with me peering out as if I were a tourist. It was also fun to see what shops were still there and which weren’t, and to discover new buildings. There is, for example, a splendid building now across the road from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, an office building for the Members of the House of Commons and (I assume) the House of Lords. The commentary told us when the architect was given his brief, he was told that the building had to last a minimum of 200 years. And, of course, its immediate neighbors are, aside from Parliament across the road, Westminster Abbey and a few other institutions of multiple hundred years.
We didn’t actually get to our old neighborhood (we lived in Kew, the village surrounding Kew Gardens), but we came close enough for me to suddenly wonder about all the what-ifs that occasionally occur to me now. What if? What if we had not sold our house, but had stayed there instead of coming home (for me — he’s British) to America? Well, for one thing we’d be richer. Property prices in London are ridiculous. We bought our house for 7775 pounds, sold it eight years later for 31,500 pounds, and it now is worth a cool million, judging from the prices of others on the street. Oh well. Sigh.
We wouldn’t have our third daughter. We adopted her from Chile, after we came back to the States. And was it her adoption that suddenly triggered the end of my long infertility? Our son was born 13 months after we brought her home. I wouldn’t have had the comfortable years of living close to my parents, getting to know them with all of us being adults. I wouldn’t have started to write books. Before we left England, I was acting as a consultant for the publisher I’d worked for before I had our first daughter. I commissioned books; I didn’t write them.
Would I have finally developed an English accent? One of my American friends, who moved there after I did, now sounds like an intimate of the Queen. Very posh accent indeed. I didn’t gain an English accent when I was there, and of course now I am irredeemably American, although my vocabulary still changes when I get off the plane at Heathrow Airport. All the old words — lorries, instead of trucks; snaps instead of photos; cooker instead of stove — slip into my conversation.
Who would I have been if I had stayed? Not the person I am now — all these years of living here, of seeing the world from the United States, have certainly changed and developed me. How different would I have been, if all these years had been spent there?
What are the different paths you might have taken? Do you ever wonder where they might have led you, what different lives you might have had? Who would you have been?
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