The entire evening had been building up to midnight – the food, the drinks, the conversation. Maybe it was the latter, or the fact we’d also rung-in the New Year in Spanish time, an hour earlier, for the benefit of the Spaniards among us, that meant we’d miss the ticking over of the year in GMT.
‘Shit, it’s midnight’, someone called from the kitchen, and we, the seven of us, messily flocked from the lounge and out onto the balcony. The apartment sat some 12 floors up a city centre high-rise, so close to the BCU campus that you could practically take lecture notes from classes which, in the new year, would begin again, animating the many glass-fronted cubes which together composed the college building, and were now dark, bar the transient light of traffic and, for a few minutes, the spray of fireworks.
As we pressed 7 into a space plainly built for 4, our own cheers became entangled with those of neighbours, and the general din of traffic. A partition separated our balcony and from the apartment to the right, so we could only assume that the joyful and slightly slurred howls of ‘happy new year’ were projected our way – at least, the flailing, champagne bottle-grasping arms, which were all that was visible over the divide, appeared extended in our direction. Our party responded in kind, and procured its own bottle of champagne, which duly popped, and succeeded in staining me, if no one else, with a potent stickiness, which was to linger throughout the night.
It’s now January 5th, 2018, and the potent stickiness of splashed champagne has long since been expunged from my favourite pair of black skinny jeans. A stain which has proven far more persistent and pervasive, though abundantly less visible, has wracked my mind throughout the holiday period, a nagging, frustratingly distrating anxiety.
At exactly midnight, December 31st, 2017, I, amongst good company, ushered in a year of transformation, a year of unparalleled uncertainty: the year of the void.
It became painfully aware to me, that night, that I had finally started to feel settled, at the very moment the rug would be ripped from beneath my feet and all would become fluid again. For the past 3 years, University, International Relations and jalapeno chicken paninis from the campus library have together constituted my raison d’être. An intent to clamber out of self-dug crater two decades in the making, battered and bruised, clenching a sheet of parchment emblazoned with ‘Bachelor of Arts’, for whatever reason, has kept me anchored in Birmingham. It is the basis of every connection I have with the city, my job, my friends, my experiences.
It is not at all surprising that I would feel this way. For a great many of us, the first two decades or so of life are laid down ahead like the yellow brick road. With few variances, the basic script is delivered to many from birth, and we are gratefully spared the enveloping insecurity of uncertainty, for a while. By the time we’ve come of age enough to engage critically with our own worlds, to grapple with our own decisions and those which were made on our behalf, we’re so far down the road as to see little merit in detouring.
There is no ounce of regret to be read of such anxiety, it is the very loss of structure, the driving force of the past 3 years which is destabilising, on account of its richness. But, though a rational purgatory, it is a purgatory nonetheless. It’s comparable to the sense of having completed a hard-fought video game, like GTA, or Fallout: the more time and energy you expend in such endeavours, the more completion becomes an end in itself, only after the fact are you left with the clarity to ponder the worth of your expenditure, and just what the hell to do next.
This year, a few months from now I’ll, at least in theory, finish my degree, clamber out of that crater and, in all likelihood, still be asking myself what the bloody hell comes next, still going to sleep each night hoping for some form of life determining, purpose-giving epiphany, before waking each morning, in want.