by Christy Callaway-Gale
It’s Sunday. Last Sunday. My entire bedroom is in our car, there’s a bike wheel next to my head and I have that unsettled, excited feeling as spires emerge overhead. Oriel helpers with their colourful t-shirts offer to carry my bags, both my parents cry as they say goodbye to me and one of the porters tells me to register in the hall. But I’m not a fresher; I’m a fourth year – the phrase that has quickly become the broken record soundtrack to my final year.
Coming back after a year abroad is like finding a letter you wrote but never sent and not quite believing it was written by you. Everything is fresh but familiar and somehow more foreign than the foreign place you made home last year. A lot of your friends are no longer around but some of their younger sisters are, making for daily Tom Hanks in “Forever Young” moments (think frozen bodies and time capsules), which ironically makes you feel ancient. And I am. Almost 23. As I said, ancient.
Sitting in staircase 33 listening to excited first-year chat in the tunnel (yes, we can hear all of your not-so-private conversations) I can almost see staircase 26 round the corner, where I started. But I’m also next to the MCR, where I am a fresher this year, a sort of “Freshers: Round 2: ft. delicious free coffee and alcohol that you can battel”.
And in the MCR I’m a child in a college family again, with a sibling in common from my first fresher’s one; my son is in the same year as me now (which somehow seems incestuous), my husband has moved to the city (am I a widow or a divorcee now?), and my parents are ghosts of a finalist’s past.
Other things have moved on too. You don’t have to play slot machines with the washers and dryers anymore and fobs for gates no longer exist (cue daily Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” moment). Just about the only thing that hasn’t changed in this renewal of mine, is the actual library renewal system – sorry, I couldn’t resist that.
Things are different, then. But maybe that’s a good thing. I’m also different from before. I no longer wear make-up everyday and I now like porridge. It’s only fitting that such life-altering switches are reflected in college life. But I’m also aware that this re-birth is my last, here, at least. This freshers’ week is nostalgic, as well as hopeful; it’s an end and not just a beginning. I am Benjamin Button.
Later, I walk out of the library having finished organising my MT timetable, which no doubt will change multiple times before term actually starts. I look up at the window of the room where I stayed at interview – staircase 14, before the re-furb – and see my nineteen-year-old face looking out at what’s to come.