One Sunday, last summer, I decided to disappear. Not in any big, dramatic way – just for a few hours. I had been visiting my family for the weekend, and my boyfriend was at home in Brighton with his band.
There had been a party on the Saturday night and I was tired and slightly hungover. I woke up early on Sunday morning, as is my habit, and left quietly. I walked the half hour or so to the station in an early Sunday-morning, deserted town. It was a beautiful day, getting hot already.
I took my usual train into London, buying an Observer on the way. The weekend coincided with the release of Sun – the new album by Cat Power that I had been eagerly awaiting. There was an interview with her in the newspaper, talking about being brave and with a photograph of her with her new short hair, floating in a Miami swimming pool; the water was a perfect light blue but her clothes and eyes were dark.
I don’t know why this provided a trigger but it did. A small one, but a trigger nonetheless. I ripped the page out and stuffed it in my bag when I threw the rest of the paper away. When I got off at Paddington and onto the tube, on a total whim, instead of staying on as far as Victoria and getting on my final homestretch train back to Brighton, I jumped off after only two stops.
I exited the tube at Notting Hill Gate and the day had become hot and sunny and perfect. I headed towards Portobello Road – an area I used to hang out in quite a bit a long time ago, but hadn’t been to for years.
I didn’t do anything very exciting at all. I walked and walked in the sunshine streets. I perused the stalls and ducked in and out of vintage shops. I tried hard to find something to buy, to keep for myself to remember my lovely little afternoon, a necklace maybe – but I found nothing and that was fine, maybe even fitting. I wandered around until some of the stalls started packing up. I feel like I had a bottle of Corona, sitting in the sunshine on a metal chair on the street outside a bar, but I can’t be completely sure – I want to be accurate, and there is a chance I have made that (almost too fitting?) detail up.
Nobody knew where I was. My boyfriend thought I was at my family’s house. My family assumed I had gone back to Brighton. Usually when this thought hits you, it’s with fear – nobody knows where I am, anything could happen to me. On that particular day, it felt safe and friendly and fun.
I felt relaxed and brilliant and soaked in sunshine by the time I made my way back to the tube.
I got back to Brighton that evening feeling like I had a secret, but an entirely benign one. That rare thing, perhaps – a secret that hurt nobody and brought me a little bit of joy. I still have that picture of Cat Power from the newspaper as the screensaver on my computer.