2009 was the year I fell off the face of the planet.
somewhere in the detention room of London Heathrow airport, locked
inside with a crying teenager and a distraught Asian woman. I was
staring at a poster of a unicorn, and waiting.
“Miss Nunes?” The man with the moustache had come for me. He
gestured we sit at one of the long tables in the sterile, white room.
“We’ve weighed all the possibilities, and while you’ve done nothing
illegal we’ve elected not to allow you to enter into the United Kingdom
today. Would you prefer to take the next immediate flight back to the
United States? Otherwise you can take a flight in the morning, but
that means you’ll have to sleep in our detention center, and I can’t
assure you there will be beds, it’s very crowded right now. Which of
those is better for you?” The man asked, consulting his paperwork.
“Excuse me.. wait. You’re not letting me in the country?”
“No,” the man said briskly.
“Isn’t there some recourse? Why am I not being let in?”
You have no money, he said. You have no way to support yourself, he said.
“If you give me two seconds and a computer with internet, I can disprove that,” I said.
“No, Miss, you have to understand, we’ve already made our decision–“
I go into London for tonight, at least, and you can keep my passport
and documents– or is there some sort of tracking device, so you know
I’ll come right back? Anything?”
I took a very long, very deep breath.
“We need you to make a decision now, Miss,” he said. “I’d need to arrange flights, so this needs to be dealt with immediately.”
“Can I– can I have a moment?” I asked.
The man grumpily agreed, and said he’d be back in twenty minutes.
* * *
It had been a pretty good year so far.
1st, 2009 found me in a car driving into the sunrise somewhere in New
York City. Beth Hommel was at the wheel, Amanda Palmer was squeezed
into my lap, and the rest of the tiny car was filled to the brim with
suitcases and musical instruments. We were driving back from Amanda’s
all night New Year’s Eve gig, bleary-eyed and watching the city slowly
bathed in the first dawn of the year.
It had been an amazing night.
At midnight I had been
surrounded by a few friends and a hundred or so strangers at Amanda’s
art loft party in Greenwich Village. We sat cross-legged on the
floor, writing down what we wanted to banish from the New Year on tiny
slips of paper. What did I want to let slip out the back door of 2008,
never to be seen or heard from again?
I took my scrap of paper, and scrawled the word “fear” on it in blue ink. I was done with that shit.
silently set our bits of paper on fire, passing candles around the
room. At the stroke of midnight, cheers rang out in the darkness of
the city, but we quietly continued our ritual, making sure every last
unwanted remnant of 2008 was put to ash.
Later, in a club elsewhere in the city, Beth grabbed my hand and
pulled me urgently backstage, past the security guards, looking as
though we were supposed to be there. We had no backstage passes to
flash at the guards but Beth blazed through with me anyway, radiating
authority. In moments she brought me onstage with the Danger Ensemble,
and we pantomimed being at a private party somewhere, watching Amanda
and Brian Viglione sing the first song of the night from chairs
I was happy. I’d spent all of 2008 bouncing around Europe, and now
was in a new city surrounded by shining new faces, and ready to face a
In a couple of months, I’d get on a plane and go
back to London, ready to record an album and get back to seriously
There was only one problem.
London wasn’t interested in having me.
* * *
guards escorted me through the airport, having confiscated my passport
and any ID I had with me. They locked me behind bars in the back of a
van, and drove me directly to the plane on the tarmac, handing me and
my documents off to a stewardess who took me to my seat.
Fourteen hours later, I was at an all-night diner in Brooklyn, eating french fries with Beth.
“What are you going to do now?” She asked me.
I have no idea what I answered. I had no idea what to do next.
I had been in some variation of unofficial homelessness for a few
years now, so getting kicked back to another country with my suitcase
wasn’t completely alarming. But the grand plan of returning to England
for the next six months to record and finish an album was a good one,
and making that happen now was a bit harder.
Thankfully, there was a Plan B.
* * *
My mother is
Spanish. All I had to do was claim Spanish citizenship, get an EU
passport, and the UK would gladly open their arms and their hearts and
— most importantly– their borders to little ole me.
Which couldn’t take more than a few weeks on the outside.
* * *
returned to South Florida to stay with my family, applied, and waited.
A few weeks passed and I bought a MIDI keyboard, so I could write some
music. I ate empanadas. I swam in the pool. I soaked in the fierce
sun, which London only dreams about.
And I waited.
I operated more or less in limbo. When
you’re waiting for something, I guess, you don’t launch into anything
full steam. You just wait.
I spent time with family. I saw a few friends. I wrote a handful of half-songs. Weeks passed.
And then months. The paperwork would arrive any day now, I was told.
I flew to Los Angeles, saw a few more friends, wrote a few more half-songs, and waited some more.
And then it was September.
The fuck? How did that happen? September?
Spanish citizenship documents finally arrived. Except now it was
September, and going back to London as winter began to set in wasn’t
going to work.
* * *
A note: I deal notoriously badly with UK winters. I have the SADs.
Going back to London in time for winter would be like placing a curly-headed Olga frog into a pot of slow-boiling water.
* * *
So I went with Plan C.
I moved to San Francisco, like a migratory bird, waiting for the cold and snow and dark to subside in the United Kingdom.
And noticed, a little bewildered, that I had fallen off the face of the earth for most of 2009 and wasn’t sure exactly how.
It’s a really weird feeling, losing an entire year. (Where the
fuck did I put it? In the fridge? In the pocket of my other jacket?)
I had stopped calling friends– except, of course, those I happened to be staying with. I had stopped finishing music.
Something about the nature of waiting had entered into the fabric
of how I dealt with time, and I began to put everything on hold.
* * *
I had done some things with 2009:
Saw my first musical on Broadway
Saw snow in New York
And Central Park, skating in Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn
Swam in the Pacific in the middle of winter
Swam in the Atlantic in the middle of winter
Went to the LA Coraline premiere
Took a road trip to Portland
And Lucky Devil and Voodoo Donuts
Got interviewed on Irish radio
Almost fell off the side of a mountain while narrowly avoiding getting bitten by a rattlesnake
Adventure week of learning French, doing yoga, and meditating every day
Went to a real speakeasy
Got kicked out of Britain
And, most notably:
did not finish a single song.
* * *
* * *
not sure if there’s a grand moral to this. I’m not sure if, in that
beautiful art loft in Greenwich village, I managed to burn away the
threads that kept me from fearlessness.
I have my suspicions I still have some work to do.
But there’s an upside to what time seems to do, regardless of your opinion or thoughts on the matter.
It marches on.
* * *
December 31st, 2009 found me in an apartment in the Mission with two of my oldest friends.
We had no rituals. There were no crowds. We were all sick with
some sort of horrendous illness, and quarantined with several bottles
of Nyquil and some Mission burritos.
Mostly, we embarked on the grand adventure of sleeping.
At the stroke of midnight, cheers rang out in the darkness of the
city, while we were deliriously curled in our blankets and tissue paper.
Next door, a single voice began to sing Happy Birthday in Spanish.
And I decided, silently there in the dark, that I was done waiting.