I was reminded last night of something that happened in my first year at university.
I had a ground floor room in halls that looked out over a courtyard and I'd sorted the furniture out so that my desk was right under the window so I could gaze out of it while kidding myself that I was actually working.
One night in April or May I was due to go out drinking with my then girlfriend and some other mates and I was sat at my desk, all ready to go, just writing up some notes or something until one of my flatmates was ready to go, too. As I was sat there I saw two of the lads from the next door flat come round the corner with a football. Now, ball games weren't allowed round the courtyards because of the propensity for glass windows to get smashed upon contact with a fast moving ball but that wasn't going to stop them having a kickabout. They'd just started playing when Paul, my flatmate, popped his head round the door and said he was ready. So we left, nodding to the lads as we went past.
I can't remember now where we went or what time we got back but I do know that I was none too steady, either of mind or on my feet when we did. As we approached the flat I could see something was wrong with my window, though I couldn't focus too well, but it wasn't until I got closer that I could see that it wasn't so much a window as a large piece of hardboard.
I rushed inside and unlocked my door. It opened on to a complete mess. There was glass everywhere. In my (slightly) inebriated state of mind I ran into the living room to interrogate the rest of my flatmates.
"WASHERELLSAPPEND?" I shouted.
I didn't exactly get a clear answer but then, that's probably because we couldn't understand each other at the time. I spent the night at my girlfriend's house, sleeping off the worst of the alcohol before going back to my flat in the morning. I was hung over and only stayed long enough to get changed before heading in for lectures.
My lectures only lasted until midday and by 12.30 I was back in my room, clear-headed and ready to survey the damage. A glazier was just finishing off replacing the shattered window so at least I could see what I was doing. My memories of the previous night weren't wrong; glass was absolutely everywhere. There were shards the better part of a foot long that had almost reached the back wall, eight feet from the window. It was all over the bed, the floor, the shelves, my books. It took ages to clear it all up. My alarm clock, which was sitting on my desk had several gouges taken out of the top of it by flying glass. Even weeks after the event I was still finding little bits of glass in amongst my papers.
I found out later that day what had happened. By then, of course, I'd worked out who was responsible; it was clearly the work of a football kicked in error by one the lads from next door. What I hadn't realised, though was that it had happened pretty much as soon I was out of earshot round the corner. Less than two minutes after I had been sat at the desk in front of the window.
It didn't take long for me to start playing the What If? game. What if Paul hadn't been ready when he had? What if I hadn't been going out at all? What if I'd been sat there when the ball hit? Would I have come out of it cut to ribbons? Maimed? Blinded? Would I even have come out of it at all?
I have never felt quite so lucky as I did then.
I still have the alarm clock with the gouges in it and every now and then I notice them and cast my mind back to what could have been but, thankfully, wasn't.