The final month in Karlskrona enters the stage with a bang. My beautiful longboard, a birthday gift from all my friends, rolled faster and faster down the hill, round a curve, when I saw the fence was closed. I dodge, I skirt, and dive straight into the hedgerow, which smells sweet with its fresh late-spring leaves in that split second, before my head crashes on the concrete street and everything stops. A soundless gong ringing, the sensation of my brain quivering from the impact inside its skull. Disoriented moments follow, blurred colourful houses, strangely unfamiliar in my own neighbourhood, no notion of what I’m doing there or what month it is. I wander till I recognise a house and stumble in. The concussion is well-timed, as these things always are: three days before our thesis defense presentation. I do my bit, mellow as a fruit, seated on a bar stool flanked by my two thesis mates. The care and concern of friends and housemates these days is heartwarming. Breakfasts left at the top of the stairs, a red balloon brought home for me, and my most loyal buddy carrying my bag for me everywhere.
I’m forced to go slow those days, which all things considered was exactly what I had wanted. And so one evening, when all my roomies have left for the final impromptu house party of the year, I fall asleep on the couch. I shift and turn when the first of them comes home in the faint dusk of the Swedish summer night. “Oh Steffiiiii!” he scuttles over to stroke my arm in apology before retiring to his room, and after that I lie awake, hit by a sudden wave of sentimentality. You make different choices when you are face to face with the horizon of a life. In my PJs and flip-flops I climb the hill in the fresh midnight breeze to join the Cheese House for what remains of the party, and tell whoever’s still there how much I like them, before it’s too late.
Oh Time… These weeks I watch its bizarre workings with perplexity. I stand back as it speeds ahead of me in its untamable, furious gallop. I tried to grab it, slow it down, but what can you do? Finally I throw my hands up and let it run. Oh! we’re doing our thesis defense. Oh! we’re deep-cleaning the Mustard House. Oh! we’re closing the year with the class. It steals my moments from me until there are none left, and all familiar ground rolls away from under my feet. I totter behind in those weeks, picking up the moments left in Time’s wake, stealing back some hours here and there to move through them at my own pace, reliving them gingerly through journaling. That is why I write, as Anaïs Nin says: ‘to taste life twice, once in the moment and once in retrospect’. In intervals, I catch up, trading some precious presence for reflection.
The week is marked by closing ceremonies. We close as a class, as a house, and finally as a cohort, receiving hugs and speeches and diplomas in our finest clothes (the only ones we haven’t already seen a thousand times on each other this year) and meet everyone’s folks. What a gift to have my mom and uncle here those days, delegates of the Heckman clan, witnessing this momentous milestone with their feet on my ground. On our last party night we watch the sun fall and rise within the span of a few short midsummer hours in the sweeping pink and golden brilliance we have come to know so well from the marvelous Karlskrona skies. We are on the barbecue island of Långö, the same place where it all began, and we jump from the diving board just like we did all those months ago to launch this awe-some journey. In every thinkable way, we are coming full circle, back to a season we’ve experienced here before, as we make ready to leave.
So quickly, one after the other, we do. The first Mustard leaving feels like an amputation, and we howl as she rips herself from our final group hug. So glad I am, to be staying in Karlskrona some weeks to slow down and wean off. But I hadn’t anticipated that staying behind, as our people drain from town, would be so uncomfortable. Dreams of an empty Mustard House find me at night, and so do all my classmates, meeting me in desolate eerie dreamscapes. The remaining Mustards, hemorrhaging housemates every day, huddle in the empty kitchen solemn and forlorn. In hushed voices, afraid of the echoes in the hollow rooms, we share our destitution. Stripped of its soul, the timeless nature of the house rises to the surface. It is now as much ours as it’s ever been anyone’s, and we see ourselves in our historical context: how many times must this kitchen have held grieving, leaving MSLS’ers? As we hum our final stories into the walls, and make room for the new, we wonder at the other years’ worth of stories in them. We can feel them, now more than ever, but we can’t hear them. What matter? It would be the same stories humans have told since they first learned to speak. About the complications and simplicity of life. About encounters and goodbyes. About heartbreak and hilarity. We add our own, as old as they are new, for good measure.
Oh Time… These weeks I witness it in defenseless deference, as it consumes all my precious final moments with insatiable greed. I stand by helplessly as that unfathomable human brain moves in on my near-complete year and begins to consolidate all the fine nuances, the most cherished details and innocent-seeming little moments. All my countless jewels are molten down with all the dirt into one clunky, multifaceted semi-precious stone. All moments compressed and downloaded into a single file for my memory cabinet. Now only with codes and secret keys will I be able to access a mere fraction of the richness: a scent, a song, a memory shared, a picture that surfaces in months from now, or the face and the embrace of one of my dear ones that I will now have to miss. This is why I write: to capture the Original Interpretation, if not snippets of Original Experience, before the moments are stuffed into that shifty memory, where every attempt to access them inadvertently colours and reconstructs them.
