Last night, I flew back into London after a number of sticky hot, beauty filled and breathtakingly awesome days in the city of Barcelona. I had the most incredible time away – we saw every touristy thing I had planned to see, we ate good food and relaxed lots and I came home feeling like my horizons had been broadened. So much of Barcelona, from the beach to the Gaudi architecture to the views from Monserrat, literally rendered me speechless and left me really quite overcome and choked with emotion. It was truly an exquisite few days.
But telling you about how awesome my trip was isn’t what I need to write about. I had an amazing time, but getting to BCN was a journey and an experience. When we were little, we travelled a lot with my parents. We went all over the globe, and I trotted dutifully behind them as they looked at (but perhaps I did not truly see) so many different cultures and countries. Then I met my ex. He doesn’t travel, he has hobbies that keep him near home and he has never been interested. And slowly, despite part of my soul being ever-free and seemingly attached to the wind, the stars and the flightiness of them both, I stayed with him. I forgot to dream of travel; not when my friends went when we finished school, not during exchanges at uni, not as a graduation summer of madness. I convinced myself that staying with him, throwing myself into his hobbies, and keeping myself in one place afforded me the best chance of happiness.
Slowly, though, this became less of a conscious choice, and more of an unconscious need. Travelling the world was never on the agenda, but suddenly trains started to worry me. He’d tease me as I got there two hours early “just to make sure”, but he must have been unaware that without him, I felt too fragile to be brave. I spent so many years feeling incompatible with the world – so instead, I followed behind his strong, certain footsteps and tried to keep safe in his shadow. We rarely left our bubble, and when we did, I became incapable of leaving his side. He was my definition.
When we split up, I had moments where freedom, or the sense of being weightless, drove me to maddening fantasies of travelling the world in my car, or sleeping on people’s sofas until I found somewhere truly unique to live that I loved. Thankfully, I was grown up enough to consider the various options available to me practically, and I chose to stay where we lived and loved, just slightly further away – in a beautiful, quiet, picturesque part of England where very little happens and it is lovely precisely because of that. I feel at home in my part of the globe, and I have walks that I like and people that I visit in cafes and my work is close by and it is safe.
Safe is good, but I’m not sure you grow when you feel safe all the time.
Before Barcelona, I was a quivering wreck of fears of pick pockets, getting lost, unknown foods, dark streets and maps I didn’t understand. I scoured the internet, trying to find pieces of information that would keep me safe. I made my mother buy me a travel bumbag. I agonised over the metro map and the routes from the airport and by the time we landed in Spain, I was pretty much a mess.
In the last week, I feel as if I have found myself again. Striding round the city, map in hand and now feeling like a pro at riding the metro, I kept catching glimpses of that young girl, full of questions and desperate to see everything the world has. That young girl loves everything beautiful – she used to collect stones from the beaches she swam at, napkins from restaurants and she would take endless photos of the things that fascinated her (though the photos would never capture the magic she was trying to make sense of). I feel as if I have emerged from a cocoon after a period of growth, or maybe from a cave after hibernation – I may have gone to that place to be safe when the world felt horribly unsafe, but I stayed there so long the world was passing me by.
With this new found sense of adventure came a sleepless night in our hotel as I scoured Pinterest for places and things to add to my bucket list. I already had one (and ‘go to Barcelona’ was on it), but suddenly the possibilities feel endless again. But as I was scrolling through Pinterest, the same quote kept coming up, again and again:
You are my bucket list.
I am sure this is meant to be romantic. I remember being the girl, so head over heels in love for the man I thought was my soulmate that your dreams both intertwine until you cannot untangle them to find their original owners. I remember being the girl who thought that if she gave all of herself to him, if she threw herself at his feet and emptied her soul to give him space to invade, he would love her despite her flaws. I remember being the girl who loved him so much, his dreams were so important that hers became trampled underfoot as she ran around to make them a reality for him.
I remember being that girl, but I cry for her now. I lay in the bed, with the nightlife of Barcelona happening around me, and I cried for the girl who lost her dreams. I cried for me now, trying to brush the rubble off to find pieces of evidence of what they once were. I cried for me now as I made a new list, the old one so lost. Besides, so much has happened. That old girl and the one I became wouldn’t recognise her.
I hope that those two girls wouldn’t recognise the girl I am becoming either, though. I hope that I am a mosaic of all the bad and the good that has passed before, with plenty of space for the new – just like Casa Battlò, the façade made of old, broken up tiles and new materials to make something so beautiful it seems otherworldly. I hope that the new me would take their breaths away.
I am my own bucket list. It is inside me; it should be made of me, my dreams and what I want to become and see. I never want my bucket list to belong to, or be defined by, another person again. Worse still, I never want another person to be the only thing on my list. He was my bucket list, but I know better now. I just wish my broken, teenage self could have seen that.