Thermoregulation: The ability of an organism to keep its body temperatures within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is different.
*Content Warning: this piece briefly mentions instances of spiking and sexual assault*
There are ghosts all around town. Patrick Hamilton haunts the tower by St Salvator’s Quad, and it’s local superstition to avoid stepping on the PH stone laid down to prevent bad luck. The White Lady haunts the cathedral ruins, with a legend going back centuries. As I walk past the red-doored church down to the Kinnesburn, I swear I see a shadow cross past me ever so often. It’s an old and quiet town, a peaceful one, so content I sometimes feel like it never really wakes up.
There’s noise if you know where to find it, and with only a bit of regret I will admit I think I partied too much. St Andrews is not a party town, with only a few streets on the Eastern coast of Scotland. The beaches are beautiful and frequently too cold, the buildings aren’t half as old as they pretend to be, and I’m convinced people are lying about enjoying most of the parties.
Students are students and make do; I remember Bollywood in Hitanshi’s garden, Shakira in Annika and Cecilia’s kitchen, hip-hop in a cramped South Street living room, techno in a flat close to Whey Pat. In the last one they set up strobe lights, freezing the girls around me into single frames of motion, distilled like a series of photos. I start taking too many pictures, on my blurry phone and a cheap film camera, none of them very good; I am hoping they can capture a feeling I can’t quite find the words for.
At the start of my last academic year, I shoot in color; I have no experience with film, or photography, but I thought it would be nice. As I hit October I find that color film in the UK is absurdly expensive, and I switch to black and white. My wardrobe, bright and exuberant, seems to disappear - pink cowboy hats and neon green boots, dragon-printed red shirts and cheetah print miniskirts, all colored the same.
I am as loud as my wardrobe and talk too much, too often. It makes me great at parties and sometimes overbearing in small groups, but I make it work. I did public speaking for a while, trying to channel it into something productive - debate, Model United Nations, speech. I did okay. I always wanted to try storytelling but never did, never quite had the feeling for it.
Sometimes I sing in the shower; the walls are thin in St Andrews, and the neighbours sent me a Christmas card telling me I had a lovely voice. Every other month or so we do karaoke, head down to Edinburgh and book a cramped room with sticky floors. I don’t really sing in public - I had been part of a choir in middle school, and that was about it. When I was a child, barely able to speak, my family brought me to India; on my grandfather’s hospital bed I babbled and babbled and he laughed and laughed and nicknamed me bulbul, nightingale.
Here’s a sound: me in bright pink, throwing up in Meher’s backyard. I vow to never let her pour my drink again as I heave onto the grass, staining my neon green shoes. There’s a hundred little funny stories people recount to me, about me: my excitable introductions, throwing up into a reused yoghurt pot, collapsing onto an old table. I don’t remember most of it but I felt every inch of it, waking up the next day bruised and cold from the bathtub my flatmate had forced me into.
Meher’s is not the first party I go to, but it is the first after they loosen restrictions on socialising, after the long winter silence of 2021. COVID had come before I could settle into a new skin familiar with sweat and shifting beats, pausing my parties and my pictures. I remember the silence of the first two years more than anything, sometimes morose but occasionally kind and peaceful.
In February it had snowed, a rarity in a coastal town, and I wandered through a long stretch of farmland in my leggings as it dampened the world into something content. I watched the sunset over a distant hill and realised I was lost on a road far outside St Andrews, and by the time I found a way back to my flat (with thanks to the strangers who had given me directions), I was so cold I felt warm. One thermometer later I realise this is hypothermia, and not too unfamiliar a feeling.
Not all my parties go so well; in October 2021, I wake up disheveled, after only one drink. My friends are confused and all I can remember is taking a swig from someone unfamiliar. There is nothing concrete but at night his bottle was filled with something pink and shimmering that in the morning has turned clear. We don’t think about it until a few weeks later, when news breaks out of mass increased spikings throughout the UK. Beware the signs, the news tells me: a change in taste or color, and unusual drowsiness.
My living room becomes a site of danger; the tree branches in the hedged lane from class to my house look almost skeletal, and every crunch of leaves behind me becomes a sign to run. I spend the rest of the year on edge and I drink more to make up for it, like I have something to prove.
