"I lie in COVID isolation amidst the rubble of love"Hannah Castle

I lie in COVID isolation amid the rubble of love. The remnants of a care package litter my bed as I wedge myself between a packet of mini eggs and a blueberry face mask, resting my head on a 700g pack of multigrain cheerios and the comfort of knowing that I’m cared for. Scree from each cliff face I have scaled fills my room, my heart pulsing in the feverish heat of the sun on my cheek. Falling back into this steady beat I survey the debris. 

"Letters flutter through the valves, leaving behind comforting ink stains ... so often reread that they are almost committed to memory, read in a familiar rhythm"

My whiteboard in the corner is the upper left chamber, on which are stuck two drunken post-it notes scribbled in my college wife’s hand, a rare transcription of a conversation usually restricted to club bathrooms. They tell me, in exaggerated terms, that I am too good for whoever I was consumed by that evening. In the right atrium, my desk drawer, letters are scrawled on lined paper and a birthday card promises a present on its way. These are strewn with the reckless abandon of someone who knows they will be revisited and rifled through repeatedly, so need not be arranged. They flutter through the valves, leaving behind comforting ink stains; I find them under my desk and smile as I leaf through them, so often reread that they are almost committed to memory, read in a familiar rhythm. Wedged inside the aorta (the narrow wardrobe Cambridge provided me) are my clothes, now permanently stained with memories and red wine, my tattered white trousers lent to a friend now a physical record of a night we’d all rather forget, and one that she in fact did. And tucked under the sinoatrial node (hidden behind the curtain) is a packet of tobacco and a friend’s lighter, patterned with claret diamonds, the legacy of a slippery slope which I skirted hand in hand, graze in claret graze.

My whole life I've been lucky enough to have been surrounded by this esoteric kind of love. Perhaps in a past life, I was the kind of friend who gave up a kidney, or maybe just someone who always seemed to call at the right time, whose face lights up your phone in blue light, its radiation making you feel a little warmer, because my karmic legacy has treated me well. Upon leaving home, I was worried that this luck would run out. Waving goodbye to my friend, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was heading somewhere remote. A fifteen-minute walk we both insisted took ten was going to become a train journey, the length of which could not be warped even by long strides, two and a half songs, and wishful thinking. This impending distance loomed, no matter how hard I promised I would try to surmount it. Yet, to my surprise, I found that once again I have been able to settle in, to form a tessellation which has wrapped me in more warmth than my market scarf, swathing me in comfort, morning crumpets, and evenings filled with tequila and time that seemed to stretch endlessly. 

For all this and more, I am nevertheless confronted with the same question from family at home - have I met any nice boys? (a variant on the other classic - have I met any nice Jewish boys?) Without wanting to delve into an explanation of Hot Girl Lent, my weary ‘no’ causes an inexplicable sigh of disdain. For all my protestations that I have made friends who I care for more than anything, family (especially those older than me) seem to have the understanding that these connections are orders of magnitude less important than my romantic life, which ought to form the cornerstone of both the university experience and its outcome. The hangover of a history which has taught us to strive for a partner and 1.92 children still ingrains in us the idea that this must be our constant endeavour, leading us to disregard the depth that platonic bonds can have.

 "the denigration of friendship in search of ‘something more’ is an absurdity to me"

Perhaps it is naïveté talking, or the isolation mania which takes emotions, throws them into the washing machine I can’t use and rinses them on such high heat that colours merge together and come out vibrant and new, but the denigration of friendship in search of ‘something more’ is an absurdity to me. Recently, a friend told me she was asked if she had yet met anyone she could see ‘ending up with’. We laughed. At 19, we decided that we are sure of two things: we certainly don’t want to die alone, but we also do not want to fritter away our university days chasing men, rather than sitting in her kitchen sharing toaster waffles and gossip.


Mountain View

Let stars come forth, without one quiet thought

So for now I will travel back to the post-it. To the bathroom floor where the best friendships are made, and the 5 of us lay like sardines by the bath. To the liminal space where time means time spent, where your limbs are mine and they’re holding my head, and the unspoken is voiced in chorus because we’re reading from some intangible hymn sheet in our fatigued grips. Where my eyes flit from the cold of the chipped bathroom tiles to the warmth of your faces, rouged by tears, love, London Dry Gin martinis, and exhaustion we can’t feel, because we refuse to acknowledge that it’s 3 am and there is a bed still unmade. We’re crying and laughing until we can’t tell the two apart, and all I know is that if I had to stay anywhere for the rest of my life it would be here, clinging to this moment with the whitened knuckles of whoever’s hand is holding mine.