‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’
by Dawn Marie Howell

12
1385

London had always been the one city I had to visit. I would often tell my friends that if I reached London, I could die happy. Of all the cities in the world, I knew that London was supposed to be my true home; that somewhere between Camden Town and the bustling streets of Piccadilly, I would find my niche in the world. And, after endless months of paperwork and anticipation, I was going to London for my three day orientation for my term abroad in jolly old England.

In mid-September, when my fellow Gauchos were heading back to the dorms and I.V., my family and I, and my four suitcases headed to LAX to deposit me on my flight. My emotions were bottled up and knotted in my stomach as I waited in line, chatting with a young newlywed couple about England and the town of Warwick where I was heading. Before we split up, the husband gave me his card and told me to call if I needed anything. It was a small assurance on what would turn out to be an emotionally harrowing experience.

After a tearful goodbye to my family, I was untethered and on my way to another country. My wait in LAX was short compared to the rest of what would prove to be a full 24-hour day without sleep. I only vividly remember how I watched California, baked-earth brown and metallic gray, melted into nothingness as we ascended. The rest of the flight was spent mostly in darkness until we hit morning over the icy Atlantic. I kept staring at the white chunks in the deep blue: ice on an ocean.

Before long, we were over Scotland and the English countryside. The sheer green of it amazed me beyond all else. How lush it looked from the air! I fell in love with England in that moment and my love was only further compounded as we flew over London. There it all was in miniature form: the Thames, Tower Bridge, Wembley Stadium, Parliament and the London Eye. All of the sites I had only seen in books and photographs. We touched ground and it was time for me to see it all firsthand.

What happened next seems like only a dream. I walked off the plane into customs, had my passport stamped for the first time (by a UCSB alum, no less) and headed off into the bustling belly of Heathrow International. After finding my luggage, I heaved everything over to the ticket office for the Heathrow Express and shelled out my money for the ticket straight to Paddington Station.

I was still half-dazed from my flight and frightened as hell in my new environment, but I plunged headlong into the journey in what capacity I could. I ran with the other passengers to the train that was about to leave and miraculously made it on in time, all four suitcases scraping and dragging behind me. In Paddington, I lumbered over to the cab queue and waited a small eternity for my cab to Endsleigh Street where my hostel was.

One of the miracles of my first day was my cabdriver; one loquacious man with a great accent who questioned me as to why I looked so petrified. I explained to him that I was a college student, on my own, and, quite frankly, scared shitless. He put me at ease as I watched the meter flick the red numbers higher and higher into a price-range I had not anticipated. Roughly 10 minutes and 11 pounds later, we pulled up in front of Passfield Hall, where I was to spend the next three days of Orientation.

My cabby generously took my 10 pounds instead of the 11 I truly owed him and cheerily added, “Here you are, love. Don’t worry yourself to death.”

Everything had gone remarkably smoothly and I was where I needed to be well before I needed to be there. I checked in at the front desk of Passfield and lugged my things into a room where the other students had stashed their things as well. We were not yet allowed to go to our rooms, so we had to wait in the lobby. I sat down on one of the many couches and took in what had just happened. I, Dawn Marie Howell, was in England, alone, and I was going to be there until early December.

Despite myself, a seed of complete loneliness wriggled into the soil of my heart, just waiting for a sufficient amount of English rain to make it sprout. I wanted my mother, I wanted anyone from back home. I wanted someone sitting next to me, telling me I was going to be okay. In that moment in Passfield Hall, I felt like just another tourist in a large international city. I had no family waiting for me here, no friends or contacts, (save the couple I met in LAX), and I wanted nothing more than to get on the next flight to California.

