Failing to pack

By Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle

I am packing my second-year room. I feel nostalgic for everything that was, for every piece of fabric, small paper note, mismatched earring. 

I chance upon old objects I barely touched: a red notebook I brought in France and didn’t have the time to fill; the toothpaste my ex bought me whose taste I hated that I stashed in a drawer; the yellow poncho my mum thought I would need that I never took out of its plastic wrapping.

Piles of newer objects too, summer piles, from days after exams when time flows differently. Days spent laying on the grass, chatting. The Grantchester pile – towel darkened by river mud, bathing suit, sun screen. Five-pound bright pink cap I wore once. 

Flowers on the road to Grantchester.

The pile of dresses I wore this June, when the weather softened and putting together outfits felt like too much effort.  

On shelves, high-heeled boots, neatly aligned below my favourite books. The Hemingway novels I read in Lent when descriptions of Spain, paved streets, and whiskey felt like a nice escape from claustrophobic Cambridge. My favourite Romain Gary, La vie devant soi, the most touching description of love I have ever read. Social outcasts huddled in a small, stinking Paris appartement, and when one dies the other covers her in perfume and makeup, until he is forced out of the appartement, into a world where she – the prostitute that brought him up – can no longer protect him.

A lot of objects I wouldn’t have bought were it not for lockdown. Memories of being in Cambridge in Lent: a calmer, sweeter rhythm, less to do, more cooking, kitchen chats, and walks. The chequered board I would bring to hall when I got weirdly obsessed with chess.  

A large French press I used once this year when we had breakfast on a Selwyn rooftop. Blanket spread out, fear of porters, sticky pastries. Memories of my friends smoking on that rooftop, extending the break; memories of watching the morning melt into the afternoon. 

Too many clothes, given I wear the same ones all the time. Hard to decide which ones to take home, which to leave in storage.

By now, my room’s floor has disappeared under open suitcases. I have lost all concentration. I end up on messenger.

I don’t know what to do. I have too much stuff

In Lent, one of my friends got weirdly into minimalism (her own chess). She was watching documentaries, reading articles, and talking about the class privilege that comes with selecting what belongings one keeps, but also, the mental peace that it brings about.

Surrounded by stuff, I understand her fascination. It feels like none of these clothes or books matter. It feels like this year, this stuff, helped me grow, and now I can live independently from it – like they are crutches I no longer need.

I know I have to pack, and then put the boxes in the Selwyn storage, and then go to London and not miss my Eurostar.

But I have stopped packing, because packing feels too tedious and strangely emotional, like being forced to close off a part of my past I am not ready to let go of.

I leave my room to go join my friends. It is 1AM, so if we stay up until 4AM, we’ll hear the birds; at 5AM, we’ll see the sunrise. Then I can pack, then I can leave.

View from Castle Mound that morning, 5:02AM.

I don’t want to spend the night reminiscing about my second year, about the different terms, the habits I took on and then shed, the essays, the people, the nights out. Trying to figure out what mattered, to remember the highs, the lows. 

I don’t want second year to be over.

I want to see one last Cambridge sunrise before I leave the country. 

Make one last memory.

Header image by author – ‘View from my room’

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