London is many things but usually not peaceful; that New Year’s I crash a stranger’s flat, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-flatmate-of-a-friend, down half a bottle of convenience store vodka and climb up her roof; I profess my love for the Deliveroo drivers doing late-night shifts for all the parties (including ours), climb back into the stranger’s bed alone, snore as she gives the other partygoers tarot card readings.
I wake up at 11 am to a series of concerned text messages but with everything present, just dehydrated and tired. The stranger-turned-friend walks in with a glass of water, smiling at me; “Good morning, sleeping beauty,” she says. My knees are scratched up and I stumble my way through the city, relatively quiet with only the sound of other people straggling home or trying to find a decent breakfast. I sit at a coffee shop and drink an iced tea and freeze through the morning in a faux-fur jacket and a corduroy skirt. I remember the sky being bright blue, welcoming in 2022.
That winter I had stayed between guest bedrooms of family friends and couches from old classmates. A grey couch in Elephant and Castle marks my memory; I wandered through the markets as they began to open, just past 8 A.M.; the smell of fish and meat was sharp, the air was cool, the shouts were friendly and infrequent this early. I passed by a coffee shop, where a few joggers were finishing their runs. A global city was barely waking; it felt odd to me to see it.
Here’s a story: in Javanese mythology we have Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility. It’s said that she was so beautiful that she became a source of temptation, that she was sacrificed to preserve the peace; as her body fell to earth it turned into sugar, coconuts, and rice. Every time I eat lunch now I think of her; I wonder if Catholics feel the same way about consuming Sacraments, if it is supposed to feel defiling instead of divine.
Here’s a sound: the grass in Wick, north Scotland, rustling through the wind. Willow and I stopped by on our way to John O’ Groats, booking a cabin because there were no campsites. When we had arrived around 5 p.m. there had been noise: cows and goats bleating, and an American couple driving in and making conversation. With no electricity, no wifi, and no stars due to the gloomy overcast, we resigned ourselves to playing cards before we fell asleep.
I wake up hours later, check my dying phone to see it is close to midnight; the sky is still a light grey, so pale I’m not sure if the sun has really set. Back home we follow a stable routine: the sun rises and sets, around 6 either way, marked by the adhan of the nearest mosque and the whirring of motorcycles and gridlock traffic and smoke. Summers in Scotland are not meant to end.
I step outside for a second and hear nothing: no cows or goats or American couples, just me and the grass in the wind. I want the silence to be comforting but it rarely is.
A week after my 22nd birthday we head to a rave; my friends joke I am the only person who can enjoy techno while sober. I wander around between rooms and sounds in neon green, greeting every person I meet, some of whom I don’t talk to anymore. I am trying to forget the silences between parties, which puncture the daily ennui of student life.
I am not an artist, or a visual person in any way, but in the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakesh, I hear a song that sounds familiar: Volubilus, by Cy Twombly. They stop me from taking a picture but I remember the label description: “Volubilis is built up of many layers, with the surface actively worked up and agitated, again and again…on a visual level then, the thickly slurried ridges of paint recall the furrows of the excavated Moroccan field.”
I cry and the security guard starts to look a bit concerned; I cry at the thick lines of charcoal, the pores of each layer resembling stone and skin, every surface revealing something a little different - a moment of its own time. Every act of excavation is an act of transformation.
In November of 2022 I had started hiding my face under my ever-expansive collection of themed hats - green frogs, pink cowboys, blue fish. If you see a flash of neon green - that’s how you’ve found me. Greek mythology tells a story of Philomela, who mourns and mourns and transforms into a nightingale, singing her tragedy late into the night. I don’t understand it until I do, on the 28th of October, weeks shy of my 22nd birthday. I do laundry the next week and pick up my brown corduroy skirt, formerly my favorite, and feel ill; the body will remember things you refuse to think about. I shove it into the back of my wardrobe, as I debate between keeping it and burning it.
I shake it off in the morning, or try to, and that night I go to a party at Isabelle’s. My friends are dressed up - Christian Bale in American Psycho, Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service; I show up in sweatpants and make a joke about my low-effort costume, passing it off with a laugh. I go to another party the next night, and then another, and then another.
