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The Boy from Virginia leaves London (Chronicles of a Return Home)

February 12, 2012 around 4:00am

I crept into my shared Brixton flat still damp from the night out I’d had with my friends, a group I’d lovingly dubbed the BBoyz (which stands for both “Barcelona” boys and “Brown” boys). Somehow-as always-I’d allowed them to persuade me to spend “one more hour” out on the town and seeing as it was my final night in the United Kingdom, I obliged. I tossed my vintage London Fog trench onto my bed and tried to heat myself up. My tuxedo shirt was soaked though with my dance-sweat and my H&M combat boots needed to be peeled from me and packed into the suitcase I’d finished pre-loading only days before. It had been 2 years and one month that I’d spent in London, and the memories, trials and the overall tribulations had swarmed my mind in a rush of images. I blinked them away as I desperately tried to make sure I’d packed every single thing I needed and had all my alarms set so that I could hop on my one-way flight back to Virginia, a place I’d hadn’t lived consistently since I was 14 years old. Was home an accurate term for America anymore?

            I had so many thoughts (a trait that has seriously become my downfall), and as I tried to filter them and make sense of the flurry of emotions I only thought I’d prepared myself for, my mind kept going back and forth between two things: the death of Whitney Houston only 2 hours prior, and what would soon be the end of the life I’d created across seas. Between my grieving for Brandy Norwood (yes, I thought of her heavily at the time because Whitney was her mentor) and trying to process how such a legend could be snatched away from this earth, I only kept thinking that if I were to die, I’d need to leave behind something of which I could be ultimately proud. I didn’t know what that would be back then, and even today, I’m not sure if what I have to give to this world is as significant as my voice. Yet, maybe the idea is merely to give freely of oneself in the best way you know how. Even in love; give. The taking is easy. The giving is courageous.

            I’d given so much of myself to a country that had given me the worst exit process ever. Getting out of college wasn’t as difficult as leaving the United Kingdom (Thanks UK Border Control…), though even that was hard too, if I recall correctly. But unlike other places I’d given myself to, I felt like things were actually reciprocated in London. When I laid a foundation, my English universe around me helped me build a house. And I felt that in my journey to the past (England is five hours ahead of Virginia), I’d be demolishing the house that Tommy built. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in my mind: Deny.  I denied that I was leaving for good and vowed to return if it was the last thing I did. So, with prayers for Whitney Houston and her family on my heart, prayers for my safe return home in about 6 hours, and a body that had finally got some heat from my duvet, I warmed up to the idea that a return home was not permanent and would ultimately be for the best.

 

February 12, 2012 around 9:00am

If I dreamed at all that night, I’m sure it was about something fun because I awoke prepared and with no fear.

My best friend -an Italian gent and former RSAMD classmate who I considered family-called my phone to tell me he was ready to accompany me to the airport. It was time. The leaving was real and I couldn’t deny it any further. So he’d come to flat early in the morning to help me schlep my luggage to the airport via the Tube system.. I said goodbye to my lovely roommate, who had become like a big brother to me, gave him my keys and he locked the door behind me. I walked confidently out of and away from my Brixton flat, luggage in tow, my best friend at my side. With each step I pressed into the pavement, the ground soaked up the despair I’d swallowed deep into the pit of my stomach. I felt the wind try its best to blow away at the thick skin I’d managed to wear that day. But the silly banter and conversation between my Italian brother and me served as a barrier to its breezy attempts.

As far as I was concerned, I was going to make it to the airport with no tears, no regrets, no sadness, because as I’d said the night before, I was going to return home to London. Period.

My friend seemed to have the same thoughts. He treated me as if we’d be hanging out at his house the next day, talking all things theatrical and gorging ourselves on homemade casserole. He was in denial too. And I appreciated him so much more for it.

An hour’s train ride later, I arrived at London Heathrow Airport and my brother and I looked at one another and basically gave each other hugs and both said, “This isn’t the end.” There were no tears (thank goodness, because I would’ve looked at him like he was crazy) and it was the simplest “see you later” I’d ever experienced with him. He watched me step through the door into the departure gate and if he did shed tears upon my leaving, at least he had the decency to wait until I disappeared behind the double doors.

