Extracting the sociolinguistic variable
What is the connection between social conditioning and mood variations in a post-modern society? And how do social semantics fit into overall linguistic variables?
Simple questions perhaps, but they point to a greater depth of complexity than can be explained purely by a socially conditioned interpretation.
At the end of that academic year, Ruby came home with even more books and told me that she had decided to do research on socially-conditioned semantic variations.
I looked at her blankly; I had literally no idea what she was talking about. She smiled at me and did her best to explain the concepts involved, but in the end, I just decided that if it made Ruby happy, that was all I needed to know.
That summer seemed to fly by, and soon it was time for Ruby to head back north of the border. I felt that we hadn’t really had any time for ourselves, and asked if she really needed to go to Edinburgh full time. After all, I said, she must have all the books she needed in her office. Ruby smiled at me “And I will miss you too Tony” she said. “But yes I do need to be there, it helps me to go to their library, and I have lectures and tutorials to go to. It won’t be long, you’ll see the year will go by in a flash.”
She was right, of course. “Normal” is just what you get used to. Our new normal was that I was alone in Lynn, and she was alone in Edinburgh, each of us doing what we needed to do to get by. It helped that I was able to call on Mary sometimes to come over and “help with a recipe I wanted to try” or go over to her place to “see what I could do with a broken washing machine.” We became increasingly inventive in our reasons for meeting alone, and if anyone ever put two and two together, they never said anything.
Her fourth year of study was even more intense. When I visited, Ruby was even more distracted and entirely focused on her goal. I hardly saw Ruby as she crammed for her finals. She even stayed in Edinburgh over the spring break, and when we talked on the phone, it was very brief and tense. Then suddenly, she had completed her dissertation, and it was over. We celebrated by taking a holiday trip to South Africa and then came back home to wait for the results.
When the envelope arrived, Ruby called me, and I drove home to be with her as she looked at her results. She was as nervous as I’d ever seen her, and she tore open the letter with quivering hands. As she read the paper, her face went white, then she looked at me, wide-eyed. “Oh my dear God Tony, I’ve done it, I am an MA Honors in Linguistics.”
I grabbed her, and we laughed and kissed and were both just giddy with excitement. I opened a bottle of champagne that I’d set aside for just this particular occasion, and we were enjoying our second glass when the phone started ringing, with all her student friends calling to exchange results. I admit to feeling a little put out that I had to share her with others, but I put a smile on my face and watched her excitement.
I suggested we have a party to celebrate, and Ruby was thrilled at the prospect. Soon invitations had been sent out to old classmates, neighbors, and friends, and Ruby was busy with catering and arranging the finer details. Come the evening of the party the house was full, and everyone had a great time.
After the last guest had left, Ruby and I sat on our front porch, drinking a glass of brandy and staring into the dark Norfolk night. “You know,” Ruby said after a while. “Edinburgh has the longest sunsets I’ve ever seen. I think it’s because it’s a lot further north than down here. I loved going to Portobello Beach and watching the sun over the water there. Did I ever tell you a couple of us climbed up Arthur’s seat late one night? The city was laid out before us like a set of diamonds – incredible sight.”
She had an odd wistful look on her face, and I asked if she missed Edinburgh. “I do, I really do.” She said. After a pause she carried on “I was thinking, we have to go back for the graduation ceremony next month, maybe we could go up early and spend some time there? I’d love to show you around more.” I agreed that we’d do just that, and she smiled and kissed me.
Looking back, I think maybe I should have seen the writing on the wall then, but I was so content with having Ruby back home that nothing else seemed to matter.
The week before Graduation we set off to Edinburgh, and Ruby and I had a great time going to the tourist sites, as well as the places that Ruby knew off the beaten track. But underneath there seemed to be something wistful and unspoken, some undercurrent that I knew was there, but that I couldn’t quite put a name to.
We hired robes, and Ruby looked spectacular as she took her turn on stage getting her diploma. Soon we were all milling around amid excited graduates, and a small group of mature students and their partners, Ruby and me included, went off to a quiet bar away from the younger crowd.
Everyone was excitedly talking about what their plans were for the future. Some were looking to return to the job market with their new found degree, a couple was coming back to do a post graduate course, and the remainder were just happy to be finished with studying. Ruby seemed unusually quiet during these discussions, but I put that down to excitement and tiredness.
We left the bar late and walked the short distance to the apartment, but rather than opening the door Ruby suddenly took my hand and led me along the Royal Mile. I asked where we were going, but she wouldn’t tell me, and soon we were at the base of Arthur’s Seat. “Last one to the top’s a sissy!” Ruby called, and we started to race along the path that wound its way up the mountain. I was out of breath after only a short distance, and Ruby stopped and encouraged me to continue. Eventually, we reached a flat area with an uninterrupted view of the city, and Ruby waited for me to catch my breath.
“The castle is just there, that’s obvious to anyone, I know,” she said, “but just below it and to the right, you see that steeple? Follow the line down to the right, and that’s where the bar is we were in tonight. Just to the right some more and down those steps – that’s Tron Square. You can’t see the apartment, but those roofs are where it is.”
“Now over the other side, you see that tower? That’s Greyfriars Kirk, did you know that Kirk is Gaelic for Church? They actually have services in Gaelic there, really fascinating to listen to the language and read along in English.” She continued to point out places and sights, each one accompanied by a description of it, or some snippet of local knowledge.
Then she paused and then let out a long sigh.
“I love this city,” she said.
“Yes I know, it’s a great place,” I replied.
She turned and looked at me, and I could tell in the moonlight that there were tears in her eyes. “No Tony, I meant precisely what I said. I actually love this city. You remember back when we were kids, and I lived in that crowded house with Ma and Pa and all the family? That was home. Since I left there, I’ve lived in a lot of places, some better than others, and we made the nicest place together in Sandringham. But, I have to say this Tony, none of them has felt like home. I wouldn’t have been able to express it before, but I know now that I never really felt like a place knew me, and that I really knew it. Not just a place where I stay for a time, but a place where I can actually live my own life. ”
I’d never heard Ruby talking this way before, and I was struck again by how much she had changed in the 4 years she’d been at University. At first, I had thought it was just that the country girl I had always known had changed into a woman about town. Now I was coming to see it was more than that. Back in her North End days, she’d had a type of determination that I had always admired, but now there was more. She exuded a feeling of confidence, a sense that she knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it.
“Tony, Edinburgh is home to me. This collection of old, dirty streets, shambling buildings, and annoying people are part of me, and when I’m not here, I feel empty. We had a great life in Norfolk, and I loved it and our home so much, and you too for making it possible. But when I think of leaving Edinburgh, my heart just breaks. This is where I want to live. Along these cobbled streets, my heart can sing the song it has held inside for too many years. Among these ancient seats of learning my soul can soar to the sound of the cosmos.”
She turned back to the city spread out in front of us and let out another deep sigh. “This isn’t just another city Tony, it’s in my blood now in a way I can’t explain. It’s in my heart, and I don’t want to, no, I can’t leave it. Tony, I want us to stay here.”