My time in Vancouver was quickly coming to an end, but there was still one more vital stop to make; UBC. As a little girl, I knew I wanted to go and live in Canada for at least some time of my life, but I still had no clue what college degree I wanted to pursue, or what university I wanted to attend there. I decided in late 5th year, to leave behind all practical career options and to pursue Arts to follow my love for writing and the study of our social world. It was then that I also began looking at universities I wanted to do my MA degree in, following college – and it became clear beyond any doubt, that UBC was the dream.
Helen and I caught a bus downtown to UBC. One of the best things about Helen is how much she does for people she cares about. She could sense how nervous I was, and spent the whole bus ride building me up with motivation of how my time in UBC will come around faster than expected. Visiting UBC was probably the biggest reminder of how Vancouver offered so much more than the initial reason behind my travel. I was in my favourite country, and I felt like I had found my exact place in the world. I felt right at home in this city.
The funny thing is, as stoked as you would think I would be, going to visit my dream college, I wasn’t. I kept putting it off, day after day. At one point, I think Helen was concerned I was going to scrap out going all together. You see, in theory, it was so exciting. No doubt, it’s serious motivation to go and witness for yourself your dream, right there in front of you. For a second, it seemed so attainable. The reality however of me getting a place in my MA course in UBC, is quite slim – 20% of all applicants slim, to be accurate. Well, that and the insane amount for tuition and accommodation. Add to that, seeing right before my eyes what I could be missing out on, well, the thought was freaking me out. In saying this, it only took seeing UBC to tear away all that fear. Seeing people walk to their classes, and seeing the campus buildings which are breath-taking, the atmosphere – I wanted nothing more than to be a part of all that. I promised myself that if it took me all my life, I would be a part of that. Truthfully, I have no idea if I’ll ever qualify for a university as prestigious as UBC. I also have no idea how I’m going to scrape together the money to attend even if I were to be accepted. If it takes working a few years after I graduate to save up, or re-applying year after year to be offered a place – I will, one day, some day, make it to UBC.
After UBC, I didn’t think anything could top my time in Vancouver. I didn’t think I could find any more of myself in this city. I had found my dream UNI in this city, beautiful parks for my regular runs and walks, people who were always so polite, full of life and positive energy, great night life, all I could dream for and more. And, yet, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That evening, after dinner, Helen and I decided to go for an evening stroll. That’s when we stumbled onto Sunset Beach.
The thing about Sunset Beach, that made it very different to all other empty beaches I’ve been to, is that it was THE beach. It was the beach pictured in my head for so long, that I had no clue existed outside my imagination. So, imagine how it felt for me, walking on the shore of a beach, that was sculpted from my very own imagination. This was my beach, picture perfect, right before my eyes. I’m not sure I can ever find words adequate to explain what finding this beach meant to me, but what I will say is, upon seeing it for the first time, I cried uncontrollably. It’s very fair to be confused as to why seeing an empty beach would cause me to cry, especially when the photographs don’t do the real view of Sunset Beach any justice. While Helen explored the shore further down, I sat by the edge of the water, and confronted the horizon. As far back as I can remember, empty beaches have been what I consider my safe place. Sitting on an empty beach, at dusk, watching the sun go down, is the most tranquil feeling I know.
It is also the only time I ever feel like I can bear my soul, completely, unapologetically. I think of all my loved ones, of people who I have lost, people I love. Most of all, I sit by the water, and look out beyond the horizon. The horizon for me resembles the future, how it is the most uncertain thing in our life. You see, we can see ahead to a certain extent, for example, short term plans we make, the people in our lives – where the horizon meets the water. Beyond that, is the unknown. We have no idea what is awaiting us beyond the horizon. Ever since I was a little girl, I would sit at the beach and wonder to myself what was awaiting me behind my horizon. There is another reason why empty beaches are so important to me, and that became so when empty beaches became the biggest metaphor used in my poetry.
When I fell in love with my ex-boyfriend, it was the first time in my life that I felt safe. He became a safe place for me – not a book, song, or poetry, not an empty beach – an actual living thing, a person. I never had that with anyone else. Someone who just understood me, who knew me. I was able to talk to him with complete vulnerability, even just as friends, well before I fell in love with him. It seemed in a sea of people, family backgrounds, society and friends, we just understood each other and acquired the same mindset and opinions. That’s what made me fall for him, the way we could talk about anything and everything. How there was no boundaries between us, even when our circumstances should have precautioned about 101 of them. He struck me as one of those people who doesn’t talk much, doesn’t open up too much, or use words much to articulate his feelings, but give him an ear to listen to his dreams, political opinions, passions, things that angered him, music he loved, and there was no shutting him up. I loved that. As time went on, I looked forward to nothing more than our conversations and I began to resemble him as an empty beach in my life. In the form of a person, I had found my safe place, my very own empty beach. Empty beaches became only a text away.
Unfortunately, like anything – songs, movies, places, that you link to a person or a memory that is no longer a part of your life, it takes away from the beauty of that thing for you. And as beautiful as Sunset Beach was, it came with a lot of pain. For starters, I thought that I would never sit on an empty beach alone again, because I thought I had figured out my “beyond the horizon”. I imagined empty beaches would be where I would sit with the love of my life, his arms wrapped around me, while we watched the most adorable Golden Retriever play in shallow waters. I had a million and one thoughts, now linked to a place that one day used to be my own, just mine.