The days that followed blur together in my memory, even though I tried to so hard to remember as many details as I could. I remember the many trips to Euston Station where my follow Education Abroad Program participants and I rode the Tube for the first time. I remember the smell of the stale air the bowels of the Underground, how the train rocked and rolled in a way so foreign to my sensibilities. And, of course, I remember being lost the majority of the time. In fact, I got separated from the group and managed to get lost on the way to Parliament. Thankfully I had a cellphone by then and managed to get directions from the Study Center on how to get there via Tube.

Parliament truly was a sight, beautiful in many respects. The next day we toured what we could of London, catching gigantic double-deckers wherever we could. We walked through Hyde Park, over to Buckingham Palace, over to Piccadilly Circus and eventually to the Tower of London. My camera in hand and eyes wide, I nearly forgot my weariness amid all of the legendary places. I found myself falling in love with the city, but only from the respectable distance of a moving vehicle. Whilst in the tumult of it, I felt lost and completely inconsequential.

Before long, it was time to leave the hostel where we had comfortably spent our first three days. After another horrid English breakfast, everyone piled out of their rooms, got taxis together, and left for other hostels in the city or went off to their Uni’s. As for me, I took a cab alone to the Marylebone Train Station and boarded a train for Warwick Parkway, where I was to meet Lawrence and Clare, the couple who had offered to help me and followed through when I called.

After three tearful nights in London, I was on my way to the University of Warwick, or to a hostel in Coventry, depending. As the train rolled out of London, my heart slumped back into my chest. I was relieved to be leaving the city I had always wished to visit. As the brick buildings of London gave way to the raw greenery of the suburbs and countryside, I felt myself floating. I looked up at the patchy skies and took in the emerald tint of the grass and I felt my heart grow heavy with a sadness I still cannot fully explain.

I had always wanted to go to the birthplace of my literary discipline, to see what the poets had seen. And, on the train to Warwick, I saw it clearly and continued to while I battened myself against the cold of autumn. Looking up at the sky, a line of verse floated into my head: “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” I could not remember the next line, nor even who wrote it, but it fit perfectly for what I was feeling. I knew exactly what the poet meant. On a train coursing through England, I had never felt so lonely in the whole of my life.

London had always been the one city I had to visit. I would often tell my friends that if I reached London, I could die happy. Of all the cities in the world, I knew that London was supposed to be my true home; that somewhere between Camden Town and the bustling streets of Piccadilly, I would find my niche in the world. And, after endless months of paperwork and anticipation, I was going to London for my three day orientation for my term abroad in jolly old England.

In mid-September, when my fellow Gauchos were heading back to the dorms and I.V., my family and I, and my four suitcases headed to LAX to deposit me on my flight. My emotions were bottled up and knotted in my stomach as I waited in line, chatting with a young newlywed couple about England and the town of Warwick where I was heading. Before we split up, the husband gave me his card and told me to call if I needed anything. It was a small assurance on what would turn out to be an emotionally harrowing experience.

After a tearful goodbye to my family, I was untethered and on my way to another country. My wait in LAX was short compared to the rest of what would prove to be a full 24-hour day without sleep. I only vividly remember how I watched California, baked-earth brown and metallic gray, melted into nothingness as we ascended. The rest of the flight was spent mostly in darkness until we hit morning over the icy Atlantic. Ikept staring at the white chunks in the deep blue: ice on an ocean.

Before long, we were over Scotland and the English countryside. The sheer green of it amazed me beyond all else. How lush it looked from the air! I fell in love with England in that moment and my love was only further compounded as we flew over London. There it all was in miniature form: the Thames, Tower Bridge, Wembley Stadium, Parliament and the London Eye. All of the sites I had only seen in books and photographs. We touched ground and it was time for me to see it all firsthand.

What happened next seems like only a dream. I walked off the plane into customs, had my passport stamped for the first time (by a UCSB alum, no less) and headed off into the bustling belly of Heathrow International. After finding my luggage, I heaved everything over to the ticket office for the Heathrow Express and shelled out my money for the ticket straight to Paddington Station.

