He is everywhere I look. Every crack in the concrete, every bus stop, every tree that lines the road. We shared a city for two years, explored our new home away from home together and claimed it as our own. My geography of London is dependent entirely on the history of us. I navigate by the roads we used to walk together, the tube lines we used to hold each other on and the restaurants that we ate at. I have to stop myself telling the stories of locations I pass with my friends. ‘This’ is where we went to the cinema and snuck in pasta. ‘This’ is where we sat and watched the world go by on my birthday. ‘This’ is where we had the most intense argument we ever had, and had to leave before we hurt each other any more. I have to stop telling these stories because there is no ‘we’ anymore, although the memories force their way into my vision every time I pass one of our spots. I sit in coffee shops with my friends and for just a moment I will see the projections of our younger selves sitting at our regular table, chatting and laughing. A glimpse into happy times which always leave me wondering how he is, and if he remembers those times too.
We explored so many places, all my favourite parts of London are brushed with the memory of him. At first I was angry, I felt trapped in a memory box of our relationship that was filled with painful nostalgia greeting me at every corner. It hurt too much to exist in the space without him. Now, I appreciate the time and journeys we took together. I’m proud to have been taught what it is to love by him and I am proud of our time together. I am grateful for the subtle concrete reminders of my past happiness, and see it as something that urges me forward with kindness and compassion.
Visiting our museum hurt the most. The site of our first date, our anniversaries and Valentine’s Day celebrations. The site of secrets told, confessions made and so much pride and love. I thought he would propose to me there one day. In the courtyard by the pond, or by the statues in the hall where we shyly introduced ourselves to each other for the first time. I know he thought about it too. The vast space is the physical embodiment of the best parts of our relationship and the future we didn’t fulfil. The first time I went alone, I struggled to focus on the European antiquities. My side felt so cold without him there, my hand empty. My mind was foggy and unsure, yet I could do nothing to restore normality. Normality has changed, being without him is the new normal. I found my feet taking me to the site of the artefact we had searched for the last time we went together, that looked nothing like we had imagined and lived in the only room that was closed that day. As we peered at it from behind the barrier, we laughed. The room was so silent without him, I couldn’t laugh.
I have been several times without him now. The heaviness in my heart lessens with each visit but I will always wish that he was there with me. In a sense, he will be. If I ever need to feel his presence, I can roam the halls that once held so much promise of our future. Our youth and my first experience of love is trapped within those walls, hiding amongst the paintings and valuables that mean so much more to me because of him.
As time has passed, I have formed new memories and attachment to places. It has become easier to walk past, nodding acknowledgement at the younger versions of ourselves without feeling the pain that reminiscence often brings. Sometimes the memories remain in their box, my reality too busy and fast paced to allow time for reflection. The world continues turning, my feet continue to pound the pavement away from our past and in search of what is next.
I don’t want to forget the London that was ours. The memory of us will always exist within the very core of the city that I matured in. You can’t unfollow or unfriend bricks and mortar, it steadies your every step and guides you forward. As I grow, I will add more stories and experiences into my map of London. My relationship with this city will take on a new role, as it did when we shared it, and it did when I learnt to navigate it alone. London is mine again, but I will always be grateful that it was ours first.