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East London Was Ours

Updated: May 24, 2023

Jameisha Prescod



In the heart of gentrified East London lies Shoreditch High Street station. I alight from the train and descend the stairs. The exit opens up to a cacophony of drunk Essex girls in mini dresses, rappers filming music videos under the graffiti tunnel and first dates awkwardly setting off for dinner. Then I see you, waiting for me on the other side of the ticket barriers. East London is ours.


We excitedly walk up the high street, continuing on from our last adventure. We speak of Tinder matches whilst dodging the men who try to chat us up and take us home for the night. Eventually, we settle at our usual meeting spot. A trendy bar on the ground floor of a ridiculously expensive hotel. You order a sweet cocktail while I settle for a double vodka with cranberry juice.


Had I known that this would be the last time we saw each other in person, I would have told you that I loved you. I would have made it clear without a shadow of a doubt. Maybe, had I said it aloud, it wouldn’t have been the last time.


There’s something uniquely special about platonic love between Black femmes. Perhaps it’s the feeling of truly being seen and understood without having to utter a word. Maybe it’s being able to talk to someone without having to prove your value. Maybe it’s just being believed.



In the early part of our friendship, we often shared stories about how similar our childhoods were. While London is a melting pot of different languages, ethnicities and cultures, growing up as a young Black girl in the city wasn’t easy. We didn’t have Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ or Issa Rae’s ‘Insecure’ to remind us that it was okay to be Black. Who was around to tell us that our full lips weren’t made of rubber or that our button noses looked nothing like pig snouts or that our intricate cornrows were a beautiful legacy passed down through generations of hands that looked like ours?


I rarely had to justify myself to my companion, which is why being with her felt so safe. She understood my fear of walking past a group of Black men. She knew this fear wasn’t rooted in being physically harmed but in being mocked by them, like countless times before. We reflected together on the complex guilt this brings, especially when thinking of the Black men we love in our lives and the unique trauma they also face under the system of white supremacy.


My friend knew what it felt like to shrink herself at work to avoid being labelled as difficult or aggressive by non-Black managers and supervisors. We laughed about the creative ways we’d explain our ever-changing hairstyles and traded tips on how to deal with annoying colleagues. We may not have had the answers to everything, but we did have understanding.


It’s clear to me that many of our early friendship experiences were rooted in trauma, but what I’m most proud of is our willingness to unpack the pain and grow together. As our relationship progressed throughout the years, there were fewer stories about the hard stuff and more about our joy, hopes and dreams.


I’ve always found it peculiar how different our personalities and interests were, but I equally loved how much we respected those differences. I’m a very pragmatic person, perhaps to a fault. I might not be the first to offer a hug when a friend is in distress, but I will sit with you for hours while we develop a plan to solve the problem. During our friendship, I eventually learned to compromise and offer the hug first before the action plan.


My friend was very invested in the zodiac, tarot cards and spirituality. I was largely unconvinced but still let her read my birth chart and thanked her for not ditching me when she discovered that my sun, moon and rising signs are all Virgo. Although now that we’re no longer close, perhaps I have to admit that her fear of the incompatibility between Virgos and Geminis was not unfounded.



There’s a euphoric feeling that comes from a conversation that satisfies the soul. It’s being completely immersed in the exchange whilst praying that it never ends. It’s almost indescribable – which is why the loss of one of my closest companions is still a profound source of grief.


Grieving the loss of platonic love is confusing. There’s nowhere near enough literature, film or music to guide us through the process of breaking up with a friend. The art world is littered with tales of romance, breakups and star-crossed lovers. Where are the pieces about losing friends and moving on with our lives? How am I supposed to get over someone who I loved so deeply as if it’s nothing?


It took a few years to get to a stage of acceptance. I spent the first twelve months being angry. Our friendship didn’t end with a massive argument or confrontation, but I was angry with how easy it seemed for her to move on. Maybe she was thinking the same thing about me? My anger later transformed into guilt. Remember when I mentioned that I’m quite pragmatic? Maybe I should have been more emotional. Maybe I was too harsh in how I expressed my opinions.


During the first year without her, she kept showing up in my dreams. The big conversation we didn’t get to have often played out in my subconscious. I guess my brain was yearning for closure and was attempting to give me the next best thing.


I suspect you’re wondering what the initial cause of the breakup was. Our relationship wasn’t perfect and we definitely had blind spots, but I honestly think we just grew apart. I believe we got to a place where we needed different things that we couldn’t provide each other with anymore. It started with a mild disagreement that would have been easily resolved years prior. That mild disagreement turned into unease, staggered curt responses and then finally, silence.


For me, healing processes are less painful when the other party serves as the villain of our story. But she isn’t a villain, and I don’t think I am either. Friendship breakups aren’t always like the movies. There doesn’t always have to be a massive argument or an intense story of betrayal. Sometimes it’s just a slow fade to an end.


As for the friend I’d adventure through East London with: she’s very much alive and living well. At least that’s what it looks like from my phone screen. It’s great to see her happy, but it’s equally sad to know that I’m viewing it from the outside.


I still remember how our nights out would end. We’d return to Shoreditch High Street station where she’d take the train to the North side of the city, and I to the South. We’d wave at each other from across the tracks until our trains took us in opposite directions. I realise that this was a metaphor.


It’s been three years since I last saw her in person. A whole pandemic and three national lockdowns between us. Life goes on, it has to. But I’ll always remember the first girl who truly got me, and I her.


As London continues to gentrify, the East of the city is mostly unrecognisable to me. Shoreditch, our designated middle ground, doesn't have the same spark it used to. The bar in the swanky hotel is gone, replaced by an even more obnoxious hotel, sans bar. Selfishly, a part of me is thankful it’s gone so that our memories can be frozen in time. I pass the place that once housed our joy, I close my eyes and remember what once was. East London was ours, and to me it always will be.

 

Jameisha Prescod (FRSA) is an artist-filmmaker, writer and disability advocate from South London. She is driven by the power of authentic storytelling and regularly explores themes of disability, illness, culture and identity in her work. Jameisha is also the founder of You Look Okay To Me, the online space for chronic illness with an audience of over 30,000 people. In 2021, she contributed the essay ‘Believing Your Pain as Radical Self-Care’ amongst Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, Nadia de Vries and Lieke Marsman to the anthology On Being Ill, published by HetMoet-Menard Press.


Read a Dutch translation by Fannah Palmer of Jameisha's Mammoetje here.

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