You never think a life-altering decision will alter your own life. Until it does.
On June 23rd at 4AM, it was officially announced that Britain had decided to leave the European Union. Having been part of the count in Bristol, I had been following the referendum's events until the very end. As well as the idea of Brexit actually becoming a reality, the most surreal part of the night was witnessing an overwhelming emotional shift, as hope and positivity gave way to what seemed to be, in my corner of the internet, unanimous disappointment and anger.
As we left the count hall, there was a horrible silence that seemed to echo throughout the city. In any circumstances, when heading home alone at 4AM the world does feel eerie. No one is there to reminisce on the evening's events - everyone is at this point either still drunk, fooling around in someone else's bed, weeping over an argument, or peacefully sleeping. The streets are quiet. It's terribly lonely. Isn't it horrible when that feeling still hasn't passed, over 24 hours later?
I'm still not sure what my own reaction is. I'm trying to understand how this as happened, how I can be part of a country that doesn't agree with itself. This is not because I voted to Remain and 52% voted to Leave. I'm trying to understand how a 4% Win allows us to say that the British people have decided. Have a look around you, do the British public really seem to have made one unanimous decision? Does the idea of democracy work in a Nation where we clearly don't know who we are?
Conversations that surround me are either between Remain supporters who feel disappointed and let down by their own country, between Remain and Leave supporters who have divorced friends and families, or between Leave supporters, dealing with the anger that 48.1% of voters are showing towards them. And that's not even taking into account the 28.2% of registered voters who did not make it to a polling station. Is this the United Kingdom, torn apart by its own disagreements? Whichever way you voted, can someone please enlighten me as to how exactly it is that today we stand stronger and where the unity is?
Although statistics have spoken volumes about the generational gap in voters, I do not believe it is an Old vs Young battle. It is only after the results that we can face the pretty harrowing truth that in the vast majority of the 382 areas voting, the British public is completely split. When walking down the street I now find myself wondering about each person I cross paths with. Did you want this? Are you happy now? I'm hoping that someone will stop me and convince me that I will be too.
I was born in England, and moved to France where I grew up, made friends and lived for 10 years. Whenever I was asked about plans for my future, however much they changed, they were always in the UK. Fashion designer, psychologist, photographer, filmmaker - however doubtful my career path, my identity was always to be British.
For me, being British isn't about the stereotypes which attract the rest of the world, however good the crumpets taste over here. It has always been about the mindset. The Brits will rant for days - we are stroppy, loud, and sometimes vulgar, but we are always open. Where I was met with pursed lips and raised eyebrows for years, here I have had conversations that have made me want to do the things I believe in so much more. Even if there were disagreements, there was a permanent conversation which encouraged hope and opportunity, always going up. Since the result of the referendum, I haven't read a single article inspiring confidence - from any age, gender, class or profession. Every step forward just seems to be pointed downwards.
Whatever comes of Brexit, any victory will be tainted with a yearning for a wider celebration, with those who now feel that their freedom has been snatched away from them. We were never a united world, but the UK belonged to something that made at least a small part of it seem that way. I've had a taste of it, but the whole world just feels sour now.
Despite being at the heart of the negative tidal wave response on social media, I am reluctant to fuel the angry fire of a youth that feels betrayed. I do not want to protest violently, nor do I want to joke about which country I will flee to. I want to understand. I want to understand how in a world where I do not see a single message of positivity, support or love, how it is that this is the right decision - be it one that I agree with or not. Show me hope, show me safety and I will welcome any decision that "we" have chosen.
I don't want to have to go back to France, however lucky I am told to be to have that option. I don't want to apply for a different passport, I don't want to heckle Leave supporters as they walk the streets. I don't want to hate, I don't want to be divided anymore. I want to understand. I want to understand where the unity is, I want to be shown that this is the right answer. I'm listening. I'm waiting.