I’m sitting in my living room in front of the fire — it’s crackling, licking up small pockets of oxygen, grasping with every flame the opportunity of continued life.
I’m ill, to phrase it dramatically. Really, I just have a cold. An ominous cold that’s been looming for a week or two now. It began in my throat — a small itch, scratch, tapping at the door of my immune system like a persistent salesman. Try this new sickness! It’s better than all the others. I ignored the knock. No thanks, I’ve tried this one out before. I don’t care for another.
All of this is silly, of course. Colds are not stories, or knocks, or salesman. They’re colds, and this one shifted up to my nose a few days ago, stuffy and runny at the same time. Yesterday, it morphed into an amalgamation of symptoms — why not try them all! — which leaves me here, on New Year’s Eve, surrounded by blankets and books and tea and a fire. Romantic, save my mucus lined nasal cavities, the fat cold sore adorning my lip like a bloody crown. How Shakespearian of me. Again, with the stories!
In a lot of ways, this year feels like a story. Something I read about, something I immersed myself in, something I fell in love with, but something that feels distant now, with the passage of time. Dog-eared pages and underlined passages, but what were the exact lines, again? What was the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax?
I can’t recall off the top of my head and it’s not a book I can read through again. Even if I were to go back and live through every experience a second time, fly the same distances, walk the same streets, drink the same drinks, and make the same mistakes, it could never be as resplendent at the first go around. Never affect me in exactly the same ways as I have been. I’m thankful for that, actually. I wouldn’t want a Monkey’s Paw situation on my hands.
Even if I can’t relive, though, I can try to remember.
Remember the way my stomach ached at the airport as an escalator took me to my terminal. My family waved at me from across the room and I was so nervous I couldn’t even cry.
Remember the bus that took me from the airport to Oxford. I stared with wide eyes out the widow as lush, green fields passed by, and cars drove on the left side of the street.
Remember, a few days in, walking around the Christ Church Meadow at 7am. The air crisp, the sky clear blue, the trees tinted orange from the rising sun. It was the first time I felt confident — felt I could breath clearly in this new place.
Remember leaning up against the radiator in my room, turned up as high as possible, reading about the Brontës as my wool socks dried on the criss-crossed wrack beside me.
Remember looking out the window and seeing snow. Snow! Falling! We from California ran outside, kids in chilly white playground. Our Michigan flatmates looked on and laughed.
Remember my first gin and tonic, my first clubbing experience, my first hangover — all on different nights, but none as bad as I thought they would be.
Remember sketching everything. Shoes. Fireplaces. Widowsills. Bodies. Cherry trees. I miss this the most. The influx of creativity. The time to let my mind breath in new ideas, new stories, new peace.
Remember applying for a second term in Oxford. I hounded faculty back home for days, asking, asking again, and again. Did you sign the form? Did you send the form? Can I stay in England? Can I never leave?
Remember the incredible pride I felt as I finished my first two tutorials. I’ve yet to replicate anything quite like that feeling.
Remember blinking, and suddenly being in Faro, in Paris, in Montpellier, in Venice, in Florence, in Rome. Remember the triumphant cheering of passengers on cheap airlines when the plane finally landed. We only paid twenty euros and we’re still alive!
Remember leaving Oxford for the final time. Watching in reverse, the green fields, the left-sided traffic. Not nervous, just heartbroken, and still no tears.
Remember being angry at California. Nothing compared. (Even now, not much compares). This period of the year becomes muddier, more convoluted. Vague, August impressions of dissatisfaction, of concrete walks, of wanting to be somewhere else.
Remember starting senior year — what a glorious high to finally see my people again!
Remember quiz nights. Four girls trying tirelessly to replicate what we experienced in England. We might not have a pub, but we have a congregation, Tuesday nights, and a endless desire for fried potatoes.
Remember spending the entire last day of the semester writing my senior thesis — upwards of 15 hours picking apart women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I delusionally walked home from the library after finishing, not sure what to do with myself. Stephen, Micah, Jessi and I talked until 5am.
Life is made of plot points, significant, small, memorable, boring moments. I spent a significant portion of this year trying to hold on to them, clutching with desperate hands as the pages seemed to precariously dangle from the book of my memory — Don’t go. The story won’t be the same without you.
Maybe it’s enough to have had the experience. Maybe part of living is acknowledging that we will forget and it’s okay. Close the book, shelve it, allow it to gather some dust. Write new stories, live new moments, rejoice in the memories as they are being made.
With any luck, someone will come by one day and ask about the old books, the old lives. Tell me that story. How did you feel in that meadow? And it will awaken some feeling, some Truth, some joy that you never even remembered to write down.
I thought there could never be so much grass in one place. I whistled and pretended I was a farmer in the 19th century. I didn’t think that walk would ever end.