a decade ago
10 years ago I went down to the university bookstore and bought the Norton Anthology of American Literature. I also bought grammar books and paper and pencils and even at 20 with what, at least at that time, seemed like a fair share of experience, I felt like five and starting school all over again. People were new, smells were new and in the evening when I was once again back at my parents’ place, I would talk through dinner and forget to eat because of all the new things I had experienced. At night I slept like a log.
Treading the halls of the university all those years ago felt like my first grown-up move. After finishing my A-levels I had two gap years. I worked, took a journalism course and spent four months in Paris improving my French, and for some reason none of this felt as grown-up as buying those first books, preparing for my first semester at university and trying to figure out which people to befriend and which to leave alone.
I don’t know how to describe my first year at university. I was immature and was used to being taken care of in a way that university doesn’t provide. Luckily I had good people around me who saved me and made sure I wasn’t kicked off the train. I had my ticket, I promise, but had I been asked to show it, I would have been one of those people going through every possible pocket saying “I know it’s here somewhere”, causing all other passengers to think that there was never a ticket, only an attempt of a free ride.
I fell in love at university. With literature, with the ski instructor (the one everyone fell for, the one who knew he’d do great at university – one way or the other). I made new friends and lost some of them again. I rode a green bicycle, way too small, to and from the parties at university, and I listened to my mother’s concerns about her youngest child getting on that bike.
Come Christmas 10 years ago, I sat down and memorized the American presidents as part of the preparation for our American and British history exam. I passed. Easily. But I still remember those nerves on the morning of our first exam. The hour long train ride I took from my parents’ house to where the exam was, and how I worried that I would fail and be left behind if I screwed up and forgot that Roosevelt was before Hoover who then again was before Roosevelt. I never questioned why it was only their names that were important and not their party.
By the end of the first year, I had matured considerably. I had long learned that even though friends look after you, you need to look after yourself. The Norton Anthology of English Literature had joined the American. And the ski instructor dated some girl, cheating on her at every chance he got. I had moved out of my parents’ place and had my own tiny studio with a kitchenette and a bathroom and a phone I could choose not to pick up if I didn’t want to.
Today, I have a job, a husband, a baby girl. G and I look out the window and see all those young people, dressed to the nines, who are heading to university, who will spent the next couple of days buying books and falling in love and thinking that this is as grown-up as it gets. And I smile and kiss my baby girl on the cheek and thank my lucky stars that I went, but also that it’s over.