A couple of weeks ago, I went home for my older sister’s birthday meal. It was nice, low key, just her and my little sister and our parents, and we ended up talking about my nana — dad’s mum, who died just as I was starting secondary school. She comes up in conversation quite a bit because she was one of those people that stories congregate around. No one in my family talks about nana without launching into a retelling of some specific, silly, remarkable thing that she did. And I said, offhand, in between the starter and the main at this nice restaurant, sitting with some of the people I love most, that I don’t think I’ve ever been, or will ever be again, as happy as I was on those afternoons at my nana’s house.
I’m not entirely sure how much I meant it, but it felt true as it came out of my mouth. There’s something about being a kid, I think, that makes the feeling of happiness bigger — maybe it’s because everything about you at that age is so small. When you’re happy, how can there be room for anything else inside you? I think it all the time when I see a kid laughing or crying; they’re full to the brim. I have moments of that, still. Sometimes, they’re obvious, like opening my Cambridge acceptance letter, but most of the time they’re not because of anything particularly memorable — to be cliche, it’s the little things. And I’ve found, as the ecstatic joy of making it into Cambridge has yielded to something slightly more muted, and notably more stressful, that to let those little things go would be to do myself a massive disservice.
I realised this, in a more definite way than I had before, as I left the restaurant. I’m never going to be eight years old again, dressing up in my nana’s pyjamas, or pretending that her stairs are mountains, or watching with heart-stopping eagerness as she divvies out Pringles between me and my sisters. But those aren’t really the things that would make me happy now, anyway. So, what’s the point in feeling sad about it? Instead, I can be twenty, and maybe I’m knackered, and maybe my essay’s late again — but I spent yesterday evening in a cuddle heap with three of my friends, making innuendos and laughing at a TV show that would’ve gone completely over my head as a kid. I go out and I dance in a way I was too scared to in secondary school; I got a tattoo that makes me smile and smile; I have sex and I get hugs and my friends make me laugh every single day.
Cambridge isn’t my nana’s house, which probably makes it a good thing that I don’t still live for Polly Pockets and Pokemon. Cambridge is somewhere I didn’t think I’d ever make it to — and I wish my nana knew, and that she still did silly, remarkable things that I could tell stories about. But, mostly, it’d be nice to assure her that, often enough, I find myself as absolutely happy as I was on the days she came to pick me up from school.