By Emma Thayer
Photography by Emma Stevenson
It’s a Tuesday, and I’m sitting in a nearly empty café, waiting for a coffee, and reading a book. But the words of the book are getting mingled with the conversation that reaches my ears. Two people, on what looks like a first date, have taken the table next to me. Despite feeling uncomfortable, I stay put. Call it politeness or awkwardness.
After some small talk, one of the first-daters launches into a monologue about his travels in Europe. He shuffles his chair closer to his date, and starts to show her (and, inadvertently, me) a few hundred average photos of nondescript streets and beaches, explaining each picture, and his date looks as if she’s wondering why she swiped right. He’s loud, patronising, and neither his date or I are impressed that he’s supposedly tried the best custard tarts in Portugal.
I stare blankly into my book and begin to think about how the simple act of quietly getting a coffee has been added to the list of recent events that have not gone to plan.
A few months ago, I lived in a city I had grown to love. I was a postgraduate student with a good part time job. I shared a house with wonderful people, and my boyfriend lived a short walk away. Although sometimes stressed, I was the most fulfilled I’d ever been. And as my studies came to an end and I had to move back home, I tried to be optimistic. I spent too much money on clothes to wear to interviews, and rewrote my CV anticipating adult life. I wasn’t completely naïve – I knew that landing a decent job related to my interests would be difficult – but I figured that having some time at home to relax and apply for jobs at my leisure wouldn’t be so bad after working hard all year.
It turns out that moving home and applying for jobs is not the welcome break I thought it might be.
It’s spending all day in your teenage bedroom, scrolling through the same job site tens of times, just in case you missed anything. It’s being grateful to receive a rejection email, because you never hear back about most applications, even if you spent an entire day on the cover letter. It’s accepting a job in retail when your heart isn’t in it. It’s looking up from your laptop screen and seeing the rabbit that your ex-boyfriend’s mum got you for Easter several years ago, the bottle of Disaronno your old housemate left behind for you when he moved away, even a Polaroid from when you went out for cocktails a few weeks ago, and feeling that time is slipping away from you. Weeks are passing by whilst you’re right back at square one, trying and failing to resume the happy life you had worked hard to begin building. And you feel embarrassed and guilty for wallowing in these small struggles.
Maybe I’ll spend many more months at home, mindlessly filling out applications for jobs that I don't have the experience but do have the passion and competence for, gathering dust like the piles of university books dotted around my bedroom.
But a scrap of optimism remains, and it is this: at some point, by some fluke, I'll get a job I actually want. Something that’ll be a step towards a career. I don’t know when that will happen, but surely it’s just the law of averages. And eventually, I’ll move cities, leaving behind my teenage bedroom, and life will begin again. I’ll be rushing down a busy city street at 8AM, wearing one of those cool working-woman pairs of trousers I’ve been eyeing up for weeks but cannot justify buying. And the warmth of the takeaway coffee cup in my hand will induce a wave of nostalgia for the days when I had time to have a coffee in my hometown and listen to strangers endure bad first dates.