I think I built you, formed you and designed you, drew you with green sharpie and the bricks of my pillow fort, sculpted you from cheap coffee and H&M basics, moulded you from a year’s worth of lazy Wednesday mornings, desperate for something to be mine.
Come spring, I want to write. To sweep the cobwebs off of old ideas, place flowers behind my ears and pencils in my pockets. To make up dialogues that have laid dormant and put soul in characters’ eyes. I want to shake winter out of tense shoulders, to pull snow and sleep out of the tips of my fingers, I want to see new places and paint my nails. Every winter it’s like the cold bogs me down, drowns ideas under the frost, lets fog and rain take a hold of all the things I want to do. But come April, the sun starts to peek in through the window, like a shy child hiding behind the clouds. Bit by bit, it becomes more confident, and bit by bit, it dares peek out behind its mum’s skirt. And just like that, I want to write. I want to clean up my space, put on fresh bed sheets, air out my room, air out my thoughts. I want to open all the doors and the windows, put loud music on, move around and clear out my head. I want to create.
On nights like this I press my back up against the wall. I let the edges of my bed indent my skin, the space is too small for my limbs and your nightmares.
If you’d let me, we’d stay up all night, and I’d paint galaxies on the back of your hands to remind you how inferior nightmares are. But I cannot wake you or make the swirls in your breath go away, so I shrink further back, I give you space. There is nothing I can do to make it better.
Instead, I place soft fingers on your back and write bright letters on the dark ceiling, for you to see in a dream. I turn to the moon for spelling and to the stars for punctuation, and wait for morning in silence.
Some days, “exam revision” turns into “the weather’s so lovely today,” and “I should really finish this paper,” becomes “you feeling ice cream?” Long hours hunched over books have to make space for hours sat in silence on the docs, phrase structure grammar admits defeat to sea gulls and the sound of lazy waves, and I can feel myself take a deep breath.
Some days. Some days. Days like today. When hands clutch ice cream cones instead of pencils and “to do” lists are called “today I may” lists, those days I like to stop for a second, lap up some early April sun with closed eyes and a relaxed jaw, and remind myself that life is pretty great.
The goal among the international students at my uni was to completely drop our accents to sound like we’d grown up with English birthday songs and ice cream floats.
We wanted to be able to go to any bar, to order any coffee and keep any conversation going for however long a time, only to be able to slip in an “oh, I’m not from England, actually” and watch peoples’ surprise.
We worked so hard to lose our accents, the sound of what we thought was “not enough practice”, not good enough.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Accents are identity just as much as names and clothes and the street corners you crossed on your way to school Your accent’s where you’ve come from, the journey to where you are now, it shows the world you dared to try.
Your accent is your family traditions, the lessons of your mum’s lullabies, the laundry songs of your house, a grandma’s lap, and the courage it took to get on that plane alone.
Your accent is a road map of the people you care about, those who took the time to sit with you while you were learning, who let you spin wonders of the words you didn’t understand and didn’t mind you trying on their pronunciations for size.
Your accent is your home away from home, the amalgamation of all that you are and all that you’ve been.
So instead of dropping our accents, let us celebrate them. For all that we are, and all that we’re yet to learn, and every step along the way.
In lack of proper wine glasses, we improvise with teacups, and as the shutter of a Polaroid camera goes off, she’s pouring rosé, small, pink oceans, bubbles and light storms in our glasses.
We’ve made a cave of my uni room, filled every nook and cranny with silly laughs and fairy lights, hot chocolate scented candles, and unfamiliar words in both our languages. Words we hope’ll make sense when English just doesn’t cut it as our middle man, when the words of home become impossible to translate, – so we let her German paint pictures in the air, and Norwegian show off all the words it has borrowed; we meet in the middle.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home country.
Dreams are dreamt up tonight. Plans for all the cities that are yet to be seen, Northern Lights still to be chased, the cross stitches of who we’d wish to be one day hopefully coming together. Everything navigated in between sips of pink and the idea of fairy story cities.
There are no thoughts that cannot be put into words, no words that cannot be sown into these blankets, and the four years separating us don’t keep our musings from dancing, from twirling, from harmonising to the same melody.
Because, in the strangest way, it’s like she is me three years ago, just with a dollop more maturity it took me an extra year to obtain. Alone in a new country, figuring it out on her own. We talk about being lonely; we talk about that empty feeling of evenings on your own, beating yourself up for not living your adventure abroad to the fullest, and of the nights that last forever, where you’re surrounded by friends and this new country feels like where you were supposed to be all along, We talk about how that’s okay.
And we agree that on those days, whether the sunset reaches us before we’ve even gotten out of our beds, or if 4 am finds us in the middle of a favourite song, we’ll pour the rosé in our tea cups again, raise a glass to ourselves and our empty rooms and celebrate.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home town.
Because there are so many people to meet, so many friends to make, hands to shake, eyes to get to know. So many languages to learn, so many wines to taste and teas to test, so many pictures to take, that need their own space in an album somewhere, or hung above a bed, the memories of your own fairy tales lulling you to sleep.
So many stories, of the adventures that are waiting. So let’s raise a glass to that.
The hillside is full of sheep.
They graze the grass we walk on, they don’t mind the steep slopes
and the cliffs.
The villagers call it a mountain, everyone else calls it a hilltop.
I want to call it an adventure.
Everyone we meet are prepared with hiking boots and walking sticks,
we are armed with sneakers and half a sausage roll.
This wasn’t where we thought today was gonna lead us.
Four hours up and four hours down,
we scale steps carved into the hillside,
past trees that have grown into each other
to seek refuge in numbers
from the sharp sea air,
gusts coming in from the northern sea.
Beneath us, Swanage wanes away.
The bay grows smaller and smaller,
until you could fit the entire town between your thumb and ring finger,
lift it up and put it in your palm.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do;
Lift Swanage out of its little nook between the hills and the unforgiving ocean,
nestle all the teacups and barefoot walks along the beach
into the crook of my neck,
keep it there to remind myself of the times I’ve felt like I belong here.
I clutch your hand in mine,
feel your nails against my skin.
In front of us, the terrain evens out.
Two chalk rocks stand side by side,
broken away from the hillside, they hold each other up.
They’ve been standing since long before the town came to be,
just as the town will be here
long after I have left.