…is, supposedly, the greatest feeling in the world.
Like most things that are supposedly great (nightclubs, Valentine’s Day and birthday parties spring irresistibly to mind, but I could think of more), it was never going to be able to live up to expectations.
Which isn’t to say that it was terrible. It was great to finish, great to scribble out one word at the bottom of an essay and write in a clarifying phrase just as the invigilator called time (rendering my handwriting shaky with adrenaline as well as cramp), great to throw down the pen for the last time and wait smugly for my script to be collected, great to walk down the stairs of the Exam Schools wearing a red carnation and smirking a little. It was great to have water thrown on me by my friends once I got back to college (although that took a long time, since I went to the bathroom and found, when I emerged, that the other English students had left without realizing that I wasn’t with them. Awkward.) It was great to have pasta afterwards. It was great to have two bottles of cava all to myself, have a disproportionately enthusiastic chat about Game of Thrones with another English finalist, tipsily crash the second-years’ Middle English class, lurk in the quad for the entire afternoon absorbing the resentment of everyone who hasn’t finished yet, devour a fajita, return home and watch an inebriated two episodes of How I Met Your Mother with Darcy before collapsing into bed. That was all wonderful. But it was also somehow deeply, unsettlingly weird.
I was given a balloon at some point after my trashing, and lost it within twenty-five minutes–I tried to tie it to a bench in the quad, and of course it floated away. I jumped for it but didn’t catch it, and off it went, its little blue body swaying drunkenly in the breeze (much as I was to do several hours later). Apparently, from the age of about three, I’ve always both had a talent for losing balloons and been utterly miserable about it (my mother told me this when I called her to reassure her that yes, I had finished, and no, I hadn’t fallen under a bus yet). But quite apart from this, it still made me feel ludicrously sad. This must happen to most people: reactions they know are out of proportion, but can’t do anything about. As the balloon went, so did most of the self-control which had (still has) prevented me from having a complete crack-up. I felt strangely weepy, and–in a stroke of brilliantly embarrassing behaviour–actually did cry, for about thirty seconds, in the front quad.
I’ve tried to rationalize this as the result of what, for lack of a more precise metaphor, could be called a very sudden loss of carbonation. For months I’ve been fizzing (simmering, maybe?) Every train of thought I’ve had has been subjected to interrogation; I’ve become accustomed to relentlessly examining my own opinions, trying to work out where they’re wrong or weak, or where they could go the extra mile and be really clever. This has rendered my thought processes infinitely (and irritatingly) self-conscious. And, although I have found that Oxford’s not nearly as blatantly stress-inducing as other places appear to make their students–Harvard, for example, cultivates its own image as a hothouse of academic self-castigation, but I’ve never felt particularly pressurized by anyone other than myself here–a certain level of stress is inevitable. Still, since I’ve been my own harshest critic (as far as I know; possibly my tutors have just given up on me, but they’ve kept that to themselves if so), I couldn’t help thinking, and still think, that I should have been more unhappy, or at least more uncomfortable, while revising for Finals.
All of this may explain why the sudden disappearance of a balloon made me irrationally upset. Or why, when people keep asking me how I feel, I don’t quite know what to say (I’ve settled on “happy but directionless”, which keeps them content while still gesturing towards honesty).
However, I did go to the Trout yesterday afternoon with my aunt and uncle, who came down for a day visit, and the Duchess. It was sunny and we all had fish, which felt summery. My uncle was forced to order Pimm’s for me, my aunt and the Duchess, which he did with a sense of great shame and unmanliness (apparently Pimm’s is a sissy drink, perhaps because it has fruit in it). He tried to recover this with a large beer, which worked admirably. After lunch, we had a walk down by Godstow lock. Young cows wandered freely across the path, and we pointed them out to each other as well as the various buildings of Oxford’s skyline (we found Exeter chapel!) On the way back, another walker silently but excitedly pointed out a warren of baby bunnies, which appeared entirely unconcerned by people. We stalked them for several minutes, making squealing faces as they hopped about within a few feet of us. A boat was going through the lock as we came back, all blue and shiny silver. The woman standing on the prow called something to us as the boat descended, hard to make out, but we gathered that it was a houseboat, beautifully appointed and tidy. It seemed a particularly lovely evening, yesterday, for messing about in boats.