This evening, after nearly 6 years here, I started packing to leave Cardiff. And while my overriding thought was, “Why do I have so many clothes?!”, I have to admit, it’s emotional. This city has been many things to me, not least, for years now, my home.
Cardiff, I hated you when I got here. Naïve, terrified 18-year-old me did everything I could to spend as little time here as possible. I spent my first morning here on the phone to my mum, sobbing, hiding in my bathroom so my new flatmates wouldn’t hear me. I didn’t know anything or anyone here. The unfamiliarity, the rain, the scary new housemates, all these people so… different to everything and everyone I knew. I already had friends. I already had a home. Why cheat with this imposter?
My heart was back in Bournemouth, and so that’s where I was too, as often as I could be. After lectures finished on a Thursday I’d be on a train. I dread to think how many miles my mum clocked up on the road to the station and back – rainy Thursday nights we now reminisce about when we make the same journey. “Do you remember when I was in first year, and I hated Cardiff?…”
But gradually, I came to realise – home doesn’t stop just because you left. Home had started to move on. And at the same, sneaking pace, you began to lure me in too. Now my heart really was confused. Gradually, as the train pulled out of the station, my heart would give a little tug backwards. I’d start to wonder what I was missing. A vintage fashion fair, one weekend. Wow, I thought. We don’t have those at home. I’ve never been to one of those before.
And gradually, I began to test it. Test the water, and test myself. Try not going home this weekend – just see. If it’s horrible (and part of me, rabbit-in-headlights, still expected it to be), you can go home next time, vindicated. You can shake your head in disbelief as you tell your mum, you just don’t understand how horrible it is. You can gesture around at the kitchen you grew up in; it’s not like here.
I tested it, and Cardiff, you passed. I stayed. It took months, but then you didn’t only grow on me, I began to revel in you. All this newness! So many opportunities – places, and people, and sights and sounds, tastes and jokes and moments – home began to look smaller. And stiller. As it should be. Now my heart was no longer trying to keep up with both Here and There, I could see them both for what they were. And what they are still.
And what are you, Cardiff? You are glorious. You are the place I met some of my truest, greatest friends. You are where I danced, throat sore from singing and cheeks sore from smiling. You are where I learnt so much – not just about what I was here to, but about myself. You are where I learnt how much I loved my subject; so much that my heart signed me up for a fourth year. You are where I achieved, from the smallest victories (my first attempts at home cooking) to the big ones, graduations, 10Ks and beyond.
You are where I started to make myself. To build the person I’m going to be and the life I’m going to have.
You are where I fell in love. With the person that is truly the other half of me, who has taught me more about myself and what I want out of life, and supported me to build that person and those dreams, than anyone I’ve met before. Without you, Cardiff, that wouldn’t have happened.
And now, with that person, I’m leaving. I’m not sure how long for. And even when we do come back, we’ll be on borrowed time. My heart knows I don’t want to be here forever. Because how would I know what else is out there, otherwise? I want to try it, to test it and see. If I don’t like it, I can always come back.
Because thanks to you, Cardiff, I know now that moving on is a good thing. It’s a brave and right and wonderful thing. It’s nothing to be scared of. It’s what you do.
If we never moved forward, what would we have to look back on? Thanks to you, Cardiff, I have six whole years.