More and more over the course of those days, I retreat to the Cheese House where my two good friends live, who will stay behind with me. The last intact bastion of our dwindling Karlskrona life. Our bubble shrinks by the day as more of us break through the translucent film that separates us from the world, leaving traces of their presence: empty rooms, heaps of donated food. When the last Mustard leaves I move into the Cheese House permanently. That is, into a tent in the backyard where I find my own happy little niche. Finally I can feel Time slowing down as we sink into summer, spending our days idling in the sun, swimming in the sea, collecting bird feathers as trinkets and foreboders, and trying to force our sputtering bodies to still do some work on our planned summer projects. Time has slowed down enough to make those final weeks, wonderful and capricious, bitter and sweet, roll by like a languorous eternity. Yet at the same time I feel the pressure building on the other side: the day is looming closer where the bubble will have shrunk so small it can no longer contain us and will finally burst, leaving us leftovers, too, stranded in the big wide world again.
Before the end we shift into a different gear with the arrival of brothers. Two of them, my friend’s, fill the house. Suddenly I find myself inside the family space of three bros kicking back, relaxing into family being: the simplest being without being alone. I love this particular family’s space, and gladly accept the invitations to enter, joining on Midsummer nighttime adventures, celebratory dinners, and even their overnight Brotrip. Drama turns what would have been a nameless camping trip into an Epic Adventure, involving two messenger crows, a kayak adrift, getting robinson crusoed on an island, unyielding winds, long distance swims, early stage hypothermia, a dead swan, heightened stress levels, and lots of fodder for campfire stories that evening when we finally make it safe and sound to our camping spot. The two brothers provide my friend with some padding on his departure, of course, but their warm inclusive presence is also an unexpected comfort and support for me, and I’m loving those final days.
Oh Time… How I’ve been wishing this past month you would. just. STOP. For a minute. For a day. So I could catch my breath, and catch up with my presents as they roll by unendingly. Unbelievably, the moment I knew would come one day, does actually come one day. The great goodbye rolls into my present, and rolls out again on its way into the dim past, leaving me shipwrecked in tears. Unbelievably, the moment in the train as we roll away from our home gets its turn to be my present, and elapses. Unbelievably, the moment of sitting alone in a Copenhagen Station coffee shop, free at last and on my own two feet in between lives, becomes my fleeting present, and passes too. What can I do but let it happen. Time marches on relentlessly and spares no one, not even Ozymandias king of kings, who bowed to none until he bit the dust for Time.
At breakneck speed, that inhumane pace of modern traveling which leaves our spirit scattered across a continent, I end up in a plane to Amsterdam, and three hours after landing, in another plane to Belfast. Here I spend five days to feel the land that will become my next home. In this place called Corrymeela, people have gathered in the name of peace for the past fifty-odd years, all through the violent Troubles of Northern Ireland. A place atop towering cliffs, with squawking seagulls circling, boisterous North winds blowing, rugged hills strewn with echoes of kingdoms risen and fallen, and the waves of the sea lapping on the shores like they did in Karlskrona. I meet the people, who receive me with utmost welcome and understanding, and give me the softest possible landing: going slow and taking time for all the pieces of me to arrive. Even so I feel shellshocked, and it takes me three days to arrive in spirit. We take walks, eat food, have conversations. We identify birds together, share political analyses and family stories, clean freshly picked gooseberries, and finally suss out the internship I will start after summer. I felt at home even before I visited, and my visit only seals the knowing. But just when I’ve begun to settle down I’m on a plane again, back to the Netherlands, where I am now, waiting for my poor spirit to catch up with me again.
My current, prolonged present is the moment I’ve been longing for more than I’ve feared it: the exhausted, full release of collapsing on my mom’s couch. Here now, finally, this magnificent year, equal parts inspired exuberance, heart-wrenching pain, and fulfilled contentment, has come to an end. Here now, the time for decompressing and processing, for grieving, healing and regenerating, has come. Here now, Time, I have come abreast with you: If I can’t stop you, I will stop myself for a while. But Karlskrona… that happened, and we made it to the end. This year will from now until forever be one of our most prized jewels, an open sea that became a safe harbour. It will prove to be a gift that will keep on giving, like a pebble in a pond, like the wind that makes the waves, like the sun that falls and rises every day in that glorious Karlskrona sky, as it does here, and there, and everywhere.