Of Ghosts and Graduation

There’s this one spot in Edinburgh Airport I pass each time I’m there. It’s a pillar by one of the gates with a socket in its base that doesn’t quite work. I know this because I sat there once, leaning against the plug of my charger to keep the power going into my phone, eking out the free wi-fi, as for the first time, message by message, someone told me the story of how they fell in love with me.

Things are different now, but I think of that evening every time I see that pillar, of the ache in my back from sitting on the floor, of how I was trying not to laugh and cry in the middle of the airport. I found myself flicking through the screenshots I have of that conversation on my most recent flight home back to Gloucestershire to attend my undergraduate graduation, thinking of things that were and how I was on my way to close another chapter of my life.

Graduation has been a long time in coming – I handed in my last assignment for the degree in May, and I didn’t formally receive my First Class BA Hons in Creative Writing until November 22nd. But it was a glorious day. A glorious day. I got to go back to my beloved Cheltenham, see my friends and previous cohort, many of whom I hadn’t heard from in months. My parents and grandma got to attend, as did one of my younger brothers as representative of the four other absent siblings.

Yes, unfortunately, many people I love, and that I wish could have been there, weren’t able to make it. Lack of available time, pre-existing commitments, and distance are a thing, after all, although my heart did ache a little that this momentous day couldn’t be experienced by all those people I wished could be there.

Nevertheless, it was a magnificent time, if a little tinged with a feeling similar to the one I get each time I pass that pillar. It’s a feeling of being in a place which no longer feels right to inhabit, of revisiting a setting I will forever have pinned on my internal display board of important, precious moments but ultimately is no longer my reality.

Maybe I’m trying, poorly, to find the words to describe nostalgia. There is something to be said for taking out old memories once in a while, caressing them, feeling their warmth or their bittersweet touch or their sharp lesson. Walking through Cheltenham, I was joined by every ghost of myself collated over three years; there was a sense of coming home, of acquiring many discarded, comforting skins I was forced to leave behind when I moved to Edinburgh.

Though I’m already three months into my MSc up in Scotland, it was only crossing the stage at graduation in my gown and hood, balancing my mortarboard, that I realised what I had achieved. Those ghosts of mine will always stay in Cheltenham, floating for me to find each time I go back, but I think my longing for their company will lessen with time.

After all, I’m starting to leave new skins, new ghosts here in Edinburgh too. The airport. St Giles Cathedral. The Christmas Market. My uni campus. Each street I find, each shop I enter, each tree I touch in the Meadows and Princes Street Gardens. That bar at 1am. That pub quiz. The kitchen in my shared flat. I’m sure these will one day hold as much nostalgic joy for me as I had weaving my way up the Promenade and onto the High Street, cutting through the Brewery and down into St Pauls to pass the Schoolhouse Café on my way to The Coconut Tree, and onto the FCH campus after a boozy lunch with a friend I see so rarely and love so dearly.

Every time I pass that pillar in Edinburgh Airport, I will remember how it felt to be in love. Just as every time I think of Cheltenham, I will remember my graduation as the capstone of a thousand other memories, of the bitter cold made iridescent with bright winter sunshine. I will think of gowns and hoods and mortarboards and remember how proud my dad was as he took photos of me on the balcony overlooking the famous racecourse. I will one day think of this desk, of this flat, of this street, of Edinburgh, and remember the important moments that will happen here; that have happened here already.

I will remember, even as I move on.

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