Bittersweet & Spicy
depaysement n. (French) the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country, of being in a foreign place somewhat displaced from your origin
After a whirlwind term ending (and by whirlwind I mean a successive row of nights out that only happened when friends somehow managed to convince me to actually go out despite my initial desires), I’m finally on the crux of the journey I have been planning and anticipating for months. And just like that, my time at Oxford itself is half over. The ending was a bit bittersweet to be honest. On one hand, it signifies the end of schoolwork and the beginning of new adventures in new places, but beginnings are only bred from endings and thus I must temporarily say goodbye for the place that has become my home. Just as I’ve finally really fell into the groove of Oxford, I’m leaving it for a while. But I guess that leaves me to look forward to Trinity even more.
On Saturday morning, I finished packing up my backpacking, leaving it quite literally to the last minute, and boarded the Oxford Tube to London, where I got to spend time with a little slake of home. In London, I met with my roommate from home, Madison, and another of our friends Lawin, both of whom have been studying this semester in London. Seeing them and crashing into their arms was an odd relief I didn’t quote expect, but then again, have lived with and thus spent nearly every moment with Maddie for near two years, I guess the relief stemmed from familiarity. And boy, I never realized exactly how much I missed that little bit of familiarity until this weekend. As we walked endlessly along the streets of London, occasionally getting lost but taking in every unexpected thing as an adventure, I fell back into the comfortable rhythm of home. It was as if nothing had changed, despite knowing that all of us had. While those passing by hearing our hysterical laughter might not have thought so, we had all grown up. We had spent the last 2 months (5 in Lawin’s case) on our own, entirely separated from the things by which we defined ourselves and in doing so had learned things about ourselves and our place in the world. We were the same and yet not. Being able to talk about those things was also a comfort. Together, we could piece together the things we were feeling that we perhaps couldn’t put words to on our own, and it was nice to realize many of my feelings and insecurities are mutual.
Yet it wasn’t all heavy talk about the joys and struggles of studying abroad. We laughed a lot, too. Oh did we laugh. In fact, I probably laughed more in this one weekend than I have in the entire time I’ve been at Oxford. That’s not an exaggeration meant to belittle the fun I’ve been having there, but rather to show how much my friends and I just understand each other. Our laughter was the common theme through all our random adventures. Like I mentioned, we walked a lot and it wasn’t until we started doing this walking that I also started ruing my pack and the fact that I had somehow managed to pack much more than I intended, despite the relatively few number of items it seemed were in it. I am now saddled with it, living entirely out of it, for a month and a half. Good practice for my life goals, and in disentangle a good barrier for defending my personal bubble as I found out. Our first day of walking carried us past major London attractions, to King’s Cross Station where I was once again painfully reminded that I’ll always be waiting on my Hogwarts letter, to Borough Market where we shamelessly wandered around trying all the free cheese samples we could get our hands on, and even to meet with an old friend. Our good friend Olivia, who graduated Arcadia last year and went on to go to graduate school in London, invited us out to tea and coffee where we were able to catch up and dish the latest gossip on Arcadia. That night, we found our way to a Vietnamese restaurant where we ate Puh, a type of soup of varying ingredients. Being massively masochistic lovers of spicy food, we challenged ourselves to see how hot we could make the soup, adding various herbs and pepper to it. For the next hour, we spooned way at the giant bowls in blissful pain, sweating and sniffling, but smiling. Finally, that night, we met with a couple other Arcadia students to go to a club, but us not really being the clubbing types, left shortly thereafter.
The next day, Lawin and I started the day by catching the end of the London St. Patrick’s Day parade and spending the next several hours hopping between coffee shops and bookstores in attempt to escape the fairly miserable cold and rainy day (for which I blame Lawin as he assured me I wouldn’t need my raincoat as the chance for rain was only 10%). Maddie met back with us later in the day in time for an all you can eat buffet dinner at a dingy place in Chinatown. We capped off our weekend together by visiting a free comedy club and listening to a couple hours of good standup before I needed to leave to catch a bus to the Stansted airport for an early morning flight.
Yet for all the fun this weekend was, seeing my friends again was also extremely difficult in that it was just enough of a reminder of what I miss about home. When I left Philly in December, I was beyond ready to have a break from some of tensions that had built up over the semester and thus leaving was a desperate escape. This time, however, leaving was a lot tougher because I could now conceptualize how missing them had felt. Both of them are leaving London at the end of April, right as I am returning from my backpacking trip, which means I won’t see them until the end of August when I return to Arcadia. That fact hit me a bit hard as I hugged and walked away from Maddie in the Tube. I dare say it would have been even worse had I not been in an extreme rush to catch the last bus of the night.
I never realized how much I would miss them. I try really hard to convince myself I am strong and in doing so I often pretend I am not bothered with emotional bonds. I know how much breaking them hurts and thus I do my best to avoid them, but for all efforts, it’s nothing more than a lie, a cheap facade of indifference. The truth is, I do get attached to be people and because I push away my emotions, the ones that leak through the filter are powerful and I feel them as sharp and hot as lightning. But here’s the thing about lighting: if you let it free, your chances of being struck are fairly minimal. It’s when we try to bottle it that it explodes. Which is kind of what happened to me when I finally boarded the bus. Between the stress from barely catching it to everything else I was feeling, I silently fell apart when I settled into the backseat of the bus away from the few people on it. I haven’t really cried since my first day at Oxford, when the sheer overstimulation and simple tell and total immersion threw me for a loop, so it is easy to say this cry was long overdue. Crying really can be cathartic, especially when you don’t cry for anything in particular. Tonight I cried for a lot of things: the sorrow ofleaving my friends, frustration, nerves at my upcoming trip, excitement at seeing my mom, and of course the unavoidable reminder of those I have lost in my life that crying always brings. But it felt good, and best of all, no one could see me do it. There is no better environment to cry than on a lonely bus while listening to country music. People who don’t love the genre don’t understand, but the reason why I love country music is that it is the music of my life. Its songs hold reminiscence and vivid memories about actually events of my life. It is nostalgia, pain, and joy all rolled into one. Because of that, it reflects life, and it also brings me home. Even with strange neon signs of London storefronts flashing by in the desolate night, I could close my eyes and see the gallas frames and red brick of buildings of Butte and the steel frame bridge rising against the sparking waters of Bigfork Bay.
I eventually let those images of home lull me in a gentle sleep until I was roused by our arrival. I am now currently finishing this post curled up the floor of that Stansted airport, along with a host of others. And so begins my vagabonding. It’s been an exhausting weekend, physically and emotionally, but I feel somehow cleaner (which is funny considering how grungy I’m going to be feeling in about 12 hours when I finally get to Spain). I feel cleaner because I’ve let out those excess emotions. I’ve purged my longing for the familiar to make room for my excitement for the unfamiliar. I have a month and a half of that coming up, after all. So for now I’m going to try to get some sleep, hoping my tent will provide enough barrier against the cold concrete floor. Tomorrow I see my mom again and tomorrow I start what is sure to be the biggest adventure of my life. Maybe there were a few road bumps to get here, but all good tomorrows begin that way. Just ask our favorite orphan Annie.