An American in London

Saam Niami Jalinous













From left to right, my uncle Nariman, my brother Salar, and my mother Susan, in London, summer 2017.


Last summer my mother, my younger brother, and I went to London. We were visiting my uncle who was recovering from cancer.

This was a big trip for the three of us. My mother moved us to California when I was thirteen after she divorced my father and found herself bankrupt through his mistakes.

After six years of financial struggle and three years of success as a realtor, she had saved up enough for us to undertake the journey to London. After my uncle went into remission, my mother told us we had to visit him.

“I’ve spent the last six months preparing myself for his death,” she said.

They fled Iran together when he was nineteen and she was sixteen. She would have been alone with the stories of all they went through if he died.

I spent the mornings in London making fun of my uncle for the marijuana oils my mother had smuggled for him. He lost his taste buds and he was having trouble eating. His mealtimes consisted of shouts like, “Holy fucking shit I can taste,” and, “Cancer isn’t even that bad people bring me free drugs.” I love him and I did not want him to die. I was very happy when it didn’t happen.

We spent the afternoons exploring the city on the tube. I would watch my aging mother go into boutiques like they were candy shops, trying to pretend like she still had the money to afford what she wanted.

I read Patti Smith on the way home. I didn’t miss my America but I missed her America: the creaky floorboards in her Manhattan apartment, the struggle of the artist, and the life force of creativity. Going away makes you fill in the spaces you didn’t know were there before with romantic reflection on where you come from.

At nights I took my brother out for drinks as I transformed from “older brother” to “role model” in a matter of a few drunken conversations. And when the jetlag hit me too hard and I couldn’t fall asleep, I read Beat poets and knew that I had better “make it” or else I’d be out of anything to do at all.

We all felt a little lost in a way that made us a little scared to go home. But how else would you learn that all you want to do is get away over and over and over again?

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