I moved to Edinburgh after university. Before that, I had efficiently drilled myself down into a hole: wallowing about and wondering why I hadn’t felt fulfilled by graduating, by achieving something.
When I finished university, I didn’t feel like I had gained a degree; I felt like I had just suddenly lost university. The thing that I had centred my life around had been taken away, and I needed a new axis to spin around. Time to begin a new life.
I tried throwing myself into a relationship, abandoning one sinking ship for another. Unfortunately, relationships require an equilibrium, not some rudderless vagabond looking for someone to orbit around. What I did have was a sticker in my passport that would let me live in the UK for two years. Move to Edinburgh, gravitate in that direction, build your life around that for a while, I thought
Edinburgh is a city of hills, its bends and bows covered up by cobblestones, its closes and alleys infested with pubs. There was something energising about the deadline of this life here – you get two years here in Edinburgh. You’re free of everything outside of this city: no career, no expectations, no past regrets, no future stresses – you’re just in Edinburgh, and that is good enough.
“What is Christian up to?”
“He’s in Edinburgh.”
Because my life didn’t reach beyond the city’s grips, it made everything simpler. Earn some money to live, to travel, make some friends, enjoy yourself, don’t feel guilty for existing without a motive. It was calming not living too far ahead of myself.
I fell in love in Edinburgh. I didn’t need to fall in love; it wasn’t on a checklist, it just approached me. I was able to experience it rather than try and just impose it on someone. Suddenly, that two years in Edinburgh didn’t feel freeing as it had before: it was a countdown to a different life.
She’s from Mexico. A ball of positivity, she could talk troubled waters into smooth sailing.
We’ve lived in four different countries in the two years since leaving Scotland: all the experiences and opportunities we’ve been granted during which have been incredible, and the ability to share them with someone I truly love and fucking cherish is magical. But these worldwide experiences come as a byproduct of a larger goal – to be able to start a life somewhere together. To be able to find one place in which we can exist, not jumping from place to place for somewhere we’re allowed to stay. To work, to live, to save, to find the evidence and finances to eventually prove to my government that we’re in love and can be allowed to build a life in one country together.
In this new life, it’s impossible to always stay in the moment and be content with it without drifting further ahead. Where do we go next? What work can we find? How long can we stay there? Will we have any money left to pay for a partner visa? It takes time; it takes money; it takes real effort. The unknown of it all keeps me guessing. I need to know how the book ends before I’m past the beginning – the storylines we’d pictured keep veering off. Sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not.
I keep reminding myself of the utter privilege that my life is dripping in, and how one day we’ll look back on all of this enviously as if it were all a dream, and the stresses of the time will be airbrushed out.
Five years ago, before any of this, I was sat on a train travelling across the UK. I’d finished a semester abroad and was travelling Europe before heading back to Australia to finish my degree, presuming this would be final my trip overseas for a while. This train ride was four hours cross-country, with a stranger sat beside me. An older lady, full of questions that were prompted by my accent.
“Where are you from? Why are you here? Where are you going? How fantastic! What an adventure!”
She was thrilled to hear I was travelling in my youth. It’s the first time I’d ever felt envied. I’m not normally so conversational with people on public transport. But this woman peeled me out of the awkward hunch I had adopted, as if recoiling from potential human interaction, and dragged me kicking and screaming into a conversation I wasn’t equipped for.
The reason she was on the train was that she’d just been to visit her grandkids. She was in her 70s. She’d married and had kids young, playing the role of a stay-at-home mother and wife all her life, up until a few years ago when her husband died. The moment at which she was able to identify she’d been miserable, or at least the moment at which she felt able to do something about it.
This woman had lived an entire life she didn’t really choose, one that she thought she was required to have. She told me whilst she loved her kids, she regretted having them. Not, “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t had kids” It was certain, cold, which was not something 20-year-old me was equipped to respond to. It isn’t something you’d expect anyone to admit to, let alone to someone that they had just met on a train. But then again, who else could you possibly tell? She regretted what she’d based her life around, that she hadn’t lived for herself.
But now, she was happy. She’d met someone you see, a South African man in his 30s. They were dating. She was older than his mother, who didn’t know about her. He took her travelling, she’d been to more places and had more life experiences in the past two years she’d known him than she had in her previous life. You name it, she’d done it – or it was on her list to check off soon. Not just sightseeing traveling – proper living-it-up travelling. She wasn’t frail – she was energetic. This was the second man she’d ever been with – he wanted to make her happy. She used to stay at home, never travelled, never did anything. She was a different person now. This was the life that she was meant to have; it just began far too late.
“Don’t get married!” she instructed me.
“Uuuhhh?” I anxiously replied in the absence of even one coherent thought.
“Well, you can get married, but wait until you’re old. You don’t need to commit to a life so young. Live your life before you settle down – love can wait.”
Advice she desperately wished she’d have been given when she was my age, advice she might not have been able to take in any case, because of her time, because of her gender, because of what wealth and choice she was never given that I had been.
I wonder if I was sat next to that woman on the train again now, five years on, how we might pick up the conversation. I hope she’s still happy. I wonder how she’d feel to know I didn’t have to make the decision between love and life, and was able to do both, still young. She’d lecture me about how much whining I’ve been doing, without hesitation.