I had this idea that a Scottish winter would be harsher than a New York winter, and in a way it is; I never see the sun. I wake up every day to a weak square of bluish light framed by the tiny dorm room window, a square which usually darkens to black by the time I’m ready to go outside. Days are spent lounging in bed, watching the daylight leave by the end of two hours of lazy consciousness.
The weather is mild, only faltering within a twenty-degree range since September. The seasons have changed so slowly and so slightly that it is hard to feel how much time has passed at all, how many days I have spent circling the same three streets interrupted only by walks home through muddy driveways and grass. All I feel is that it is longer than I have spent away from home before, and this is a strange but not a shocking feeling.
In the beginning I would count how many days since I had been there, and after that how many weeks. I’m not sure when I stopped, but at some point my life there became something that actually existed instead of a near-future hypothetical, through a series of chance and non-momentous events; there was no single instance in which I felt like something had changed, it just kind of did. The phase of life in which sex and drugs were mired in myth and fanfare was coming to an end as they quickly became relatively mundane topics of conversation and notable but not altogether infrequent personal activities.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still think of life in New York sometimes, walking around alone listening to seabirds scream at the night at a distance. The ocean here, when it’s nighttime, is darker than the sky it reflects. They are entities of black separated by thin lines of light on a distant shore. The waves crash onto the small, empty beaches, loud but only so long as you focus on them. One person or so dies in the waves per year, usually on a drunken lark. More often people try to fuck in them, shrieking at the salty cold at hours when it is easy to feel like no one else exists.
I would know; a friend of mine took me to the famous golf course at one of those times. It was the first time we met and we sat on the grass, rainwater seeping into our pants and drizzling onto our faces. Stars are a rare occurrence in a place as cloudy as this, but the illuminated hotels surrounded us from three sides, acting as faint but sufficient beacons of vaguely ominous light. He kissed me in the middle of our conversation, his hands and lips unexpectedly gentle. His fingers were slow to make their introduction to my neck, his mouth firm but soft on my mouth. I am not easily shaken by kisses, but this managed to nestle far enough into my psyche to make an impression.
Brooklyn has changed in minute details but is essentially how I left it. The novelty of home has worn off quickly and it feels increasingly like I never really left at all. The confidence of my new persona that I have spent months laboriously developing, new but finally established at the time of my leaving, has seemingly left me after under a week in my home city. The old friends I was eager to meet have old problems accompanying them, and the sense of general dissatisfaction and boredom underlying my life in the city has been far from eroded by time away. I recall the weeks I was essentially alone in the city in the summer, watching television until dawn and sleeping until well into the afternoon, punctuated only by solitary bike rides on underpopulated streets at night.
This time is not quite so drastic, but there is the problem of the smell. The last time I was faced with the smell of December in Park Slope, or winter in New York, most of my thoughts were preoccupied by someone I thought I cared about deeply, who lived on the other end of the exact radius of streets I typically frequent. The smell is subtle, almost unnoticeable, but nevertheless underlies the quality of the outdoors air and acts as the terroir of my memories. It might not be a smell so much as a flavor, a bone-dry and crisp character that triggers an instinctive understanding that it is signifying the onset of winter and somewhat imminent possibility of snowfall. It is also the smell of the indoor heating, which is much the same except somewhat more burnt.
More than the smell itself the problem is that it makes breathing a constant reminder that it has been a year since I knew that person and for some reason they still reemerge in my thoughts. I do not care about them like I used to, not like in the spring when I ruminated over what they thought and said and felt about me and cried and wavered in self-esteem and pored over pictures of the girl from before who had a hold on his being that I never did, envying her for being able to possess him--or anyone--so deeply. I blamed myself fully for not being formidable enough to do so, and played back my own whiny pleas towards him over and over in my mind.
There was also the primal anger, the times when I thought that he was the one who drove me to that state and that the things I asked of him were not unreasonable, and that the way he treated me was unacceptable, and these are things I recognize now as at least partially true.
Mostly were the memories that I seemed helpless to stop myself from compulsively reliving, the highlights (these hurt the most to consider), the sex (comforting, but sorrowful), and the end (I took a perverse pleasure in thinking of the fact that I made him cry). I did not care to think much of the low points that led to the end. To think of these would be to feel again the near-nauseating spirals of dread they originally provoked. I occasionally encountered them in the texts I tried and failed to stop rereading.
Walking around these streets I am supposed to be comforted by is akin to watching a reel of my own worst hits, alongside a reel of my best--but these I cannot touch. Every restaurant and bench is a contained vacuum of events that plays on loop in holographic clarity, a tableau that sets into motion only so long as it is in my field of vision. It is not only the last year but my whole life that has unfolded here in an awkward and disjointed series of memory. It is a life that I am no longer a part of and can only be forced to revisit from an observer’s standpoint at a time I would most prefer it to be forgotten entirely.
My friends are full of loving familiarity, but they also bring the pain of reminders. The ideological divide between our last two semesters may be wide, but the timing is narrow and the selves that we were trying to eradicate are too newly suffocated to not be able to resuscitate themselves in this uncomfortably recent air. As much as I can try to maintain my gains, it is hard not to feel that the coming month will invariably bring regression.
My friend and I did more than kiss, and we did it more than once. Our timing was not much better, and the tenderness of his mouth or hands is not something I am allowed to think about in good conscience.
I can only wish that he will at least replace my associations with December air.
Native to New York City, Calla Selicious is an 18-year-old first-year student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She has contributed to zines such as Violet, Argus, The Idealist, Food for Thought, and more. She is double majoring in International Relations and Film and hopes to one day write and/or direct a film of her own.