I first thought back to the last time I had sat on an empty beach – it was the day, him and I had talked on the phone and he told me he was moving to Canada. We hadn’t even met yet, and I remember writing in my diary that night how I wanted nothing more than for him to have been sitting with me on the beach that night. I thought about how funny it was, that after everything, I be in the same country as him, again, and yet still, I was sitting by myself on a shore wanting nothing more than for him to be sitting with me on the beach. I thought next of all the poems and lines that I used metaphors in, comparing him to empty beaches. I thought of the first poem I ever wrote about him, “A Message In A Bottle”, which described him as an empty beach. Specifically, I thought of the line in my poem “Lost To Be Found” where I said: “Your eyes are all the ocean shores I have ever sat upon, wondering what was waiting for me beyond the horizon – unaware that it would be you.”
But, it wasn’t.
And that’s the thing about the horizon, sometimes you get so caught up in how beautiful it is, you forget that the sun dips beneath the sea, and the horizon eventually fades into darkness. I wanted nothing more than to write a poem, sitting there on the sand, but I couldn’t without breaking down. I had all the emotion for the poem, just not the words. It felt like the longest term of writer’s block I had ever endured, and a part of me didn’t want it to end. Truthfully, I didn’t want the closure, didn’t want to confront the end of something I still believe in. Something I still see so much good in, despite all the bad. For the first time, in a long time, I was once more guessing at what was waiting behind the horizon for me. Was it UBC? A successful career in writing? My dream television show? Who knows? The possibilities are endless.
Helen stayed with me until my very last day in Vancouver. We kept re-visisting Sunset Beach, and on my last day sitting by the water, listening to my beloved John Mayer, I made a promise to myself that Canada wouldn’t be beyond the horizon. Canada was going to be in my short term plans. Whether I end up going to UBC, in the fall after college or not – after I graduate, I decided I’m going to leave Ireland. We planned to spend our last day in each other’s company, nothing extravagant. Just as luck would have it, Helen and I had the hostel room all to ourselves that last night. It felt like my first night all over again, and in so many ways, it felt like forever since that first night. So much had happened, and so much had changed. We were stuck between whether to watch Home Alone, or The Vow, which I had planned to watch in Canada on my initial trip plan. We decided to let Netflix decide, and when Home Alone wasn’t on Netflix, I was making fun of a cheesy romance movie for the first time in my life. Helen and I enjoyed 2 hours of obsessing over Channing Tatum, before DMCing until we eventually both fell asleep.
The next day, we had a short morning spent in the city before I was headed to the airport. We ate breakfast at Cora’s Breakfast, which was a cute, and delicious breakfast cafe, a bit of a walk away. After a coffee, we went to collect my bags from the hostel, checked out and made our way to the airport. I texted my mom, and told her where I had hid a letter for her, and that she could now read it. I wrote to her, thanking her for letting me go on the trip alone, for believing in my relationship enough to have let me booked it for it’s original purpose too, for being my rock when her belief wasn’t in place. I asked her to not regret letting me board that plane if anything were to happen to me, that this is what it’s like to really live and explore, and that I was living my life. I added a P.S that I would try my very best not to kiss or get with any cute Canadian boys, but should Justin Trudeau find his way into my arms, then all promises and chaste values were off the table for good. (She did not appreciate that part very much, and took particular interest every time a boy’s name came up in my reaccounts of my adventures in Canada).
Helen came all the way to the airport with me, just to see me off. She accompanied me through check in, and all the way up to security. I was hugging her goodbye, since she wouldn’t be able to accompany me after security checks. I let go, only to hug her again. This re-occured three more times, before Helen decided to confront the fact that I was not this obsessed with saying goodbye to her. “Meriem. Meriem, stop.” She took my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. “He’s not coming, okay?” I held back my tears, and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right, I just.. he had my flight details, I thought maybe he’d just even come to see me go..” and the rest was mumbling. So much had changed over the course of the trip, but some things hadn’t. This was one of them. I was waiting until the very last second, holding onto hope that this trip would turn things around. And it did, it changed so much in my life, just not that.
I had a full row to myself on my flight back home. Air Canada is by far the best airline I have travelled with. My flight was relaxing and the 10 hours flew (literally) by. I thought back to how tough my journey over was, and I compared it to how this one was. I may not have overcome my feelings, but I had definitely regained a little bit of myself. I had genuine fun, laughter, and a great time in Vancouver. I met some of the sweetest people ever, who I’m still in contact with until this very day. The girls and I are already planning trips to meet up during the summer. I flew to Canada, crying over pictures and videos, lost memories from the summer just gone. I was flying back from Canada, looking at all the photos, videos and memories I had just made with amazing people. There was so much I had in mind to do when I got back home, so much that Vancouver had inspired in me. I set out goals for my education, even bigger ones for my blog, and I promised myself I would keep trying with poetry, no matter how long it might take me to get back into it. This trip taught me, that even if you share some of the best things about yourself with others, they are always still yours to keep. You don’t have to stop loving the places you always wanted to visit together, or the songs you used to sing along to, the pets you wanted to have, or the million and one other things and experiences you set out to endure together. All you have to do, is find different reasons why you love all those things, and set out to make new memories instead of the ones you had envisioned. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn to appreciate, against the magnitude of what you have lost.