I had two hours to kill until take off. So what better way to spend that time than to send goodbye texts to everyone? I decided if I was going to be schmaltzy, I would at least do it along the lines of of a high school yearbook (you know, “You’re an awesome friend.” “Never change”. “K.I.T *happy face*”)…but with my signature honest/ loving style. I’m very sure I sent all of the BBoyz a text thanking them for their contributions to my London life and for being my family when I felt I had none. I thanked every single person, teacher, mentor, coworker, friend I could via text. And the most important person I thanked was the last person I texted: a friend of mine who I credit with helping me discover the true meaning of “adventure.” He was a person I swore I would write a novel or a series about someday as his presence in my life gave me a confidence I’m certain I’d never have if I’d never encountered him two years prior (um…that was along sentence). So I told him all of this in the sappiest text message I have ever sent to him. And fortunately, I got a sappy text back. (But not a seriously sappy text as Brits still manage to keep a certain awkward, stoic, aloofness about themselves.)

“Now boarding…” began the announcement and I knew that after a flash of my ticket/ passport and after a walk down a long cold corridor, I’d be terminating everything. “Hasta la vista, London.” With departure imminent, I began to think…

“I’ve managed to perform a multitude of shows while I was here…I just performed a lead in a phenomenal workshop with a well known playwright…I have been well reviewed twice in this country by The Globe….I’ve been on a set with both Dev Patel and Ed Westwick…I’ve met one of the coolest British celebs I’ve ever come across and have been privy to see him multiple times in London…my agent has been the most phenomenal agent I could’ve asked for…my friends love me…I’ve done so many things that I’d never have done in America…I’ve been to SPAIN and spoke Spanish with the natives!!!… I’ve loved…have I made a difference here?…did I leave anyone behind who may have loved me enough to try and keep me here? (That last question is definitely going to remain unanswered in this lifetime I’m sure).”

I felt the plane pull away from the gate, and like the best move I’ve ever watched, I replayed the entire duration of my two years in five minutes. I saw myself getting on a plane in Virginia and leaving my family behind to start my graduate career and eventually my theatrical career in Scotland. I saw my first day at grad school. I saw myself graduate with my Masters at the age of 24. I saw me performing and being both happy and sad at some of my experiences. I saw loads of successful and rather unsuccessful auditions and conversations with my agents after all of them. I could hear myself singing at Cellar Door in Covent Garden and I could see how many times I’d hung out with the people who had become my family. And as the pressure inside the cabin increased, and I felt the plane begin its ascent into the sky, I descended involuntarily into tears.

Window seats can be blessings. I didn’t have to face the other passengers who were prepping the seven hour flight home by watching in flight films. So I looked out the window as the clouds began to blanket my view, and the city that had once appeared huge to me became a net of streets and tiny cars driving on the wrong side of the road. Had it been a dream? These past two years? Had I truly lived away in another country and gained love, respect and ultimately freedom for myself?

It felt like I’d gone over the rainbow, overstayed my welcome, and was being forced back into the world of sepia, black and white. And true…I guess there is no place like home…but what if you couldn’t discern which home was the right one?

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My Journey To Happiness

Friday will end my first term here at the academy. My second one will begin January 12th. I am not returning to America during the interval, but instead looking for work and a reason to rest because, dammit, a brother is tired!

I am typing right now with the most mucous throat I’ve ever had while singing. Deep in my heart I feel that someone should at least say, “Oh Tommy, your voice sounds a mess; let’s allow you rest for a while.” Instead, I have been plowing away and been given slight remedies to rectify the gravel-type sound that ha plagued my voice for the past week. At the present moment I am uncomfortable. I cannot believe that I went onstage last night, sang “This Christmas” and then segued into Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” (a song that is in no shape way or form made for me to sing). I’m having mini melt-downs every single morning when I wake up because I have to figure out if my voice is going to  come back clear, or if I’ll continue sounding like someone is crushing rocks in my larynx. Yes, I understand that your worst day should always be your best day, but this has never happened to me before and I’m not sure if I’m handling the situation properly. I feel awful and I really wish I didn’t have to perform while awful. But a former boss of mine said it best: smile through the pain! So I will.

