Medieval And Renaissance Studies, MARS for short. Martians they should call us, but my coursemates outright refuse. I do marvel. We sorely need something to take our mind off things. Things like how, for example, L. always sits in a corner in class huddled in ever bigger sweaters, chin stapled to her neck and eyes downcast, perhaps to spare us the look of a girl drowning. Or how T. hasn't washed her hair or worn make-up in a few days, since shit got real in Manuscripts and Documents and the full weight of medieval diplomas was slammed in our faces. We should all cover our ears so we don't hear M. recklessly going for teacher's pet, nodding and humming and laughing too loud at every joke. The other day she even cooed a 'oh my goodness' that earned her my perpetual distaste.
Oh, graduate studies. Three kinds of solitude, called it the graduate tutor back in Corpus Christi. She was right. Surrounded as we are by happy freshers perpetually drunk off their faces, and sophisticated PhD students whose timetables are half taken up with teaching, MA students stay in the middle, floundering and looking at their feet like plain debutantes unaccompanied at the ball. Ain't nobody that wants to dance with us. They all know we're just passing through on the way to other things. Hopefully better things, but who knows. The early application deadline for Oxbridge is in 26 days and I am not ready to go down that road again. Not that I have any choice. In the world of postgraduate studies, you'll apply everywhere and swallow your traumas.
Traumas. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. Looking back Oxford looks like a strange place, half fairytale half nightmare, indifferent stone radiating anxiety accumulating through centuries. But never in Oxford did I have to work so hard. I bles the Virgilio, really, my old Liceo* where mental illness was the norm and no one thought badly of you if you broke down in tears in the yard. Mostly because there was a queue to be there. Twelve subjects in my final year, weeks of a test a day. Those were the times. I was much younger, of course. Would you believe it, I got by waking up every day at seven after sleeping four hours if lucky.
It paid off. I am exhausted but on top of it, which is more than I can say for a few people in the course. I'd take them out for coffee, if I only knew what to say. That I hate London, the city too big, too dirty, too crowded, which I strive to reduce to a tiny village by only ever staying between Bloomsbury and Camden town? Once a week I take the tube to King's College on the Strand to do medieval latin and crossing Waterloo Bridge I see it all, either side of me: to my left the tower of London, bloody history dwarfed but undeafeted by the concrete and glass monsters of Canary Wharf. On my right, the London Eye and the Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Cleopatra's Needle in Egyptian sadness and the American embassy like an overly iced cake. Hello, touristy London that doesn't seem real and I don't want. I'd go to the Tower, really, but to do what? Stand among the ridiculous Beefeaters where they spilt Ann Boleyn's blood? No thanks. They remember the Normans, those stones. They deserve better.
And so on. Week after week and assignment after assignment. Mike comes over, we make love. I feel so lonely without him, his voice on the other side of the phone. Tell me anything, Mike. It will do. During the day I feel him too far away and at night all I want is sleep, or mindlessly press next on a TV series. Everything unravelling until we come together and it's all perfect, all right again. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, says Mike putting on his rough Northern boy act. Oh, if only, Mike. I am not made for long distance. It makes me too sad after three years of seeing you every day.
I had a balance, I swear. I'm not that pathetic, or I wish I wasn't. I can survive with my boyfriend a whopping hour and a half away. I was finding a certain pleasure in being on my own. Walking the city and learning to own it. And then. The Big Fat Tenancy screwup had a followup, which we may title Turns Out Police Battering Rams Are Red, in which one of my housemates threatens to harm herself, the police shows up, and the other housemate flees for two weeks. Oh my life. My room is pretty, my work is good, and yet I am so exhausted I sleep twelve hours or don't sleep at all.
But there are a lot of good things. And that is why I do this, ultimately. There are faux fur comforter and cold winds, and that view, notwithstanding all, from Waterloo Bridge. A hundred takeaways a click away on Just Eat. Sushi sales at Itsu, and tarts from Mthe life I fight for. My ideas, and this. And so it's worth it, yes. For the sheer joy. And if failure needs to come, it will break my heart then, but not yet.