Home has become a minefield of awkward encounters.
I grew up in Surrey, home of the Dursleys and epitome of English suburban life, tame and safe and uncontroversial. It fulfilled my needs, and then I left.
As did pretty much everyone else. We spread ourselves across the country at various universities, made new friends and did new things.
Three years later and we meet the summer of 21st birthday parties. Brilliant dinners, champagne, debauchery; cocktails and sunshine and chain-smoking; premature school reunions.
A few people from school will be my friends for life. We started planning our octogenarian whiskey-tasting circles many years ago and will always be able to pick up straight from where we left off. Since leaving home, I’ve kept up with them all very regularly, wherever they are in the world. Any occasion to see them is warmly embraced.
They’re the silver lining, though, not the cloud. The problem is seeing people you used to see every day whom you now make no effort with. Suddenly cast together, you need to pretend that you’re delighted to meet again when you’re frankly fairly irrelevant in each other’s life. There’s a scripted conversation and a plastic smile. The air becomes filled with fluttering and hollow exclamations like “We must catch up!!” and “How ARE you?!" The effect is exhausting.
There are different levels of this. There are people I feel a lot of affection toward. They know about Washing Machine Tom — my first kiss — and I’ve watched their little brothers learn to walk. We’ve drifted apart since school because we didn’t have that much in common past mutual obsession with Hot Train Guy and distaste for our history teachers. I care a lot about what happens to them, but I don’t care much about seeing them, and I doubt they have much interest in seeing me.
Those meetings are alright, ish. A bit dull but comfortable and not mind-numbing. Worse are the ones with people I was never friends with. The kid who believed he was Holden Caulfield incarnate; the girls who discovered vodka at prom and threw up everywhere. Thrust together and forced to converse because it would be rude not to say hello, I find myself struggling to maintain the will to live.
The ultimate nemesis, however, is the old friend who I am learning to dislike. The people who peaked at 17, have gone downhill ever since and become hot pots of insecurity and aggression. People who have lost direction and can’t talk about anything other than themselves; ones who think conversations can revolve only around their exam grades, or how many people they’ve had sex with. Casual trips to the pub can turn into terrified games of hide-and-seek, and I have played witness to several cat fights. I honestly think guide books ought to be written about how to navigate the politics of the unplanned reunion.
I suppose the truth, really, is that home isn’t where our lives are anymore. For me, it’s where my family is and where I have a summer job. Being home means drinking a lot of tea and making the odd nostalgic trip to the terrible local nightclub where I once made out with my best friend’s older brother. Those are all very important things, but I cannot pretend that home is really where I belong now.
As a not particularly brave person, I consider this a very scary thought. This summer is showing me that I wouldn’t have the social skill to be able to move back into Dursley-ville after graduation. I couldn’t stay sane within the tumult of old faces and out-dated relationships. I’m going to have to get a job and move out properly. The message of the summer of the 21st birthday parties is that soon, I must enter the working world and become a real person.
I’m torn between excitement and a desperate wish that I was Peter Pan. Then I remember Washing Machine Tom and think that progression can be a very good thing.
Melissa Lawford is an exchange College junior from the University of Edinburgh studying English literature. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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