Scotland, South Africa, and Returning Home Broken

I suppose this is the beauty of creating a blog amongst friends—I can wake up and read a piece on why my friend went to school in California. I could probably guess why, hell, we talked about why, but there are things we can write about that we, for whatever reason, like to skirt around in conversation. It’s the power of the pen, the typewriter, the keyboard, or whatever medium you’re spitting words onto a page with.

James went west. I went east. James stuck out his four years that he didn’t enjoy. I left after two. It wasn’t a good decision. In hindsight, it was an unequivocally awful decision. I’m still picking up the pieces three years later, behind, restless, stuck in place.

I went to Scotland to be contrarian. It was a needless fuck you to a high school and community that never did anything to fuck me in the first place. The school was fine, community fine, family fine, friends fine. It’s hard to explain, but I think by the end of high school I felt invisible. It was a feeling I didn’t like, one I wasn’t used to growing up successful on the sports fields of a small town, and I wanted to change that. Applying to and accepting an offer from a prestigious university in the United Kingdom would ensure I wasn’t invisible. It was petty insecurity. A timid shit making a move that a timid shit wouldn’t make. Ipso facto, timid shit is no longer timid shit. Aboard a plane he goes.

Scotland was very okay. In fact, off the bat I liked it quite a bit, I made some friends and could go to a pub as often as I pleased. An 18-year-old kid’s in Heaven.

Eventually that allure wears off. Eventually you come to notice that you inhabit a town that is in fact not Scottish at all—a town whose inhabitants wear tweed and buy bottles of champagne. Like these people can’t actually be real people. How many tuxedos can an 18-year-old kid own? How the fuck is the U.S. ambassador’s daughter to the UAE attending this same school in middle-of-nowhere Scotland as ordinary me?

Eventually you come to notice that the clouds are always fucking looming and always so fucking gray. Eventually you come to notice that it’s always drizzling and that you hardly leave your bed unless it’s to go to the pub and, eventually, although you’ve made some lasting friends in a beautiful town in a beautiful part of the world, you come to the conclusion that it can’t go on like this because you’re not you. St Andrews was a town with pretty views where I didn’t totally fit in.

That’s how I explained it to friends and family. I thought you liked it there? I did, sort of. What about your pal Max? Yeah, that’s what I feel worst about (and still feel guilt about). Could you just stay on the final two years? Yeah, I could, but I’d rather try something else. Something else was South Africa. Cape Town, specifically. Another stamp in the passport. The sunshine rebuttal to Scottish clouds. A city too big to feel suffocated by a bunch of douchey yuppies. I liked the South Africans I had met. I fancied a South African once. Well, Zimbabwean actually, but really the same thing when you’re rich and from Harare. She didn’t fancy me back. Cape Town it is!

Two more years of this fairy-tale of going to random countries’ universities to see the world under the guise of getting an undergraduate degree. All undergraduate programs are the fucking same, let’s do it, two more years and then I’ll start doing real life. Right now, I wanna see shit, have stories not necessarily for me to tell ‘cause I don’t like telling stories but rather for my own memory bank. My motives were selfish because I knew I could get away with selfish motives for a couple more years. After, I’d start playing for keeps, stick around for my family, my grandparents that’d start doing what grandparents do around our age.

Cape Town didn’t work out. I don’t talk about it much—at all. It was the first elephant in the room of my life before I picked up a new one. It was retreat, it was failure, it made me question my manhood. I’m still awaiting the opportunity to prove to myself that it was just the perfect storm of shitty circumstances and that I am, in fact, a man.

I stayed there four weeks, maybe five, in a hostel that was sold to me as a place with other students that went to the university. It consisted of mostly medical students from the Netherlands in their mid-to-late-twenties that spoke Dutch to each other. They weren’t going to be friends. I took a bus to large lectures, alone, ate food, alone, wandered the streets of Cape Town, alone, and pretty much stopped sleeping since I didn’t want to be around the hostel with the bugs and the Dutch people speaking a language I didn’t know.

The most obvious solution to this problem would be to make friends in lectures or join a club or something, but I just wasn’t in the mood and that was probably my greatest flaw. I realized I had never actively made friends before—friends had always chosen me or it was mutual and unspoken. The friends I have here I’ve been friends with since I was five. The friends I made at St Andrews lived in my dorm—one was my roommate, the other lived literally across the hall, a third I met the very first night at a dorm social and we hit it off. I told myself that I don’t do the whole make new friends thing and don’t actually know how to be perfectly frank and I’m not sleeping and finally what the fuck am I doing half a world away in South Africa?!

The moment that it hit me right in the face that I should’ve just stayed in St Andrews for two years was pretty priceless. The moment that because of this stupid fucking decision life wasn’t going to be the same anymore, that it wasn’t going to be the four year path anymore, that you got greedy and it fucking blew up in your naïve face, that’s quite a moment. You grimace. Your sleep-deprived eyes stare blankly. You were dealt a pretty darn good hand, kid, and yet you royally screwed it up.

I could’ve maybe kept on in Cape Town, but I didn’t see things changing for the better. I was alone in an unfamiliar place and none of it really made sense. I cut my losses. I failed. Self-respect, a goner.

What would my friends back home think? That when the going got tough I’d bail? I didn’t think that’s who I was. I fucking hope that’s not who I am. I guess I won’t know until I’m put in a situation with my back up against a wall. I didn’t exactly pass the first test. I knew that it wasn’t going to be the right place for me, but still, you ran man. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

It put a dent in my confidence. I came home embarrassed, lost, so far off the path I mapped out in my mind. I drank. I noticed faults I never had before. That I had felt isolated in three different places suddenly made sense. Before I had blamed the setting, but the common denominator was me.

I’d like to say that after a brief period of shock I was able to chalk it up as a learning experience and everything got better and I learned to practice self-love rather than self-doubt. But it didn’t work out like that. South Africa was such a catastrophic fuck up that I was now ready to push the envelope on just how much I could blow up the plan. Maybe one day I’ll write about it.

South Africa took something from me. I’d say it was something along the lines of my honor, my pride, my self-assurance that I would just power through anything in life because I had good morals and a good mind. I didn’t like that this made me question that I could be depended on. I don’t like that it’s made me continue to question that every single day.

I don’t like that I have to wait to answer the bell.

I pretend it doesn’t eat me alive.

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