It’s Thursday night, going on Friday morning. I’m sitting at the desk in my room. The wood finish is barely noticeable underneath all the clutter, but I’m okay with that. To my right sits a stack of books ranging from a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to the advanced grammar textbook I used this past semester. A square green and black alarm clock threatens to fall off the edge of the desk, it’s digital face dark and vacant. The small shelves poised above this structure hold copies of poetry, research manuals, and used books I bought even though I’d never heard of them.
The wall in front of me has this strange ability to give me feelings of both joy and longing. The longing is particularly strong tonight. This collage of strategically placed pictures and pieces of paper has been lovingly named the Oxford Wall. It holds a map of the city of Oxford that points out every library in the city. Another map displays a beautiful bird’s eye view of Oxford. The centerpiece consists of two parts: one picture of me and my friend Laura, each of us with pained looks in our eyes as we held up the book we had to use for one of our hardest essays of that term; the other is a picture of me and my friend Amy taking a slightly less-than-attractive selfie together. Dispersed between these images are a few of my favorite quotes, many by C.S. Lewis, written on moleskin paper.
This desk is almost nothing like the one in my room I had at the Vines, the house I stayed in while studying at Oxford. Each desk has what feels like a life and story of its own. When I came home I wanted this desk to feel like the one in Oxford, because I seemed to use that one a lot more. So I covered the wall with the things that reminded me of that time. I covered it in books and paper and pens and pencils. I even put my England memory box in the top right corner. But instead of using this desk as I had planned, I’ve found that I can’t. It reminds me too much of the place that became home. So instead I do my homework on my bed. I read my books in the living room. I drink my tea while standing at the kitchen counter. Except for tonight.
Tonight I decided that I wanted a cup of tea, but I decided to go all out and have a cup of what was my favorite tea when I was in Oxford: apple cinnamon tea from Tesco. It was cheaper than PG Tips and I think it smells like Christmas. When I had finished brewing my tea I decided that a bowl of grapes sounded nice, too. Happy with my culinary decisions, I made my way back to my room to start drafting my next blog post.
I sat down on my bed, balanced the grapes on a pillow next to me, pulled my laptop towards me, and stopped. I looked over at my desk and decided that maybe tonight I would write there. Because, this might sound really simple and insignificant, but I developed a habit throughout my time in Oxford. It didn’t happen all the time, but often enough I would make a cup of tea, grab my container of grapes from my food cupboard, and settle in at my desk before writing a paper or getting some research done. If it wasn’t the desk it was in the study loft with Amy and Laura. I don’t have a study loft in my house, so I decided the desk was most appropriate.
I might not be writing an essay tonight, and it might not be going on 3 in the morning. But if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, it almost feels like I’m back at the Vines. I can hear the low hum of the space heater turning as Laura curls up dangerously close to it, Amy joking that she’s going to catch fire. I can hear the iron gate slamming shut as someone leaves to write at Wycliffe. The birds are chirping, though why in the world birds in England chirp all through the night is something I will never understand. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack is playing softly in the background of the otherwise stressed silence as we all type furiously, all quietly begging God to give us a few hours of sleep tonight. Occasionally the silence is broken by bits of quiet conversation and moments of exhausted weakness as we cave to look at Tumblr or Facebook. It’s stressful. It’s painful. It’s exhausting. But it’s worth it. It’s beautiful. It’s home.
But then I open my eyes. I’m back in my room in Michigan. The one with the odd yellow walls, the messy floor littered with laundry and books. The one with the Oxford Wall. My tea is gone. My bowl of grapes is nearly empty. Even though nights like tonight make my heart ache and yearn for the people and places I fell in love with in Oxford, I’m still grateful for them. Nights like tonight give me a more vivid glimpse into the time we did have. I know my memories are probably a little bit hazed and idealized, but I don’t mind. Just so long as I get to remember.