Two years ago today I arrived in Oxford. I can still recapture the feeling in my breast—not the feeling upon arrival, but the feeling an hour after, walking from Jericho towards town. I retraced the line that the taxi had taken, made my way towards Christ Church Meadow, where girls in summer dresses were sunbathing, and boys lay reading in the shade. The first really glorious day of the season, I’d heard. The sky certainly looked the part, all Mediterranean azure blue. The feeling I had was what I can only describe as freedom: independent, and as yet unfettered by human ties, memory, history. This day could have been my first on Earth, if I’d wanted it to be. The girls in their sundresses specters; watching me, envying me as I envied them. The tourists (and already I felt separate from them, I was separate in that moment from everyone, and also strangely open to them, connected through my separateness) taking photos, posing before the great stone face of Christ Church, lounging on the walkways, resting on benches. A jogger or two, passing me by. There I was: someone with no past and no future, no childhood, no family, no education, no knowledge, really. And what happened after was not so much a reinvention as a distillation.
I made my way across the city; how imposing she was, how beautiful under the sunlight, how golden her stones and welcoming her gardens! It was the first and only day in my life, perhaps, that I had not known what would happen: not known where I would be five minutes from now, even—for we cannot predict our movements in a new geography. Now, I would not go back to that feeling willingly, but then, it was perfect, and with everything I did, everything I saw, I was building my own world.
We met, of course, at a pub; if you were going to write a story for yourself, whereby you came to Oxford and fell madly in love, would you choose any other meeting-place than an old tucked-away tavern, with low ceilings, strong cider? Hidden from the street. Only accessible by two alleyways. There I turned to him and we spoke for the first time. My coming to Oxford is synonymous with my falling in love. No way to separate the two; and why would you want to?
The night was long, and full of shadows. Past the Radcliffe Camera, viewed for the first time under a midnight sky. The smell of books wafting up through the grates. We wound up, he and I, at a dingy bar off the High Street, where we have never since been, where I kissed him, or he kissed me, and in that moment of kissing, the freedom was lost forever, but in its place something better, something stronger, grew. No longer was I untied to this place, history-less, loveless, separate, alone. It was me and I was it. You cannot foresee something like that at the time, of course, but you can just begin to feel the edges of it. You can think, as you wake in a strange bed the next morning, to another blue sky, another day full of golden-stoned structures, that something is happening that you are powerless to predict or prevent, but then you simply forget it, let it happen, because the way that he offers you his phone number on the envelope of an old electricity bill, the way that he kisses you just before you get on your first Oxford bus, take your first trip as someone who belongs here, dissolves all else.
To think in two years I have seen hundreds of Oxford days, each one of them taking me further away from that moment of arrival. To think that we have shared hundreds of Oxford days. That to mark this day, this anniversary, I take the day off work, we go to the pub at midday and share a drink. We let the time slip away from us completely; have bacon sandwiches in the afternoon, repose in the lounge. The day covered by bright grey clouds. In the evening we get on a train; this is an ordinary day, an extraordinary one.
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