Watching a band I’d never heard of playing their last ever gig was a surreal experience. My friend was lost in the moment so I didn’t turn round and talk to her, and as I leaned on the bar in the front row I wondered why I, too, felt strangely emotional.
Possibly it was the girl next to me who was sobbing along to the music, pushing away tears with the heel of her palm as she shouted and headbanged her way through the set. It was towards the end of a long day, and maybe I was just tired.
But I’ve never been good with Lasts. Last weeks or days, last moments, last times. I place undue significance on them, watching the clock as it wends down to the final second. In twenty-four hours I’ll be doing this for the last time; in twelve hours this will never happen again; only three hours to go…
They’re better than the unknown Lasts, though: the ones you can’t see coming. The last time you’ll ever see someone as they tell you that they cannot love you, now or ever again, and that they won’t stay any longer. The last shift at work where you’d come in and left as usual, only to be let go the following day. Then, I count the hours backwards: this time six hours ago, we were still together. This time last week, I had a job. I’m grateful (now and every day) that no one close to me has passed away, and I dread the time they do, partly because I know I will insist on chronicling the pain minute by minute, hour by hour, maybe forever.
When the band finished up their set, each raising a tin of Red Stripe in grim acknowledgement before clumping off stage without further ceremony, I realised it’s because I’ve already starting to Last my final months in London.
London has been my home since September 2012, although I moved to the South East a year before that. Being from the North, I knew this was never a place I would settle and I’ve attempted to leave at least three times. But something – usually someone – has always held me back.
When I lost my first job out of university, I hung around in Sussex at my then-boyfriend’s parent’s house, waiting to start again but dithering, wondering whether it just wasn’t for me. And when we split up I decided, that summer, that my Master’s year would be my final one. Then halfway through that, Boyfriend came along and, despite my saying on our first date – within mere hours of meeting him – that I wasn’t planning on staying for much longer… I’m still here.
It was the right decision, but I’m lucky enough to have been presented with another that will take us up North, closer to both our families, and shake up our career and financial prospects.
My job finishes in August; it was a fixed term contract, and of course I’ve been counting down the months and weeks. But it’s only hitting me now that two months today, I will no longer have to sit in that office with those people, day in and day out. Two months today, all the petty stresses that make up my working week just won’t be relevant any more. Two months today, I won’t come home and rant about my day for an hour before I can truly be comfortable with my evening. I won’t miss the work, but – on some level – I will miss the people. Yet, I can’t help but look forward to all the Lasts that will go along with it.
I’m leaving London for a world of Firsts. Watching my niece take her first steps and say her first words; my first day at a new and probably less demanding job; hopefully going to my first day of the Clinical Psychology doctorate or Social Work programme (whichever one will have me); publishing my first book; going out for the first time with a new set of friends; seeing my parents truly happy with their home and family for the first time in years.
For the first time, I feel like I’m not just guessing at what to do next, picking this particular jigsaw piece because it looks like it might fit in there. Any good jigsaw puzzler will tell you that you need to start with the edges and work inwards. When we made the decision to move, I put the last piece of my edges in and found that, actually, it should be a lot easier from here, because I know what I’m doing now.
I can start to build inwards, piece by piece, until the last one is in place.