I will begin with being 22. In that year I travelled more than I ever have. This time, aged 23, I boarded a train on which, in the end, I was the only passenger. And the driver. And the station attendant. And the loved ones waiting on a deserted platform. This is not to say I am or have been alone. It was a journey I needed to embark upon, on my own.
I have discovered I am a puzzle of more than a thousand pieces. In some aspects, I am well put together – my edges are complete. My middle, is a different story. In places, images have begun to take shape – my ambitions, my living room and friendships. Elsewhere, there are spaces, patiently waiting for pieces lost which need rediscovering and pieces not yet turned over.
This year began as I moved from one school to a new one. For those who are unfamiliar, I am a teacher. January handed me the shoes of the new kid and a cocktail of vomit and butterflies. Moving on taught me many things. I learnt waiting for the friends people said I’d meet at university, isn’t so terrible, because all of a sudden, when you need them most, they appear. People who, if they were not so crude and honest, you would think walk in clouds of magic. Friendships which make you laugh, keep you grounded and fly your flag. For these people, I’ll always be thankful I walked into their lives and they allowed me to stay.
During the laughter and fear, I realised I had fallen out of love with teaching. I had fallen from my trainee teacher pedestal into a restless sea of one question – Am I good enough? Not unlike my training year, yet this time I was treading shark infested waters; beasts with pearly white teeth. These sharks were manifestations of my own insecure reflection and distortions of people I decided I could not trust. In time, they all left.
You see, I learnt to fail with grace. Sobs I had accepted as part of my vocabulary became smiles of defeat. I learnt to take my foot off of the accelerator; hands still firmly gripping the wheel but I was no longer locking my knees. I learnt how it takes failure to remind yourself how to breathe. Slowly and gently, never missing a beat.
After this realisation tumbled into my conscience, the year really began. With it, fears I had formerly clung unto began to disintegrate in my hands. Ever so slowly but surely.
In the summer, I visited Cornwall for the first time, chaperoned by a best friend now lost. Before we said goodbye, he showed me I can sit, drink wine and eat at a table of strangers. He showed me his past and shared childhood memories; a reverie in which I was a welcome guest. He drove me to Land’s End to see Shakespeare and how effortlessly the Atlantic meets the tall cliffs. Cornwall has been left a place of his, but as the waves crawl in and out with each passing moment, I smile. I know, in time, I’ll visit again and this time it will be mine.
I spent a whole year on WordPress, writing to my heart’s content. I stumbled upon a chorus of poetic voices – fresh and refined. I also stumbled over the titles ‘writer’ and ‘poet’ as they floated uncomfortably between my teeth and my tongue. I learnt how words softly touch the lives of others and with this lesson I learnt to open myself up to the same. I learnt to peel back my skin and allow sentiments to glide in. I worked hard as I wrote. The vocation becoming disciplined as it is cathartic. I was published in an anthology exploring struggle and survival. I was chosen to be a regular contributor for Whisper and Roar and I was asked to contribute to a magazine. I learnt accomplishment can stem from the smallest of tasks and still feel like the pop and fizz of a champagne cork. I learnt, amongst the success, I have no idea where I am going. Still, I’ve realised I no longer feel lost.
As the narrative of 23 came to a close, I learnt how love is lost. I learnt I had the strength to make my most difficult decision to date. I learnt break ups are painful but goodbyes are harder. I learnt love can mean wishing someone happiness in the knowledge they will no longer find it with you. I realised I am now, for the first time in my adult life, alone and there is a glorious light at the end of the tunnel.
In just a month, the young woman reflected in the mirror and loved one’s eyes has taught me plenty. She’s taught me I have no problem sleeping alone. She’s taught me cooking for eight instead of one, will be the hero you do not deserve. She’s taught me I own too many pairs of shoes, strewn about the house. She has taught me about worth – at times I am a work of art and then a work in progress. She’s taught me there is more to learn, taste and surrender to.
This year, I turn 24. A young woman with a jigsaw body waiting for the pieces to find their rightful place. I’ve rekindled a spark of passion and self-worth. I’ve decided I want people to look around them and think a little bit harder. I want people to listen to language and feel a little bit deeper. I’d like to gaze at the Earth with hunger and love in my eyes.
It’s time for the train I am driving, riding and waiting for, to pull into the station. It’s time to plant my two feet firmly on the ground.