Down the hill from Greenwich Mean Time, I sit by the River Thames and watch a minuscule part of it lap up to the shore like the sea. It is becoming a place where I try to find my bearings.
I am without my phone. I listen to the sound of the water disturbing pebbles. I think of the process of stone being slowly eroded. Time is mean.
The Thames isn’t pretty. It seems ultimately phony and yet…in Greenwich it is the nearest I get to seaside memories.
Fish and chips replace fried chicken. There is the smell of salt and maritime history. There is a gulf of water between me and the skyscrapers in the distance, the London Eye, and the Shard on the horizon (if I look closely).
An unholy city, hugged by murky water. I don’t consider the river much ’til this moment, when I suddenly revisit loneliness.
I never prescribed the river a feeling before now, when I find myself with nothing to do. I am forced into reflection but part of me is too tired for it. The river begins to do it for me.
I walk along it, all the way from the Embankment to the Tate Modern. I walk so much my legs ache. Every map along the way that I check briefly (not wanting to look like a tourist) says the Tate is 15 minutes further. I haven’t counted the minutes, but I think it will be longer.
I sneak through the streets where business is done—not wanting to be noticed because that is not where I want to be. I walk the familiar Millennium Bridge where people stop to take photos of each other in front of St. Paul’s.
The back of my neck feels dewy, and I search for a breeze so it will cool. It is clammy amongst the art. And still, I find the Rothko room and remember how I felt the last time I looked into those melting colors. They’re mirrors. Black on Maroon, 1958. This time I tear up because there is a pair on that canvas, and I stand in front of it alone.
People are bumbling in and out of the Rothko room, and I wonder why they don’t treat it like a church.
In Greenwich, I had stumbled upon a chapel and tentatively sat down to see if I would feel anything. A couple of older ladies were snooping; it was another sight to see. There was a Renaissance-style mural on the back wall with gilded edges, but the iconography looked bare. I almost ran out, floating down the steps and into the sunlight where the pressure lifted.
I keep returning to my spot in Greenwich, out in the open air. It’s as if I am pulled there by some invisible force, and instantly relax on my way. An irrational part of me wants to feel exactly the same every time: at peace. But nothing ever feels exactly the same again. And maybe, I think, that has been what terrifies me. ♦