Sunday, December 18, 2016


I often contemplate the irony of how a sentimentalist could exist in a hostel, a place where you are expected to connect and let go each day. I've always struggled to effectively manage the memories of those I've lost, but now I live in the wake of hundreds of such losses. The memories of departing guests and colleagues attach themselves to the physicality of this place, these rooms where memories are being written over each other, again and again.

The sentimentalists of the hostel fantasise about old guests returning. It happened to a colleague a few weeks ago as he dragged me to the reception computer and pointed at the screen: "She's coming, she's actually coming!" You felt and knew that relief in his cry could only be the result of months of pining and daydreaming. It's a sentiment that I could closely identify with, but I have to remind myself that the guest that I Iong for will never return, as much as I yearn for it endlessly.

One such guest returned. Not for me, not for anyone, specifically. He lived with us last winter and his hostel lover was once my colleague. She has long since left. As I sat at reception, I watched him look at the details of the corridor, the doorframes and the window sills. His reminiscence was largely silent. "Les fantômes restent ici..." I remarked. He didn't appear to be pained by it at all. He headed out with the new staff, unperturbed, dancing and drinking and then staggering back home to tell me all about it.

Others have returned. You take them in a sweeping hug and you asked them about life on the outside. Those who remain in London describe dodgy landlords and a leaking roof, mould and damp and flat mates from hell. Those who stay for a few hours tend to get sad at the changes, the unfamiliar staff and the rearranged furniture. Those who return and actually stay get easily entrenched in the microdynamics of the group. There are crushes and hookups and tensions that exist and disintegrate and the rest of the world falls away somehow.

When they leave, some say they will visit. Some say they will be in touch but it is never like it is when you simply exist together, living and talking and loving and laughing for hours upon hours each day. I write down the quotes that make me cackle maniacally, almost developing a moment by moment sense of sentimentality. We squeal at each other when we enter the room, scooping each other up, dazzled by this sense of gratitude that we actually exist together in this space and time.

When I long for him to be here, I have to remind myself: "He could have been here if he'd wanted to be..." It's a sentence that really touches upon what it means to be present with a person, to sit and to live and breathe with them without guilt or distraction. You can lose a life, squandering your love and energy on somebody who decided to be present with someone else. The challenge is to solely devote yourself to those who choose to be with you now, to reconcile yourself with the risk that despite your love, one day, you might lose them too.