Finally, I am home. It’s Autumn, and the days are warm but the breezes chilly. I’m soaking up the sunshine and haven’t really thought about London properly until today, a week after I arrived. The last few weeks have been something of a rollercoaster, albeit one plunging largely downwards. ‘The important thing,’ my sister explained when helping me appeal my visa decision, ‘is to make sure you feel that it hasn’t been done to you.’ Well, the application was rejected and out of my hands, and for a woman who likes very much to be in control of her own life, I was fairly pissed off.
Then, about a fortnight before leaving, it began to dawn on me that I was actually going home. That, after four years of plodding along, waiting for each summer, for the next trip to Australia, for an end to my interminable thesis, I could get on the plane at Heathrow and never have to come back.
I realised just how easy it is to become a rat on a treadmill. I wasn’t unhappy in London, at least after the first two years: my brother made me laugh and kept me from destitution, I cherished the days on which sunlight filtered through the clouds, I loved the blossoms fizzing open each spring, my job was dull but I enjoyed working with my colleagues and the students, my friends cheered me up when I became too gloomy, I learned to ignore London’s poverty and harshness, I was a member of a bookclub, I could see exhibitions at the Tate for free on the rare occasions I was motivated to go, I expanded my boot collection exponentially and I was studying at a world-class institution that allowed me to write my thesis the way I wanted. However when I went home to Oz for three months, I realised how much happier it was possible to be. It alarmed me to think that I, who thrives on challenge and strives for perfection, could become complacent in a city that didn’t suit me. I’d become like a creature in a cage, continuing the circuit in a confined space without realising that the door had been opened.
Then the rollercoaster soared upwards when I passed my viva. It was a fairly harrowing experience, not because my examiners, Gail Jones from Western Sydney uni and Mark Turner of Kings College, were cruel, but because they pushed me to think of things I’d never thought of before, and I was under so much pressure that I had a complete mental blank in response to some of their questions, which in turn stressed me out even more. However, I passed. Afterwards I wandered up to work in a complete daze (stopping very carefully at the traffic lights, as per M’s advice, as she had nearly got run over after her viva) to tell people, and then had drinks at the lovely Albert and Pearl that evening with my wonderful friends, and sadly had to say goodbye to them.
Coming back home hasn’t been seamless. Saying goodbye to H at the airport was an experience I have no desire to repeat and I couldn’t stop crying until I got on the plane, then plane journey itself was worse than usual because I fell hard on my arse at rollerdisco in Vauxhall the week before (not, alas, from running romantically into a handsome stranger) and, two weeks later, I still can’t sit down. I have returned to find my overachieving friends moneyed, housed, partnered and reproducing which, for a disgustingly independent woman in complete denial about her ovaries, has been something of a shock. And, on some days, despite the friendliness of the bus drivers, the abundant sunshine and the quality of the coffee, I feel a bit lost.
But … I’m home. I’m doctored. I survived London. And, as the plane flew above the lights of the city I realised I’d achieved all the goals I set myself in the last ten years, and that now I’m completely free to do what I want. Which, of course, is to write.