I am reclaiming the city. I know it's always like this in the spring anyway, or nearly always, but this year as with every year it feels different. It's fun to pretend that no one has ever felt quite like this before, felt quite so viscerally the symbolism of spring; everything laden, ripe, the trees with their plump blossoms, the limbs of the city swollen from all the promise of things to come. Everything seems simultaneously possible and unlikely. The sky is fickle and yet so self-assured; one day it is like summer, all hot and blue, and yet the next an autumnal cloud cover makes you rethink everything, so that you can never be sure whether you feel this way or that.
Mostly it's like being reacquainted with someone. The word "reclaim" implies ownership, which is maybe not the right sentiment, really, but this is how it feels: as if, in a very selfish way, I am taking something back, closing my fingers around it.
One evening I take a bus into town, quite impulsively, so that I can get a burrito and then wander around, down darkened streets, circle the Radcliffe Camera, where a lone man crouches low, takes a photograph. I pass, or am passed by, merry groups of Americans who are probably as young as or maybe even younger than I was when I first arrived; that is to say, quite young, quite impossibly young. I hate to think of myself as having been that young only because to do so makes me feel very old, even though I'm not at all old, even though I'm constantly feeling hopelessly young. The night falls in a very particular way. Cats dart across the streets of East Oxford and it doesn't matter who wins, the end of the boat race, when the crews slump forward with exhaustion and elation, always makes me cry.
I remember this time last year; I walked up the Woodstock road one day, in a coat which was not really necessary, with everything blooming pink around me. I was going to a lot of open mic nights at the time, I think because they make me feel simultaneously a part of something and also like an onlooker, which is often how I try to be even though it's very hard to be both at once. One night, a few days after I had been refused a visa and then written a polite letter back and now was having just to simply sit and wait and wait and wait, there was a transition moment, a moment when things went from feeling truly awful to being bright and hopeful. It did not matter if I was refused a visa, I would go somewhere and write things. I would not starve because no one had ever let me starve before, least of all my own self.
Then after that I got the visa after all and a new job and still I had not finished my book, for which I kept setting arbitrary deadlines and then deliberately missing those arbitrary deadlines because, I suppose, I could not really imagine what would happen after the book, as if it defined me, or justified my being here, though of course it didn't, I had been here first, then the idea, and not the other way around. For awhile it was a great relief having a visa because I knew that I could stay, but after awhile the relief wears off, or becomes just a part of daily life. The fact of being here ceases to seem so miraculous. And then eventually there is the thought that it is after all only temporary, two more years, as if I am literally buying time (I guess I actually am literally buying time). And now a year later I know to start thinking again about it again.
In the same way that I feel both old and not-old as I'm passed by younger youths, I start to feel that I've grown gradually more comfortable in the skin of responsibility, whilst simultaneously finding it itchy, a bad fit. We do things we've needed to do for years; we finally buy a bedside table and a real wicker laundry basket and a bread bin and are not so much alarmed by the prospect of having to call a plumber as vaguely inconvenienced. I attach much importance to the bedside table and the bread bin. It's very hard for me to see that we've grown up because it's happened so slowly and we've been so particularly stubborn about it, and because we're still not, after all that, really grown up at all, but there has been a shift, it's very hard not to notice that there has been a shift.
It's sort of an alarming prospect, this gradual change, the way it creeps up on you. Like, will we wake up suddenly, someday, to find that we have bought a house and paid off all our debts and have creaky knees, grey hair, grandchildren?
Maybe, probably, if we're lucky, I guess.