Snow falls again in December, blanketing the crumbling towers and spilling white onto the beach. I find a moment of peace, walking through town in bright yellow sweats and an orange headband. Sometimes the quiet scares me, makes me feel I’m not doing enough, makes me think of an early morning in a boy’s bedroom and his hands on me after I had tried to push them away. Today it is good; today I think the snow will cover what I do not want to see, and rain will eventually wash it away.
Just before Christmas I head to a party at Hana’s; I have too many friends in physics for someone who cheated their way through high-school science. An hour in all my energy dissipates, and I hide away in her room, falling asleep under her duvet. I hear Joel’s voice outside, asking people, where I am. As I stumble home an hour later I bump into him, tell him with a smile that I’m getting old and all partied out.
A few days later I develop the worst cold of my life; I’m still not sure if it was a flu or pneumonia. My fault, admittedly - earlier in the day I had taken my shoes off and wandered down West Sands barefoot in freezing winter water. It’ll be healing, I told myself, watching the town grow more distant; I see the silhouette of the clock tower by St Salvator’s, the imprint of the cathedral, and wonder what it would be like to just keep walking north. I turn back and head back to my life and my parties, and by the time I find stable ground to put my shoes back on, my feet are so numb I can no longer feel the ice sheets underneath them.
Some parties I regret - some are far too expensive and never really that fun, but your friends buy a ticket and you get dragged along and blame them; it’s human to always want to be part of something and human to complain about it afterwards. Milena and Sonya crowd in the kitchen, where Nitya invents a new type of shot that both Elly and I agree is dubious at best. I wear a dark blue jacket and a matching denim hat; my face is hidden in all the flash-lit photographs Jasmin takes, and you can see my nails chipping. We head to the bar afterwards, skipping the afterparty, and I see ghosts in Aikman’s taking the form of boys who shouldn’t be there anymore.
I crash on Nitya’s floor, unable to stumble home in my heels, wrapped in the cocoon of her spare duvet. The party had been boring, the music mediocre, the alcohol expensive, and I wonder why I bother going to all of them. We catch up for the first time in four years, and I remember being 19 and letting her crash in my bed after dragging her away from a boy she didn’t really like much anyways.
In this quiet, punctured only by shouts from outside her flat and music blaring across the street, there is a rare moment of honesty. I tell her I cannot let go of things and she passes me a pillow, and when I wake up hours later I walk home barefoot under a stark sun and bright blue February skies.
Willow’s dad buys me color film for Christmas, and I use it later in the academic year; it’s nice to see the blue in the ocean and the red of Meagan’s hair. A friend from the States is visiting, made the trip over to Scotland just to see me; I drag her to a party and show her around in excitement, trying to explain things that only matter to me, inside jokes that span as wide as an entire town. I watch her eyes glaze over and realise how small it really is here.
I write my last essay in April, walk home late at night, a large sign informing me THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES YOU. I watch a shadow dash by it again, right before I turn my head; half the moon hangs above me, and I think about blue-eyed boys that don’t listen. Not all welcomes are good, or necessary.
Here’s a sound: me, in bright pink, throwing up on my bedroom carpet. I had forced everyone to come to May Dip and provided gleaming bottles of alcohol on my worn-out kitchen counter, warning everyone of getting too drunk. Before I can even hit the beach I pass out on my floor, and Willow and Cameron grab the carpet cleaner and make sure I don’t choke in my sleep. The cowboy hat is forever stained and this is the last time I ever wear it.
I beg Cameron to find me more blankets, though I’m already wrapped up in layers, telling him I’m too cold even as summer opens up; he asks me where to find them and I point to the wardrobe, telling him to look where the ghosts are. I wake up and text him and we both shrug, chalking it up to drunk delusions.
I wake up again at 3 p.m. to a mix of messages: people asking me if I’m okay, people asking me where I was, people telling me they didn’t see me in any of the pictures at East Sands. I put on a bikini and my puffer jacket and call a friend to accompany me; though it had been beautiful in the dawn, a storm is distantly growing, and I drop myself into the ocean and then wander home.
Over the next few days as I bump into people, I hear the same question recounted - “what happened at your May Dip?” I laugh and laugh and tell everyone it’s my own fault (true, this time), and wonder who has been talking about me; it’s a small town, and word gets around fast.
