My best friend snapped this picture of me in Paris seven years ago, asking me to stop in the middle of Montmartre and smile. It's such a true, capture-the-moment sort of photo, a favorite memory made manifest, and I love so much that I'm still wearing my gloves, a plastic bag hanging on my wrist. We'd just eaten crepes for lunch, just bought little paintings as souvenirs, and I remember feeling so young and so old at the same time, ready and a little bit scared to return to real life after four months studying abroad. I was twenty years old, blonde, single, and recently heartbroken, both terrified and thrilled for whatever was waiting for me back home.
Again and again I've returned to this photo over the years, struck by the way it marks such a turning point in my life. It was while I lived in Oxford that I decided to be a writer, and it's in that small, quaint little city that I learned how to be alone. For the first time I was on my own, in more ways than one, and I remember feeling relieved to learn that being alone didn't have to mean feeling lonely.
And just as soon as I learned how to be alone, well, I returned home and met Radley.
Words are my job, but when it comes to Oxford, I'm at a loss, I really am. It's like that, I think, when a place and a time feels so sacred, and those four months are such a precious little pocket of time when in a very real and visceral way, I knew that everything was going to be okay.
Today, Radley and I are heading overseas (!!!) and I'm visiting England for the first time since living there. We'll be traveling to London, Oxford, Munich, and Paris, and there's a knot in my chest when I think about walking along those familiar Oxford streets. Honestly, I'm far more anxious than I expected to feel, and it's a good sort of anxious, of course, but I'm also a bit scared to step back in time, to return to my twenty-year-old self and feel the weight and the lightness of that life.
A bigger part of me, though, feels more blessed than ever to share that space with Radley — to let him into that precious little pocket of time and get to know that sacred, secret part of me. The me before him.