I was still half-dazed from my flight and frightened as hell in my new environment, but I plunged headlong into the journey in what capacity I could. I ran with the other passengers to the train that was about to leave and miraculously made it on in time, all four suitcases scraping and dragging behind me. In Paddington, I lumbered over to the cab queue and waited a small eternity for my cab to Endsleigh Street where my hostelwas.

One of the miracles of my first day was my cabdriver; one loquacious man with a great accent who questioned me as to why I looked so petrified. I explained to him that I was a college student, on my own, and, quite frankly, scared shitless. He put me at ease as I watched the meter flick the red numbers higher and higher into a price-range I had not anticipated. Roughly 10 minutes and 11 pounds later, we pulled up in front of Passfield Hall, where I was to spend the next three days of Orientation.
My cabby generously took my 10 pounds instead of the 11 I truly owed him and cheerily added, “Here you are, love. Don’t worry yourself to death.”

Everything had gone remarkably smoothly and I was where I needed to be well before I needed to be there. I checked in at the front desk of Passfield and lugged my things into a room where the other students had stashed their things as well. We were not yet allowed to go to our rooms, so we had to wait in the lobby. I sat down on one of the many couches and took in what had just happened. I, Dawn Marie Howell, was in England, alone, and I was going to be there until early December.

Despite myself, a seed of complete loneliness wriggled into the soil of my heart, just waiting for a sufficient amount of English rain to make it sprout. I wanted my mother, I wanted anyone from back home. I wanted someone sitting next to me, telling me I was going to be okay. In that moment in Passfield Hall, I felt like just another tourist in a large international city. I had no family waiting for me here, no friends or contacts, (save the couple I met in LAX), and I wanted nothing more than to get on the next flight to California.
The days that followed blur together in my memory, even though I tried to so hard to remember as many details as I could. I remember the many trips to Euston Station where my follow Education Abroad Program participants and I rode the Tube for the first time. I remember the smell of the stale air the bowels of the Underground, how the train rocked and rolled in a way so foreign to my sensibilities. And, of course, I remember being lost the majority of the time. In fact, I got separated from the group and managed to get lost on the way to Parliament. Thankfully I had a cellphone by then and managed to get directions from the Study Center on how to get there via Tube.

Parliament truly was a sight, beautiful in many respects. The next day we toured what we could of London, catching gigantic double-deckers wherever we could. We walked through Hyde Park, over to Buckingham Palace, over to Piccadilly Circus and eventually to the Tower of London. My camera in hand and eyes wide, I nearly forgot my weariness amid all of the legendary places. I found myself falling in love with the city, but only from the respectable distance of a moving vehicle. Whilst in the tumult of it, I felt lost and completely inconsequential.

Before long, it was time to leave the hostel where we had comfortably spent our first three days. After another horrid English breakfast, everyone piled out of their rooms, got taxis together, and left for other hostels in the city or went off to their Uni’s. As for me, I took a cab alone to the Marylebone Train Station and boarded a train for Warwick Parkway, where I was to meet Lawrence and Clare, the couple who had offered to help me and followed through when I called.

After three tearful nights in London, I was on my way to the University of Warwick, or to a hostel in Coventry, depending. As the train rolled out of London, my heart slumped back into my chest. I was relieved to be leaving the city I had always wished to visit. As the brick buildings of London gave way to the raw greenery of the suburbs and countryside, I felt myself floating. I looked up at the patchy skies and took in the emerald tint of the grass and I felt my heart grow heavy with a sadness I still cannot fully explain.

I had always wanted to go to the birthplace of my literary discipline, to see what the poets had seen. And, on the train to Warwick, I saw it clearly and continued to while I battened myself against the cold of autumn. Looking up at the sky, a line of verse floated into my head: “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” I could not remember the next line, nor even who wrote it, but it fit perfectly for what I was feeling. I knew exactly what the poet meant. On a train coursing through England, I had never felt so lonely in the whole of my life.

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