My classmates and I get along very well. This week, though I love many of them, they are stressing me out with their constant check-ups. I understand that we all want to care about and for one another, but sometimes, alone time (along with QUIET time) is more valuable than any other time one would need. Most people are simply afraid to be alone with themselves for too long, and I notice that in many of my classmates. It’s as if many of us do not want to just sit mull over who we are and how to make ourselves better. I hope we al find ways to “get better” for our next term Why is getting to know ourselves such a big fear? Is it that we are afraid to try and conquer ourselves, or have we given up on progress?

I have been doing a lot of thinking about home lately and the things that are happening there (that I’m not apart of). My family is still dysfunctional (as most REAL families are). My grandmother is now in a nursing home, and her sanity is going. There is a discussion concerning my oldest uncle right now where they are considering amputating his leg because of his diabetes. A younger uncle who has been recently released from prison is not doing a good job at reinstating himself in the family. Lastly, my mother (the rock of a woman she is) still manages to support me while I’m here, keep me updated on the family, and raise my little brother and sister in the best way she knows how. And then there’s the whole Obama brilliance going on right now which, to be honest, doesn’t have much of an effect on me over here. I kind of wish I was home to participate in a lot of the goings-on, but that would be stress on top of stress and here, I am totally happy; frustrated at times with myself and sometimes others, but mostly happy.

And here is the crux of what has been going on with me today. I have been thinking about my happiness too much since I’ve been here. What constitutes happiness? How do I maintain it? Am I lying to myself when I say that I’ve found it? Or am I just not willing to accept the truth: that I have actually found it?

All my life I feel as if I’ve worked hard, (yes, I’ve had my lazy moments but who hasn’t?), but when I was at home, I was slowly beginning to condition myself to the fact that excelling too much was a bad thing. So I would only push myself to an extent that wasn’t intimidating to others. I reflect on moments from middle school when I would get an A on an assignment, but to be cool and accepted, I would “help” someone with their math quiz or something. That was my way of giving back to the community because it would keep people from calling me names or looking down on me. Then I got older and realized that people still have negative shit to say about you regardless of your intellect or lack of it. So I began to thrust myself into my work even more. And it was then that I realized my race to discover happiness was more about me than anybody else. Therefore I needed to take the thought of others out of the equation and push myself. But of course self, motivation only goes so far. So I turned to the women in my life who have always gotten me through. And they have been more than supportive. But what of the men in my life? How were they helping me, if even?

Well, my father was the example of a life wasted (in my eyes he had the potential to be so much more than he became) therefore I used him as an example of what not to be. But I did take away certain aspects from him, like his voice, his looks, and his loveable outgoing spirit. My uncles, though encouraging, weren’t the greatest of role models either, and at a young age, I realized I didn’t want to be like them, so I didn’t try. My maternal grandfather, though far away always showed me love and I took that idea with me everywhere I traveled. But the most effective men in my life were those who believed in me and weren’t afraid of helping me go further.

In high school, I was sent to a guidance counsellor when I had thoughts of suicide and he and I forged a friendship that I still value to this day. He was more of a father to me than anyone had ever been in my life and he pushed me to be myself in all aspects of my life. To this day that’s what I’ve worked hard to do. The next person I met was an accidental friend who ended up becoming almost a brother/ almost a soul mate. I’ve never had a male friend who wasn’t afraid of saying “Go for it!” and he did so without the negative, contradictory, behind-the-back commentary for which many are known. I haven’t allowed that friendship to die. Lastly, I was introduced to a professor in my last year who exemplified triumph to me. His wisdom about life was (and still is) a treasure that I appreciate. And if anyone is responsible for getting me to this place I’m in (in my life), it is him (combined with the efforts of the women, of course).

 

After looking back on these people, who I miss and love and appreciate, I evaluate my happiness. It wasn’t my own initially. The funny thing is…in a way, my happiness doesn’t belong to me. It kinda belongs to everyone who helped me get to where I am. And I don’t mind sharing it with the ones who’ve always believed in me and helped me. Most of them know exactly who they are because I always tell them that I love them. For those who don’t know…trust me…when I want you to know, you will.