Updated: Nov 21
Moving on, missing out, growing up
Nostalgia always hits before the party’s over. The next morning, I lie in bed and I think about 17, walking down the alleyway to my best friend's house. I think about uni, the Botanical Gardens, writing poetry, falling in love on dance floors. I think about who I was when I moved here at 23, wide eyed and ready for life to begin again after lockdown. I am everyone I have ever been all at once. Past versions of my life always come back to me in those fragmented moments between sleep and awake. It feels physically painful, so I lie there until the anxiety becomes so unbearable that I have to wake up.
This time next month I will be living by the sea, trying to find romance in the ancient coastal storms when I’m cold and the days are too dark. Soon I will leave Seven Sisters Road. I have ‘No Surprises’ by Radiohead stuck in my head on a loop because TikTok keeps telling me that a quiet life is better and I keep wanting to believe it. Now I think the centre of things isn’t always where you expect it to be.
I lived in a warehouse for two and a half years and I’ll probably never live somewhere like it again. The week I moved in we drank tequila sunrises until dawn then I went to sleep on an airbed and woke up to my life in London. Like most people with a Goodreads account, I often think of my life in chapters. It isn’t always so clear cut, but this time it is. I’m left wondering whether these years lived up to my expectations and if anything ever will. I think if I had only been more extraverted and put myself in the right places then maybe it would. If only I had been someone different. But perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.
On Halloween weekend I got off a plane and tried to go to bed, but the music called me back out. The building was pulsing and the fire alarm kept going off. So I put on a tracksuit and smeared fake blood on my face. At the party, there was a large painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula. I stared at it and wished I had time to put so much effort into a painting or a party or even a poem. I wish I’d taken a photograph, but I was pretending to be in the moment.
I could say I never found love in the city, but that would be a lie. Romantic love alluded me, but I found the friendships I had spent my whole life crying out for. We spent summer nights falling into taxis and spinning records and sharing bottles of wine. We spilled secrets and made mistakes and laughed until our cheeks hurt. All those cliches of friendship in your 20s. I don’t believe we have a finite amount of love to give each other, but I do think I appreciated those moments even more because I’d always go home alone.
The best part about leaving somewhere is going back. One day, when I’m old, I’ll walk around the reservoir and see it through the eyes of a 23-year-old again, the one who moved here, who planned to move to Paris in a year, who thought every party fizzed with the possibility of more than just a comedown. By the time I turned 25, the illusion was fading. Maybe my brain was developing or maybe I was getting bored.
I tell myself that moving to Brighton will give me time for art and love and I want to believe that’s true. I’m choked up on London ambition, but now that I’m leaving I’m learning to love it. This might be the first time in my life that I am really choosing to move. Every other time has been inevitable or forced. I guess that’s growing up. Making big decisions and falling into them.
I’ve been taking Polaroids of my room even though I never did what I planned with it. I want to document it all because the whole area is changing. Rooms upstairs in 13-person flats are going for £1,200 a month now. I speak to friends about gentrification, knowing that I’m part of the problem, that the area was gentrified long before I moved in. Yet, like everywhere, it’s only getting worse and I wonder where artists are supposed to live now, the artists who have the courage to pursue their art with a singular drive. I still romanticise lives I have never lived.
I’ve had two months to feel everything about my life as strongly as I can because I know one day I’ll ache with nostalgia for being 24 and drinking too much and living in a room so dusty I get allergies because I have no time or inclination to dust it. The first summer I lived here, when I got depressed, I would spend the long, light evenings walking aimlessly down Green Lanes from Haringey to Wood Green to the fringes of Enfield. I would buy a peach and a chocolate milkshake. I selected these because they reminded me of childhood, but I also knew that one day I would write about it. I thought of young Robert Mapplethorpe in Just Kids tripping on acid and going out to buy chocolate milk.
The summer after I moved here, I went to a festival in Margate. In between bands, they played a song by The Clientele called ‘Losing Haringey.’ I have retroactively fused that song to every memory here. It seemed unlikely that anything could hold for much longer. The only question left to ask was what would happen when everything familiar collapsed. Now I’m stumbling forwards into the unfamiliar. I’m looking for answers to that question. I’ve lost the bitter conviction that my life will reach a dead end. That night, I lay on the beach with Jessie as fireworks split the sky, sinking my fingers into the sand. We grew into our pain and shuddered, realising life had only just begun.