I am 20 years old, on a train between Geneva and Pisa, sharing headphones with a girl I met a couple of days before, listening for the first time to a song she’s currently obsessed with (the obsession will transfer to me, but I don’t know that yet). I’m looking out of the window as the Italian countryside moves past like the backdrop of an old film. We are sitting still, in silence, as the music envelops us and people walk up and down the aisle of the carriage.
I am 20 years old, backpacking alone around Italy. I have lived alone, in a tiny town west of Paris, for nine months. In a few days, I will make a long-distance call from a payphone in an Italian youth hostel to pour my heart out to a boy back home. A year later, this song will help me through the demise of that relationship, and a few days after that I’ll meet my future husband.
I am 20 years old, between three countries, trying to resist going backwards. After living away for nearly a year, the UK represents tragedy and heartbreak and I am not ready nor willing to return. I am so against going home that I am applying for au pair jobs and have written a letter to withdraw from my degree (which I won’t end up sending).
I am 20 years old and I listen to the song, its gentle guitar and soft vocals. I see my new friend smile as she watches my reaction, and I feel on the edge of something I can’t quite name. This moment in time is fleeting; the song lasts no more than four minutes, yet something about it sticks with me enough that when I hear it fourteen years, three children and five cities later, I am transported straight back to that train.
What I didn’t know then was that that final year in Leeds would be exactly what I needed. I didn’t want to go back, and I almost didn’t, because I was scared of the sadness I felt when I left. I wish I could tell myself that I would learn to talk about grief and loss and sorrow, that I didn’t have to be alone. That in the following year I would still feel sad and angry but I’d also be joyful and in love, and I would finally feel like me again after two years of avoiding myself.
It’s funny; I’d forgotten all of this until I heard the song.