The struggle to assemble clues is made ever more vexing when those traces are from one’s own life. Here I am, holding a freshly canceled passport, the document of citizenship that I have taken all over the world, and there on pages 4, 12 are stamps, official entry stamps in and out of the United Kingdom – one that appears to be an exit mark from August from Heathrow International Airport, the other from that same day entry to the United States of America. There was a mark from July, this one for the Chunnel, and I assume from a connection to France. I am perplexed at these strange and occult marks made in my little book however much I understand that they are official, that there is a record of my travel in some Department of State database, that in the United Kingdom they have tracked my movements about the land in order to assure themselves that I would not trip and land into their social safety net, that I would come in and convert many USD into GBP and then leave them there and feckoff.
Since I had been in the Channel Tunnel, I must have been to France and I do remember Waterloo Station, except that I was sure this was an earlier memory. I was sure this was not these stamps in my book.
In some ways, the government, the corporations, the officials deep inside various international agencies remember me better than I remember myself. In addition to this, I am not romantically involved with the same person I was back in 2004. Every time you step away from a relationship, every time you lose touch with a friend, some small part of you is lost too. Those funny things you said that only that other person would remember as well as the words in anger that flew out and then were forgotten. Where are those photographs of this trip?
I had to do a little more digging. This was before Selfies. Before the Cloud. I have some albums of photos perhaps, but these are in storage since my belongings are scattered about This Great Land due to my semi-nomadic existence as I chase this or that opportunity. Photos then were printed out. There was no Instagram.
I looked to find some record of myself. I took to The Googles. The notorious want the right to be forgotten, I want the right to be remembered.
I knew that I was in England for a summer to study at M- College as part of a program that was a joint venture between a certain city school of economics and a wealthy patron of American History some years ago. I do remember this trip, how I had not made proper travel arrangements since in my haste I had mixed up the American city of C- with that of the UK, how I stayed in London and then took a fantastic high-speed train, my first one, to the city of C- and was welcomed into the M- College (the name I was unable to pronounce so I wandered about the village or city or whatever the council calls itself until I finally came across my destination). Exactly as one may imagine, the building was an ancient cathedral to learning and the institutions of Mother England. As if on cue, the large doors beyond the porte cochere were opened by an elderly porter with mutton chops and who I was sure was putting me on, acting all the while like out of some Dickens serial but the man never changed character nor stepped outside of his assigned fancy dress and I became convinced that this indeed was the Last Beef Eater in all of this land.
I took to my room. As a college it was actually what we may consider a secondary school, a boarding school and the room was simple and certainly not furnished as grand as the exterior of the structure may suggest nor the Spartan yet grand décor of the great hall with its paintings of Dead White Men nor the common rooms that were open for us to study or socialize in. Our programe started the following day, the participants, that is The Fellows, got to know each other as there was some cultural exchanges needed. Half of the group was older former SOVIET educators and half American educators more-or-less my age. The faculty was on loan from that school of economics and they too were an international bunch of high-powered professorial types.
I remember we attended morning and afternoon lectures, ate at the dining hall, wandered the grounds and area, and got right bunted several night at a local pub or two, including what was said to be the oldest pub in the United Kingdom, a very quaint place still marked by signs painted on the ceiling by RAF boys ready to die the next day after a night out in order to murder similarly frightened boys.
I am not sure I remember much of the lectures, but it seems we had fun as adults able to once again immerse ourselves in study and writing some final project, perhaps in groups I don’t recall, and worry about the pass/fail nature of the course and of course, procrastinate – a skill many youth enjoy because starvation is not yet a real thing. At one point, before the study was over and the programe complete, we were treated to an even more fantastic supper in the dining hall with chocolate covered pears and then set out to sip wine and punt down whatever punting creek there was in that fine and storied landscape.
From there, we all cried and parted and I wandered into London to kick about and then crossed the channel to Paris to visit my relation who just as luck would have was there and just happened to have room for me in some palatial apartment in Montmartre or perhaps I have gotten that confused…. Maybe it was a regular apartment in Paris…
I searched The Googles for any trace of my name in this fellowship yet online, but record of my attendance is not to be found. I had vanished. In looking to a more extended resume that I once emailed, I was able to pin point the year of this summer of study, and it turns out that this experience did belong to 2004… which is strange… since I always positioned this as an earlier event in my life…. I looked again at those marks, those stamps, but a second of a boarder guard’s day hammered into my passbook that has now expired and this is the only official trace I have on my person or within my grasp in order to authenticate this story. From a historian’s perspective, this is not evidence. To you, Dear Reader, I allow some disbelief. But to me, I am satisfied. Now that I have assigned this memory to the correct date, I now can upload this to my new and digital self, so that I may perhaps later in life, not forget that I once punted, too.
Editor’s note: The Bar in the picture is not from 2004 and is not in England.