Life is weird. We spend so much time making such a fuss over it. So many days I spend thinking about later: will I try getting a job, apply for a PhD program, or assume the fetal position until my visa expires and I’ve got no other choice than to go back to Michigan?
But most days it’s not so bad, particularly the days when I stop worrying about later and just focus on now. The days when I don’t think about the importance of life and all its complexities, and just live.
Those days tend to begin at 7:30 a.m., when the alarm goes off and I let out an inevitable groan, turn over to silence the noise, and roll over to fall asleep for a few more minutes of dreaming.
Eventually I manage to sit up on the bed and get my feet on the floor. I stand up, locate my glasses, then check the time on my phone.
Still disoriented, I open the wardrobe door and pick the first set of clean clothes my hands touch. I spend, maximum, twenty minutes stumbling around my flat as I get dressed and throw any necessary items into my bag for the work day.
Still tired and yearning for coffee, I take a quick glance in the mirror before deciding it’s time to leave. I open the door and make my way down our narrow hallway. Upon entering the kitchen, I fill my water bottle, and next the kettle. Coffee is a priority.
If I have time I eat my yoghurt and granola at the table, some days while talking with one of my flatmates. Other days I just throw a cup of yoghurt and a banana into my bag before running out the door.
I pat my pockets to feel for my phone and keys. I check the time and the weather app on my phone, then peer inside my bag to make sure I have my ID, wallet, and inhaler. Still sure I’ve forgotten something but without being bothered to figure out what, I walk out the door and down the stairs.
I stop just outside the front door and lift up the metal flap on the face of our post box. It’s probably empty. I open the door, step out into the cold and wind (and possibly rain), and make my way onto the winding bridge that crosses the railway.
I once had coffee with someone who described this bridge as an industrial ant farm built for humans. Metal rows, cascading one way and then the next, always upward toward the bridge across the tracks before winding back down to the other side, at this time of morning filled with lines of people in black rain jackets as they walk uniformly up, across, and then down the maze of metal.
I make my way across the car park behind another building of flats, then onto the pathway that cuts between the main road and a field that I think is technically a marsh. My eyes wander, as do my thoughts, as I run through my schedule in my head and try to remember what I’ve forgotten.
I come to the set of concrete steps leading to the road. I fell down these stairs in October, not a surprise given how clumsy I tend to be, but ever since I’ve approached them with sure and slow feet.
I come to the road and pause, stopping at the edge to make sure no cars or bicycles are near.
I make my way across, then onto the gravel path leading to the university, up the hill and across a small bridge that leads to one of the university squares. I pull my phone out of my right pocket, check the time, then calculate how many minutes my commute took today: 13 minutes, 11 if I’m in a hurry.
I walk through the automatic sliding doors of the building, then past the elevator and through a set of wooden doors. Down half a flight of stairs, through the double doors labeled with my departments title, and down a few small winding corridors.
I arrive at the office, the one with my boss’s name on it, and try to remember which pocket my keys are in. I throw my bag on the chair, hang my jacket on the hook behind the door, press the power button on the desktop computer, move my bag to the floor, then check my phone for the time. The computer needs a few minutes to wake up, and I have 8 more minutes to get coffee, 6 minutes if I’m running behind.
Back through the corridors and doorways, up the stairs, and out onto the squares. I walk toward a small shop, the name of which I can never remember, so I refer to it as “the hole in the wall with the coffee.” It’s cheap and out of a machine, but it’s all I need.
Walking back to the office I make a mental note to bring a coffee cup tomorrow and to pick up another tin of instant coffee. Every day I make this mental note, and every day I tell myself to write it down when I get back to the office.
Back to the office, the computer now as awake as I am: functioning technically, but it’ll be another half hour until anything substantial can get done. Two or three hours of emails, phone calls, writing, reading, photocopying, and lord knows what else and I’m usually done with work for the day.
The rest of my afternoon is filled with lectures and reading. I work in the library for a time, then relocate to the postgraduate common room. I might go back to the library or stop by the office to check on work emails before making my way back to the common room. Days that are filled with lectures are nice because I can spend a few minutes of silence in the seminar room before other students start filing in 2 minutes before lecture.
Some days I try to stay on campus until 6:00 p.m., but most days I’m ready to go home and rest by 5:00 p.m. Either way, by time I decide to make the trek back home my mind is usually reeling, in the best or worst kind of way.
Before leaving I pull out my laptop or my diary to see that I’ve not forgotten any tasks meant to be done on campus. I check my email one more time, then close the laptop and put it away. I put on my jacket and my bag. I check to be sure I’ve got my wallet and my phone. I check the time, then search my pockets for my keys again. Always feeling like I’ve left something somewhere, but sure I’m just tired and overthinking things, I make my way to the bridge to leave campus.
Down the hill, across the road, slowly down the concrete steps, through the marsh, past the pond with the sleeping swans, up, across, and down the winding metal ant farm, to the door of my building. I punch in the code to the building, hear the latch release, and open the door. I lift up the flap to the post box, still probably nothing. Through the door, up the stairs, through two more doors, and home.
What I do next depends on what I need to work on. Either way, it’s usually all the same. I throw my bag next to my desk and tidy up my room enough to prop my door open. I check the time on my phone and determine if I’m taking an hour or more for dinner tonight. Some nights I eat and then scamper back to my desk to work.
But my favourite nights are the ones when I share a bit of time with my friends in the kitchen, usually over microwaved leftovers and talk of how our days have gone. We’re usually all a bit tired, but we have a calendar on the cork board that reminds us of whatever weekend plans we have to look forward to.
Even if most of our time spent together is spent cooking or eating or staring at phones and laptops, I still kind of love it. I love that I have developed a very clear routine, that I wake up in the morning and don’t think about anything beyond this week. I love that I can get a day of work done and come back to a place that has slowly turned into my home.
I might not have the constant feeling of awe and excitement of starting grad school and living abroad anymore, but I think that’s okay. I like what remains after the novelty wares off: a sense of stability, if only for this day. A sense of familiarity. Of belonging. Of being exactly where I need to be in this moment, with these people, sharing the beautifully mundane parts of life together.