How has a whole year gone by? Look at that smiling baby-face. I was so relieved to be done with physics it didn’t even occur to me that I’m actually done being a mess of a human being (read: student).
All that blood, sweat and beers culminating in this one moment. Sitting there in the Great Hall, sweating my ass off in my suit and that robe straight out of Harry Potter. Being thoroughly impressed by the Vice Chancellor pronouncing my surname correctly (it’s Rabinovitz, props must be given where they’re due) and trying my hardest not to truck it up those stairs.
Would I have done any of it differently? I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t thought about it. For those first few weeks of being home all I wanted was to have grabbed that mic from Sir David Eastwood’s hands and throwing down my very best Wolf of Wall Street impression.
Yet here I am. Still hoarding that last box from the big move home. It’s sitting in the corner like a cardboard monument for my ever-dissipating youth. A brown lifeboat ready to be packed and journeyed back to Birmingham at any moment. The last remnant of hope that this is just a year in industry placement coming to an end.
“It’ll be over before you know it” – it sounded so patronising at the time. Those third-years spreading their misery like a terminal illness, telling you to enjoy it while you can with their last Doritos-stenched breath. It got to me too, that crushing fear of what to do next. I even contemplated that masters they offered me! After crawling to the finish line, all battered and bruised, I nearly rung the bell for round four. Just so I wouldn’t have to leave. Just to get #OneMoreYear in true Birmingham Lions fashion. Just to avoid reality for a little while longer.
Like a mother forgets the pain of childbirth, we slowly erase from our memories the bad parts. Overnight our minds throw down spectacular post-production editing to make us forget those terrible all-nighters attempting to cram in the library – while your mate keeps going on and on about how wired he is right now and that you need to get some Modafinil in you. Or those three months of constant poverty after you decided you’re one of the Rothschilds on that week the loan dropped.
What about those assholes next door who finished exams the night before you? The ones who threw the biggest rager of the year while you’re still buried to your neck in notes. Don’t even get me started on those self-important lecturers who take information off of their slideshows just to punish you for choosing to binge on Netflix instead of attending their two hour lecture at 9am on a Thursday after Sports Night ( – Fuck you guys the most!).
The worst part of it all comes two weeks after that fateful day in the Great Hall. Suited and booted again, on a crowded train this time. On your way to an interview on the hottest week of the year. Haunted by your memories of the good old days you find yourself staring into the blank expressions on those faces all around you. Avoiding eye-contact lest you’ll see into their minds and learn the truth. The truth that they too had big dreams once. That they too were going to be entrepreneurs who travelled the world. That those golden handcuffs we call a salary aren’t so easy to walk away from.
Face to face with the man you might become (if you were tall, black and your beard was better-groomed) you promise yourself not to fall into the rat race. Not to become an empty shell of a man for the sake of a bigger house or a better car. Not to find yourself on the opposite side of that aisle – looking at that fresh-faced kid with the poorly-executed half windsor, wishing you had all the options that he does right at that very moment.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’