Ever since you left
It’s like a new beginning.
Look! The bird flies free!
Ever since you left
It’s like a new beginning.
Look! The bird flies free!
The USA is in its infancy. Colonised by the English in 1620, it became the United States, an independent nation, in 1776. That’s only 240 years ago. Is it any wonder then, that its people are so naïve when it comes to politics, culture and gun law?
In the UK we marvel at how a sad, dangerous and uncomfortably comedic figure like Donald Trump can possibly be allowed to hold a position of power. Since moving to the USA I’ve been trying to comprehend how such a ridiculous turn of events has come about, and I have been fortunate, in a way, to experience the Trump phenomena from both sides of the Atlantic.
In England, Magna Carta, the Great Charter of the Liberties, or the first written laws, if you like, was signed in 1215, or shortly after lunch. The Declaration of Independence, arguably the American equivalent, was signed in 1776. That puts England roughly 560 years ahead of America in terms of social and political maturity.
560 years ago, in England, we were in the 1450s. Henry VI was King, and we had just lost the Hundred Years’ War to the French. If you believe Wikipedia, the earliest known reference to knitting in England occurs around then, and more memorably someone up north started the Wars of the Roses. We were still fighting battles with longbows; firearms had only recently been introduced as weapons of war. Executing women for ‘practising witchcraft’ was still 200 years in the future. We probably made up the rules as we went along.
Imagine a politician or a soldier from 1450 having access to modern weaponry, the internet, nuclear technology, motor cars. Imagine, if armed with little education, or mindfulness, how dangerous that could be. That’s where the Americans are today. They have all the bravado, enthusiasm and naivety of a new nation, but with none of the hindsight, maturity or lesson-learning that England has gathered in the intervening 500 years. It is a frightening thought, but goes some way to explaining the air of invincibility that the US wears like a suit of armour. Trump blunders around like a petulant teething toddler on the verge of a tantrum because he is a product of this dangerous combination.
Here in Arizona, folks are still living in the Wild West. Gung-ho, gun-toting enthusiasm is rife, privacy laws virtually non-existent. It’s like living in a culture which is a cross between The Virginian and 1950s Britain. Men strut around town wearing Stetsons and holsters. I can’t get a decent radio signal. This part of the state has a pervading small-town mentality. Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to voting habits, its inhabitants want to be on the side they see as the winning team, with all the accompanying glitz and glamour? Policies really have nothing to do with it. You might as well have a shiny new convertible running for President, or a brand-new washing machine. Small town America just wants to win the Star Prize, regardless of whether or not it breaks down after the first couple of weeks’ use.
Marnie Devereux is an English writer living in the south-western United States.
In the mid-1970s, Nick and I were at school together in a small town in the south-west of England. Nick was my boyfriend Simon’s best mate. We were all the same age, and were a very close-knit little group of friends. Nick was the coolest kid in school. Always immaculately dressed, always had the beautiful blonde girlfriend. A bit of a bad boy, cheeky grin, black leather jacket, curly black hair, Italianate good looks. We used to call him ‘The Fonz’ after a character in a popular TV show of the time. Nick and Simon were inseparable.
Simon, my boyfriend, died, in very tragic circumstances, when we were twenty years old. When things like that happen, it either brings you all closer together, or splits you all up. It split us up. Nick moved to Hawaii to do his PhD; I got married way too young, and we lost touch.
Fast forward forty years, and I’m living in a different town in Somerset, and by complete coincidence, living next door to Nick’s step-mum, Lorna. I was managing the local public library, and Lorna would come in and tell me news about Nick: how he was a big, important Professor of astrophysics, how he worked for NASA, how he had got married, been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and moved to Ireland, got divorced, moved back to the USA. I never bothered to get back in touch with him; after all, he was a high-achiever and I had done nothing with my life, and there was no way he would remember the shy girl from school who wasn’t very bright.
In 2014, Nick’s step-mum passed away, and Nick was over in the UK arranging her funeral; staying in the house next door to mine. I had been separated from my husband for two years at this point, and had been through an extremely difficult time. But I couldn’t let my old school chum disappear back to the United States without letting him know I was thinking of him, so I plucked up my courage and knocked on his door. I had convinced myself he would have absolutely no idea who I was, so was completely taken aback when he cried out in surprise and recognition and gave me a great big bear-hug! The next evening we went out for dinner and caught up on more than thirty years of ‘So what have you done with your entire life, then?’. It turned out that Nick lived in a small desert town in Arizona, and I had stayed in that town for one night the previous year as part of a road trip whilst visiting my son who had studied in California for a time. Nick and I could have passed each other in the street and not recognised one another. ‘Come and visit me in Arizona!’ was the invitation I received, though an air fare was the last thing I could afford. I was just moving out of the marital residence and buying my own house for the first time, and money was tight. But a voice in my head told me never to turn down an invitation, and I scraped together the money for a plane ticket. Nick had said I could stay with him for a couple of weeks, or he could help to pay for a hotel, whichever I preferred. The last thing on my mind was a relationship. I was still trying to piece myself together after a 25-year controlling marriage, and had no thoughts of getting into a relationship with anyone. So, a few months later I was on a long-haul flight for only the second time in my life, for a much-needed holiday in the sunshine. Nick had agreed to meet me at the airport in Phoenix, and as we drove the two hours north to Prescott, he told me a little about his life in the States and how he had been through a difficult year. I had found him to be quite a private person, and wasn’t even sure if he was gay, straight, married or had a partner waiting to greet us at home.
