City of Departed Dreams

Forget Paris, forget Venice, forget Rome…

For me, the most romantic city in the world is Liverpool.

Dreams of long-departed emigrants hang in the dockside air; ever expectant; awaiting transportation to the New World.

I can almost hear their chatter on the docks. Maybe it’s from the many visits to the Maritime Museum as a child: they had an audio feature where you could listen to the hopes and dreams of would-be emigrants. Perhaps they chime in still with the hopes and dreams of my early childhood. Or it could be just a perfect day for dreaming.

I dream of you, lover from the New World, far away across the ocean, and I wonder if you’ll come.

We met at University; I’d been studying abroad for a year. You’d been just about everywhere, and I loved to listen to your tales of lands that I could only dream of. Faraway lands at the edge of my imagination. Liverpool had been something that we’d had in common: your great-great grandparents had left Liverpool for a new life in the States, my maternal grandmother was from Liverpool. Perhaps our ancestors had been friends. We’d been more than friends; we’d been inseparable; imagining this heady love affair would never end. Then came the letter: the research grant. An offer too good to refuse. I’d been the one to leave.

What would have been the alternative? To accept any postdoctoral position I could get just stay near you? To become a campus wife? No amount of love would have made me swallow my ambition, and you the same. You could have sacrificed everything and come with me. You didn’t. So we were split apart, two egos torn asunder, 3000 miles of Atlantic Ocean in between us.

That was a year ago. One long year. There’d been no love for me, only a few ships that passed in the night. I liked to imagine the same for you, then came the letter: I miss you; need to see you again; I’ve booked the flight. Let’s meet in Liverpool, I’ve never seen it. Wait for me at the docks. I’ll make my own way there.

You didn’t send me flight details; wouldn’t; I just had to take your word for it, that you’d be there. On the docks, it had to be on the docks, to meet at sunset. Such a hopeless romantic, just like me.

But now the sun is setting, the Merseyside shadows grow longer, and I hear the music of The Beatles floating on the air:

The long and winding road/Tha-a-at leads, to your door/Will never disappear/I’ve seen that road befo-o-ore.

It could have been from The Beatles Story museum, or memory. The 60s heyday of the Beatles, peace and love: another departed dream.

As I wait, the ferry crosses the Mersey, and I remember Hillsborough, a horror-story from my childhood. 96 hopeful Liverpool fans departed for Hillsborough one Saturday morning. Another 96 departed dreams.

Life Preserver

Liverpool, city of departed dreams

I feel so full of sadness, and of dreaming, and of light that I have to lean against a life-preserver. It’s suspended on chains above the water. The dark water…

One of the regular family holidays to Liverpool. I’d sat in a bar with my dad whilst my mum went for a walk. She was gone a long time. When she’d come back, with a gift of a new book for me, I knew that she’d been somewhere else as well. She’d been beyond and seen beyond. A few months later, she would walk out once again to the dark water: this time never to return. Another…just another one departed dream.

Will I lose this dream too? I wonder, as I stand there waiting. I’ve learned to shut this part of myself off: the needy, the emotional part. I ground myself in my solid history of Academic achievement. I don’t need anybody, only myself, to get by. Still, I feel a yearning. I know I will be sad if you don’t come. I booked the hotel for four days; what will I do then?

Visit the Catholic cathedral and pray for the soul of my departed mother, who was Catholic? I like the light in there from the stained-glass of the central aperture. Visit the Anglican Cathedral and think about God’s plan for us, standing under the stone arches in the rain? Cross the Mersey on the ferry then cross back again, aimlessly? Spend a long time wandering by the docks, alone.

It was only going to be four days; it wouldn’t have changed anything. We were both still going our separate ways, at the end of it. But I had longed for this. My hopes begin to fade with the broad sun’s dying light.

Then the hoped-for silhouette appears, with near-precision timing: everything as if ordained by Fate.

I fly to you, though my feet remain planted on the dockside pavement.

You fly to me.

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