The last party ends the same way the first one begins, in bright pink throwing up over someone’s carpet, but this time as I fall asleep I can distinguish people by their voices in the conversations downstairs. I can hear Meher and Vartika and Nikole doing beer pong and spilling sticky sweet over the table, and Husain catching Tom in an extended conversation about sports; Nitya is sharing her birthday cake, and Willow is frantically organising the barbecue, and Cameron is fake-flirting with someone. I smile before I even realise it; here is a home, where all the people who were once strangers I recognise by the sound of their laughter. I hope my landlord doesn’t see this.
On the last day in Marrakech it rains, so lightly and in such arid heat that Willow points out the drops evaporating as they fall onto the terrace. I cry again, hearing the adhan from Africa’s second biggest mosque; there had been an argument and things had been tense and silent, but it rains in the desert and I wonder if any of this means anything. Willow talks about torrential rain during a childhood trip, and I speak of tropical storms and how everything is more polarising back home.
It was the most beautiful adhan I had ever heard, a bold claim from someone who had grown up surrounded by them. I don’t know if that’s still true, but I think I was looking for God in the symmetry of the gardens we visited, in the blue of the pouring waterfalls. I haven’t found anyone yet; I’m working on it.
I saw my ghosts around town too often and quit drinking, but as they leave and June washes in I decide to celebrate one last time, and I let Meher pour the drinks. I end up laying on the grass outside a party for hours, staring at the stars and drawing lines between them; for a brief moment I really believe I can see the constellations, already formed.
Ian comes by and gives me some water, and Willow and Tianyi and Jasmin show up with ice cream; Seva comes by with his tarot cards, and I tell him the secret that everyone knows of what had happened to me, and his eyes widen in shock. He tells me he’s sorry; I smile and point at the hermit, laid out in the middle of the spread. I think about all the people I have met through all my parties, and thank something greater than me for letting me find them. The day before I had gone and made a little bonfire by Castle Sands, burnt the cowboy hat and corduroy skirt, hoping that the parts of me I had both cherished and regretted would become something new.
Afterwards we head to the afterparty, Annika and I laughing down the street and then squatting by the stairs when we realise we hate the music. She tells me about her fears, and I think about mine. St Andrews is safe, she tells me, not like other places. I smile because I have seen my sleepy little Scottish town so content, so beautifully, laid out in snow and sunshine; I have been stumbling down roads with tears trekking down my face, trying not to blame myself. Through bars and bedrooms and backyards I partied too much and took too many pictures and was a little too trusting, and I made noise and celebrated it. There was nothing quiet when I was around.
June passes and I leave, my parties over and the town falling back into something slow and steady; the flowers in my garden are purple, and the dress I got on sale is orange. A few hundred job rejections later I pack my things up and move down south, to a city I’ve only ever seen in the cold; fall comes. I look for something new.
London is many things, but rarely peaceful; still, there’s pockets of quiet if you know where to find them. Off Monument Street Meher and I find a garden by an old church, sit and do tarot card readings, offer them to strangers who laugh at each other’s luck. She invites me to another party coming up; I tell her I’ll think about it.
a note from the author
'intrinsically this is about extremes, about a push and pull, about contradictions; feeling lonely surrounded by a crowd, finding quiet in the loudest of parties. about sweating through your dress at a party at night, about stumbling home in too little clothes on a winter morning. it's about the extremes of the conditions i faced in my final years at st andrews - about being threatened in my own living room, about being forced into danger in a quiet, safe, sleepy town. its about the way i survived it - through my parties, the same thing i had always done. for a long time i wondered if my parties were an act, a delusion i clung unto in the hopes that i would believe things would be normal. i can say with honesty they were; but they were also reminders of the things i needed - of the strangers who i would learn to trust rather than run away from, of the ability to dance and laugh and drink without fearing what was in my cup, about falling asleep and knowing nothing bad would happen to me. in the most extreme i did the same thing i had always done; talked too much, partied too much, trusted too much, took too long to learn my lessons and took too many pictures in the meantime. and never wore anything weather appropriate. hypothermia was a tough teacher, but i don't regret her, nor do i regret anything i have done.'