Return to the nest
I’m not sure I was ready to leave university. Then again, I often think I wasn’t ready to go in the first place. Especially not Bristol. Take Freshers Week and a boy, philosophically dragging on a roll up beside me in the Motion smoking area, turning to ask “You coming up, yeah?”
The question was lost on me: alien words in a foreign language. A damning moment of uncharted social territory. Fight or flight kicked in. I curled one hammy fist into a human microphone and, nodding my head in agreement, shakily sang back I’m coming up so you better get this party started! Hey!
My new friend was a mullet-clad life member of the Public School Air Force 1 army. He was not a P!nk fan, it transpired. Pick yourself up, Hessy. Learn. Move on. Then, just weeks later, unknowingly intercept a drug dealer on business, bounding up to his car in blissful ignorance, waving my Dominos confirmation email in his face, demanding the whereabouts of my pizza.
Despite the frank and sobering life lessons, my transition from university to ‘real life’ has exposed embarrassing bouts of nostalgia for those times. I yearn for the sisterly camaraderie of 1am kebabs and late night library stints. I mourn the fact that family life back home can’t fill these gaps. “This one’s a banger!” I yell, frantically wielding a fraying aux cable in the faces of my parents like some dehydrated bat, grubbily thumbing Come On Eileen into Spotify and dimming the lights as Mum attempts to divvy up fish pie.
In the months after graduation, I revisited Bristol so often that people began to ask what I was studying my Masters in. “Digital Marketing?” I’d blurt, dissolving myself into a crowd of mature students. I was just another sad, washed up has-been, forlornly clutching her weathered student card, eyeing up a back entrance to the SU. Before I knew it, a biro trembled in my hands. “Can’t believe we’re doing this guys!” I whispered excitedly. Six freshers squinted back, working out whose haggard aunt had ambushed their 2nd Year house signing.
Five months of temp jobs and breakdowns. I constantly think I’m losing it, while artfully deceiving those around me that I’m getting my shit together. Yesterday, I pencilled my eyebrows in. Today, I unironically wore slacks. I’ve even bought a bike and, don’t be fooled, there are perks to distancing yourself from university. A drunk group of students jumped on my night tube recently and I took great pleasure in muttering “Kids, eh?” to the man beside me. Sauntering off, I stashed my Beano copy in my bag and texted Mum to tell her I was on my way home. Safe. Leave the leftovers out.
I’m finally prioritising my health too, which I’d neglected for three years. Beer money is now pooled to fund eczema creams which, until recently, were deemed a luxury good. I’ve even managed to schedule flare-ups to coincide with grad scheme reminder emails, although I’m still not sure what rolling deadline means. Office jargon for adult pass-the-parcel, I think. Each layer of wrapping is a relative asking “And what are you up to now?” The prize, a panic attack every time you check your friends’ LinkedIn profiles. I bitterly click the congratulate button on repeat. Change my bio from ‘Student’ to the ambiguous ‘Freelancer’. Read: nanny.
Turns out I’m not very good at playing grown ups either. I went on a date with a 27 year old but couldn’t keep up with his stories of friends settling down and getting married. “Yeah, and Theresa’s really done a U-turn on the old Customs Union, eh?” I found myself replying, earnestly sipping on the pint of stout ale I was pretending to enjoy.
Still, things could be worse. I could have got the one grad scheme I applied to last year, and then I actually would be working in digital marketing. Despite my reassurances in the interview that “I’m, like, suuuper into data, guys”, they saw through me. And for that I am very, very grateful.