Nostalgia: A yearning for the past, often in idealised form
I liked him as soon as we met in a red-lit hostel dorm in springtime Berlin. It was 2008. I was nineteen while he was twenty five, and we spent the day climbing over walls and following crows past the River Spree.’Oh Crowsies, rats of the sky, you are the best tour guides in this golden city’ he roared in his whisky warm, Australian voice. I laughed all day.
I’d always been too shy to laugh properly before, too shy to open people up into giving their best selves. Matt was different. As he ran after my airport train as I left the next day, waving a white tissue, all mock dismay, I laughed happy tears until they messed up my mascara.
Back in Copenhagen on university exchange, I spent the month of May like every other, hiding from the lovely little Danish family I lived with, who I was scared of bumping into in the hallway full of flowers and light.
I spent the month in the university library, studying for my final Law exams and reading warm emails from Matt in the strip-lit computer room, emails so long his friend reading over his shoulder nicknamed him Novella.
After nights out, I did as I always did and went to my best friend Ri’s shabby apartment near Orstedparken where we’d cuddle into bed. The next morning, with the magic of the night before faded, I’d stumble into the park, quiet in the grey dawn. The park wasn’t large or grand, just a simple sweep of water under weeping willows, but, I’d imagine Matt there, with me, sharing stories under a tree.
Exams ended, Ri went home to London and Matt emailed to say he would arrive on the first day of summer, a Saturday morning.
‘I will be wearing a moustache and glasses. I don’t want any paparazzi, so don’t tell anyone who you are going to meet. Actually, tell them you are picking up Billy Zane.
I can’t wait to see your smiling face. YOU BETTER BE SMILING.’
I arrived at the airport in my new white dress, holding a crumpled bag of salmon sandwiches I’d made for him, waiting and afraid, afraid that things might not be the same anymore, afraid he may no longer like me.
Then Matt was walking towards me, smiling, with his dark stubble and Ray Bans and wrinkles from too much drinking and joie de vivre. As he kissed me on the cheek, I smiled.
We had the keys to Ri’s apartment for two weeks, and spent every day at the park. The flowers had opened up and blossomed round the water, barbeque smoke drifted from friends playing Bob Marley in the sun.
The park was across the road from one of Copenhagen’s busiest subway stations, Norreport, with traffic all around. Yet I don’t remember the sounds of the city, just Matt, as he kissed the mole besides my right eye and said it’s where beauty spots should always be.
I’d put daisies in his ears and in his wavy Colombian hair until he looked like Oscar Wilde’s selfish giant. Memories within memories, it took me back to the happy daisy chains I made in the garden with dad when I was young.
Nostalgia within nostalgia, the willows grazing the water reminded me of visiting Monet’s garden, aged four, where mum and dad gently laughed at the American tourists gushing over the waterlilies, while I slowly realised that I wasn’t actually in Disneyland no matter what dad tried to say.
I gave Matt my memories, two decades of stories I’d never told anyone, and spoke the words of a year’s silence until I felt sad with the realisation of just how lonely I’d been.
Each morning I’d slip off to my own apartment, empty during weekdays, to breathe in the old silence, though invariably I’d end up asleep while America’s Next Top Model played on repeat.
Late, always late, each afternoon I’d rush out of the tube towards the park, finding him easily amongst all the blonde families. Kicking my sandals into the grass, I’d kneel down to hug him.
‘Sorry I’m late.’
‘You said you were going to be an hour.’
‘I was an hour.’
‘You think you can fool me because I don’t have a watch?’
I buried into his shoulder, ‘Alright, I took two hours.’
‘Alright, alright, Two and a half.’
‘Ails’, he laughed. ‘I can tell by the sun, by how much I’ve read, by how drunk I am, that you took longer than that.’
One afternoon, I pretended not to notice as he strolled up the hill, timed his DSLR, and captured us with the lake in the background, in matching floral clothes that blossomed in the sun, his strong hand placed on my bare knee.
Copenhagen’s red-roofed buildings were full of art galleries, independent cinemas and cafes, but we left them untouched. It was enough just to know that they were there. In my memories, we only left the park when the effects of wine and warmth and touch became too much.
On our last night, while we sat down in the silent park and looked out at the water, he howled made-up tunes into the sweet moonlight. Rubbing his feet that lay in my lap, I asked,
‘What are you thinking?’
‘Look at the reflections of that pole in the water. It’s like sausages being made in a factory.’
‘I was thinking of you’.
It was all I could do.
I knew I’d lost Matt after I visited him in Melbourne at the end of summer. Those last images of him develop unwanted, like spoiled photos in a darkroom, because by then, I’d lost myself to him, could no longer face him without make up in case I didn’t look pretty enough, could no longer draw pictures or write stories in case they weren’t creative enough, could barely talk in front of his friends because I felt I wasn’t good enough. Then six months later, back at university in Edinburgh, I received the email from him that finally admitted, ‘At the end, I didn’t feel it’.
I took down his sweet photos, and tried to let the bittersweet memories fade.