The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of My Soul

Somehow, I am still here—still in my little room in my little flat in Darroch Court. Edinburgh is still just outside my window, along with all its inhabitants—the construction workers next door, the stray cat I coaxed out from underneath a car on Drummond Street, the singing drunks and the cycling students. I still worry sometimes that when I close my eyes, it will all disappear, and I’ll wake up back in Pennsylvania. Luckily, reality has remained stable for now. A gorgeous full moon is rising over the Crags. The rush of traffic sends red and white streaks across the road below.

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It’s nearing the end of my second week here, but it feels as though I’ve already been in Edinburgh for a lifetime. I’ve met people from Orkney and Inverness, Greece and Australia, Russia, Finland, and Wales. I’ve been to two poetry slams, five coffee shops, seven pubs, and one ill-fated ‘Terror Tour’ of the Edinburgh Vaults. (I was reminded halfway through that it was Friday the 13th, and directly after that the guide proclaimed that a man once died on his tour. I tried to escape, but realized I couldn’t find my way home from our location, so I stayed. That’s all I’m going to say about it.) I danced at a Ceilidh and climbed Arthur’s Seat and drank at a pub made completely out of recyclable materials. I squeezed so much activity into Fresher’s Week that new friends and new words and new sensations are coming out of my ears.

I’m not going to sugarcoat my experience, though. Fresher’s Week turned out to be equal parts exhilaration and devastation. I fell horribly sick on my third day in the city; waking up early in the morning with a cough, a sore throat and a headache. I blame it all on the man who sat next to me on the flight from Newark to Heathrow. He coughed and sneezed and shook the whole time, and even though I rotated my body almost completely into the aisle (gathering strange looks from fellow passengers as I did so), I could not escape his germs. The following night, a fever joined the other symptoms, and it was hours before I got to sleep.

That man gave me tuberculosis! I thought feverishly. They’ll deport me once they find out. I must flee to the Highlands and live the rest of my life as a sheepherder! When I finally did sleep, I woke up coughing every half hour. It was the longest, most miserable night of my life, and every waking moment was plagued with paranoid and morbid thoughts. My cat is going to die while I’m in Scotland, I thought. Or maybe I’m going to die. What if America sinks into the ocean and I’m left all alone in the world? What if Scotland sinks into the ocean and my family doesn’t know what happened to me? What if I don’t like being a sheepherder? 

I must have woken near sunrise and taken a picture of the gorgeous colors outside my window, because the next morning I found this shot on my camera. I have no memory of taking it. It’s a small comfort to know that even in the grip of fever and delirium, I am still able to appreciate the beautiful things in life.

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The next morning I dragged myself to Tesco for food and medicine. I was alone, it was raining, and I had forgotten an umbrella. (Which is probably a blessing because the wind would have turned it inside out.) Here’s what I discovered that morning: there is a special kind of loneliness that you will only feel if you are cold, feverish, exhausted, and 3300 miles away from everyone that loves and cares about you. There is no fear that seems too distant, no comfort that seems within reach.

But the kindness and generosity of the people of Edinburgh buoyed me up when I was down. Little acts of kindness touch you so much more deeply when you are alone and vulnerable, and I was on the receiving end of more acts of kindness than I can name. I’d like to thank a few people for getting me through those difficult days.

Thank you to my flatmates, for your sympathy and for not throwing me into the street when my noisy nose-blowing went on for hours every night.

Thank you to the friendly people at the Modern Dance Society, the Literary Society, and PublishED, for giving me so much to look forward to.

Thank you to the kitty on Drummond Street for letting me pet you!

Thank you to my Aussie friend (so sorry, but I can’t recall your name) for letting me hold onto your jacket when I thought I was about to die in the vaults beneath Edinburgh.

Thank you to everyone who has smiled, held a door, introduced themselves, invited me out, shook my hand, and generally made me feel welcome in this wonderful city. The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of My Soul is coming to an end (thank you, Douglas Adams) and I know this is in great part due to the kindness of my new friends and neighbors. Tapadh leibh!

Up Next: Arthur’s Seat and Other Adventures2013-09-14 20.51.17



  1. Debra B. Thompson says:

    Been wondering how you are doing. Now I know, as you have so eloquently put it up. I’m glad you are better and things are looking up.

  2. HappySalamander says:

    Robin and I were given a specially designed wind-resistant umbrella by her cousin Jerry, who works in an engineering department in Holland. Maybe we’ll send it to you. According to Mikko though, no umbrella ever made can withstand Edinburgh winds, and he was there a lot longer than I was, so he’s probably right. Thick coats are the way to go.

    Also, if you are ever feeling cold or lonely, walk to the top of Drummond Street, pause beside Black Medicine as you face onto Nicolson Street, turn right, cross the street, and read the plaque.

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