It’s surprisingly easy to build up a life here on exchange when you know it can never be anything but temporary. Actually I try not to think of it as “exchange” at all; it only reminds me just how impermanent this year really is. It makes the whole affair so much more delicate, fragile: you have to throw yourself into it more, because you know there has a time limit on it. Otherwise it doesn’t seem real and you can’t do that for long, you cannot live in a dream, the two words cancel each other out, don’t they? You have to make it vivid because that’s your way of pinching yourself to keep this real. It is real.
For me – for all of us, here, I think – it’s a dream come true; sometimes it is hard to remind ourselves that is has come true. It feels like a dream, a pause on reality. Our lives here are so completely severed from home. We are so free from constraints. We can be anything. We can do anything. We can hide anything, we can show anything, no one’s known us longer than four months. Is it really any wonder that we become more ourselves here? It’s like we’re drunk, the whole year long. The freedom you feel when your head starts to spin with the wine runs deeper and stronger than ever before and transcends the alcohol and spills over into the raw rub of daytime light. The things we have here bear no connection to our past lives except for us.
But more and more the place where you come from seems to be nothing more than a faraway dark blotch on the long lean horizon. Sometimes you want to stop trying to straddle the two worlds and you want to throw yourself with a startling totality into life here because life here is wonderful. No – wonderful is not the right word: life here is terrifying. Life here is walking a very thin and nebulous tightrope above a terrible, terrible drop. But oh! when you walk that line! When you leave the bank having got yourself a bank account in another langauge for the first time in your life, all by yourself; when you sit down in front of the doctor and explain to her exactly what’s wrong with you using words you didn’t even know until ten minutes ago as you frantically looked them up in a translation dictionary – You don’t feel happy, doing these things. That’s why life here cannot be truly wonderful. You don’t feel happy doing them and you don’t feel happy after them, you feel scared – you feel scared out of your mind.
And yet afterwards it’s better than simple happiness. It lasts longer, and it sinks deeper. I don’t have a name for it yet. None of us have a name for it yet. But when we’re together and laughing and the conversation turns suddenly serious as it does between friends and drinks, why, we understand. We don’t need words. We understand silently and utterly that the price of throwing yourself absolutely into this vivid world we’ve built ourselves over here is that the blotch on the horizon grows bigger and darker every day. Home? What is home? How do I act when I go home? All those people, those precious, beautiful people whose faces cover our walls and our hearts, they know us to be one person and I don’t think we are that person anymore. I don’t think any of us can be that person again. And I think that’s what scares us.
It haunts us, that question: what happens when we go home? All the things we do and say and feel and experience over here, they mean so much right now, they colour our world so voraciously. They eat up our existence in the most wonderful way possible: all of a sudden everything is so much more than we ever dreamed it could possibly be.
But the thing is it doesn’t matter how happy you are, how content or how at peace you are, there’s always a tiny part of you that knows this is going to end. You know that this must inevitably end. It’s there, in every hug, in every round of drinks, in every beam of sunlight, in every note of laughter: the end is nigh.
So you begin to live violently, whole and vivid and so tenuous and it’s that tenuousity that makes everything so breathlessly intense. You’re gripping on by the tips of your fingers. It’s just one year out of eighty, a hundred, we are eternal now so why does it matter? And yet there’s more feeling in the tips of your fingers than you’ve ever felt in your entire life. Give me more, give me more while I still have the chance to taste it.
Maybe life here is wonderful. It is full of wonders. Butterfly’s wonders, flighty as a feather, please stay longer, you want to weigh it down, cover it with lead wings so it stays with you forever, every moment of it imprinted on your soul. But you can’t cover up the beauty with the lead. It wouldn’t be so beautiful here, if we knew it was going to last forever. I guess that’s what we’re learning now: just how wonderful life can be. This isn’t the end. The end is not nigh. This is only the beginning.