Well, waiting to greet us was the girl with whom Nick had shared his life for the past fifteen years. Her name was Sooty, Nick’s elderly black-and-white cat. Nick and I talked long into the night about our schooldays, our precious friend we had lost, and the paths our lives had taken. We laughed, and cried. I realised then that here was, quite simply, the sweetest, kindest man I had ever met. We are a lifetime older, and have our fair share of grey hair and wrinkles, but I look at him and see the boy I knew forty years ago. Nick Devereux. The Fonz. Nick Devereux from school. Wow.
Two years later…after too long apart, we jumped through the final hoop for me to be granted an immigration visa. As I write this I’m looking out over the banks of the creek where we live in northern Arizona, and I wonder if that terrible time we went through as teenagers happened so that, a lifetime later, we could find each other again. Nick and I are getting married next week, just after Valentine’s Day. We may not have a lifetime left to share, but we will treasure every moment.
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This article first appeared in 2005 in ‘Among Friends’, the newsletter of Long Sutton Meeting; and was subsequently published in Speak Up Somerset issue 29, September 2005, as ‘Links in the Circle’.
A Quaker’s experience of depressive illness.
Speaking at Meeting is a very brave thing to do; especially for a shy person like myself. So I have stayed safely and securely seated and not dared to speak, even though at times I have replayed in my mind those things my heart has wanted to speak out loud.
I had known about the Society of Friends for a long time, but not necessarily by that name. Nine years ago I sought out the Quakers and Long Sutton Meeting. Since then, life for myself and my family has seen many changes. All but one of our parents and elder relatives has passed on. Steve and I have watched our two eldest sons grow into talented yet challenging young men who will, eventually, eat us out of house and home; and son number three was born and blesses us all with his happy spirit, boundless energy and ability to wake me up at six o’clock every morning. I have been reunited with my biological father, and as a consequence found a lovely sister and brother I had never met. An extended family. I have made a study of my family history and am finding my genealogical roots. My life is full of clutter, noise, crowded rooms and boys’ socks. At the root of all this I struggle to find the stillness and silence; to hold on to my basic beliefs and to live my life accordingly. Hopefully being a good example to my children and treating others with the respect and acceptance I would wish to be treated with myself.
Mental illness. Nervous breakdown. Depression. Whatever name you give it, it’s a tricky thing to deal with. There are no bandages, no bumps or bruises that you can show people and say ‘look, this is what’s happened to me.’ I have found that people tend to react in one of two ways. Some will treat it as an embarrassment; a thing to be ashamed of and not to be spoken about, other than to imply that I should ‘pull myself together’ or ‘snap out of it’. It can be the people you expect to understand who sometimes put up the biggest barriers. Conversely, some people I would expect not to understand have been amazingly kind and supportive. These are usually the ones who have been through a similar experience.
In both my professional life and my home life I have encountered both reactions. I still decide carefully before telling anyone that I take medication, visit the Mental Health Service or see the psychiatrist.
I am deeply grateful that Meeting is one of my few ‘safe’ places. Having said that, I also find it a frightening place; a challenging place. Escape to Meeting is a luxury which has been difficult to afford; not purely from a family point of view, but also because it takes emotional strength. For most of the past nine years this is the thing I have lacked the most. At Meeting my heart, my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it, is very near the surface. It is fragile and exposed, and easily damaged or frightened away, deep down inside again.
In this morning’s Meeting a Friend talked about circles of love, understanding, support, accountability and forgiveness. In my own life this has been reflected in my childhood experiences, my ability, or inability, to forgive and the understanding and support of my amazing husband Steve. This links to another circle which is made of our behaviour towards each other and towards our children, who in turn make their own circles. For most of the time I am living surrounded by a dark fog. Sometimes the fog clears and I am able to see where I am and where I am going. The rest of the time I am smothered inside its murky greyness. I take high doses of anti-depressants. I have a lot of migraines. I have little self-confidence; no self-esteem. I weep easily, and often. I am insecure. I am a damaged child. I worry about the links I am forging in the circles. Today my mood has careered from euphoric to intolerant to tearful and back again. It is day four of cutting down on my current medication before introducing another one in the hope that it will be more effective in turning me back from a destructive spirit in to a human being. This process is frightening for me, and it is frightening for Steve. Neither of us knows how I will feel from one day to the next. I might function normally, or I might fall to pieces again. I do not know what effect this will have on my sons. They do not like to talk about it. One of them has little self-confidence; little self-esteem. He weeps easily, and often. He is insecure. He is only a child. He is just like me. Another link in the circle.