Monday, 3 November 2014

"It's so hard to leave - until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world."

The first two weeks of September were filled with excitement. Or was it anxiety?
I can't really be sure, I just know that I had refused to worry about any Uni related scenarios all summer, partly because I still had to wait for my student finance letter, but quite actually more because I was working a near fulltime job with my friends and wanted to spend my summer with them.
So when I arrived back home on the first of September, reality started to kick in reaaaally slowly: "Oh. I'm leaving the country in 13 days. Should I panic?"
The answer to that was mostly "...nah.", but I can remember the days sitting in front of my laptop and refreshing my inbox because I was waiting for the guy from the translation company I had a sent a copy of my school certificate to to finish his lunch break and write me back.
I remember making last second visits to places in my hometown in the middle of the night, meeting again with friends, as if catching up before anyone leaves has ever done anybody any good, generally enjoying myself but also experiencing a weird feeling of displacement:
Being at home didn't really feel right, I was supposed to be out there, exploring the world, but leaving home seemed even worse sometimes. Why would I give up something that was so all-encompassingly comfortable?

Well, in the end it took me about a week to pack my suitcase, and when I finally pulled the zipper shut, it felt odd that my whole life should fit into roughly half a cubic metre.
I don't know how often I actually checked if my documents were all in the right place, but I had the worst nightmare the night before I actually had to leave:
I am at Frankfurt Main Central station, looking for a coffee to get somewhere, when I realised that I had left my bag (as in, the bag that contained my ticket, my passport, my enrolment forms, in short everything that identified me as a human being) on the train. So I start running towards the rail my train stopped on, hoping to miraculously find it to be still there, all the while dragging along my suitcase that keeps bumping into people and slowing me down.
I can't remember ever feeling so relieved to wake up.

On Saturday, September 13, everything is like it's supposed to be.
I like to think everyone experiences it like this, but I could be wrong:
Do you know, how in films or books, when a significant change or a long travel is going to happen to the protagonist, one they have planned for a long time to come, they always get up and do this one last meaningful thing, and if it is staring at their reflection in the mirror, thinking deep thoughts?
Well, none of this ever happens to me.
It's like some part of my brain knows that it should be excited or worried about this really crazy change that is supposed to happen in just two hours and oh my god you have wanted this for so long get excited already man, but I am generally just baffled how life is still about the mundane things like having breakfast and brushing your teeth, and nothing meaningful happens, just because it feels like it should. (At least a little.)

So my parents and my brother drive me to the station... Oh right, I forgot to tell you about this!
I am, apparently, always very intent to do things differently (at least that's what my father would claim and where he's probably very right) so I didn't opt for the easy and "mainstream" way of booking a flight to Heathrow, no, I decided to buy a Eurostar ticket three months in advance, because it was cheaper.
Well, it was cheaper.
But it also takes 12 hours.
And I will forever be grateful that my parents have not made one snide remark about it.
I like taking the train, it's a boarding school thing.
And it's only when I've found my seat, plug in my headphones with a startling realisation that my phone is not going to live for the whole duration of the ride, that my heart suddenly starts beating faster and the hormones in my head scream: This is it. You just flew the nest.

I'm not going to describe these 12 super uneventful hours of taking a train to London, and I wouldn't really recommend it to anybody, but in the end, I'm very glad that I did, because these 12 hours were "transitioning time", a time in which I was caught in a little bubble of freedom.
This feeling is - once again - very hard to describe, but I saved a diary entry from somewhere in Belgium, trying to make clear of my thoughts:

I sort of want to know where I am rather badly.
That’s what runs through my head half an hour after I’ve turned off the mobile data roaming of my phone and gaze outside the train window, overlooking small and sunny towns in the Belgian countryside. The men’s voice from the speaker has changed to French as well. Now Dutch.
I know I’m gifted with a vast knowledge in certain languages, but I stay comically oblivious to which station we’re arriving at next, due to my complete lack of understanding what he just announced.
Does that make me feel lonely know? Abandoned?
I guess it could. And some time ago, it definitely would have.
(I just realised I didn’t even send a good-bye text to everybody who might have wanted one when I still had the chance. Now I’m on my own.)
And knowing there’s a whole new world waiting for me on the other side of the Channel, I can’t even start to deny the queasy feeling starting to bloom in the region of my upper stomach, but it’s not anxiety.
It’s a revelation.
I’m a blank page at the moment.
There’s no going back from here, and what is about to happen is solely up to me. Every person I’m going to meet will have had no former impression of me, the image they are going to have of me is solely shaped by me. I’m at one of the few points in my life at which I’m able to completely redefine what that means – me.
And now I’m going to hop off the train and cherish it.

So at the lovely security check in Brussels, that is far to easy to pass as a harmless looking (white) girl, a guy helps me handle my suitcase, realising we're both German.
"So you're going on vacation as well?", he asks.
I duck my head and give an apologetic smile: "Nope. Off to uni, actually."
It's nice having somebody to talk to in this weird place, and I'm surprisingly not disappointed that it isn't in English - there will be a time for making friends in a different language, but today is not it.
Unfortunately, his seat is at the other end of the train, but I'm not sad for long, because next to me they have placed an old English gent, a history professor from the books he's reading, who starts pointing out London monuments to me once we enter the city.
To be honest, I didn't even realised we were crossing the channel at some point. Why? Because it's pitch black outside.
I keep my doubt about Downing Street being somewhere out there in the dark to myself, however, because he is nice and if he's mocking me, then it's in a nice way.
The dumb grin that starts to spread on my face, you know, the one that is usually reserved to pregnant women and boys with a crush, is real though. It's coming from somewhere deep inside.

And when I finally arrive in London at about half nine, the proper feeling of giddy excitement is still not quite there, just this slight buzz of contentment.
Which could steer from the rising level of exhaustion.
But I'm there. I made it.
People around me are talking English. Proper BBC English.
And I will take the tube, just like a proper Londoner.
And where? To my new home.

(Gifs from giphy, quote in the headline is from John Green's Paper Towns)

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