Remembering

A Bedtime Story

The air in my room is a little too still, so I crack the window and let the cool November night sing me to sleep. I bury my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase and wish for sleep to come quickly, just this once, a nightly ritual. It doesn’t, as has been the case all week. Despite the restlessness, my eyes are thankful for the rest the nighttime lends. Out the window I can hear cars pass on a highway a few blocks out, a murmur that blends with the breeze.

Clearly, distinctively, the sound of a train interrupts the rhythmic rustling of my body as I kick the sheets away, then pull them back.

I am a little girl again, burying my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase that smells of home, in a blue-walled sanctuary with soccer trophies on a bookshelf across from my bed. A train keeps me awake as it calls in the distance, warning the road of its presence. It’s strange how close it sounds, but it’s not close at all.

I know exactly how long it would take me to pedal there. It’s a long ride, one that takes me around Dead Man’s Curve, down the shaded street with speed bumps every ten yards, past the house with the mean horse, the sometimes-sweet goats, the streets named after flowers, and all the way down the big hill, the really big one with train tracks at the bottom. It’s not close. It’s a long ride, one I’m not allowed to make alone.

And in this new city, far from the room with the blue walls and a bookshelf now empty of childhood trophies, I’m having trouble remembering where I’ve passed a single set of train tracks, where a train could be running close enough I can hear it so clearly, so distinctively, warning the road of its presence.

Maybe it calls to me from the other side of the highway, where I only wander when I’m a little sad and a little lost. Maybe it’s a few blocks out, in a part of this city that remains more foreign to me than the rest. Maybe it’s far from me, past a set of streets named after flowers, at the bottom of a very big hill, a long bike ride away, one I’m still not quite old enough to make alone.

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Random

Learning Quickly

I got rid of everything I didn’t think I would need for the next year of my life, fit the rest into the back seat of my car with my bicycle strapped to the trunk, a dear friend in the seat beside me, and watched my hometown become a place far away. I drew a diagonal line across the country, two points labeled “Home” and “Home” and followed them from one to the other.  I saw pretty hills in Tennessee, stretches of highway across Kentucky, a crazy storm along Lake Erie, and read a sign that said “Welcome to New York, the Empire State” as I flew past with my windows down.

My story isn’t particularly unique. I’m a twenty-something who was terrified to move away from the comforts of home, did so, and quickly learned the world isn’t so terrifying.

In just a few weeks I’ve learned that people will surprise you if you let them, that comfort is in the closest mexican restaurant with decent tacos, that connecting with people comes easily with shared experiences, and that missing home is a heartbreakingly warm feeling.

None of this is new. These are all things they told me in between smiles and hugs and “you’re going to have such an amazing time” and “I’m so excited for you.” But like most things, I had to feel it for myself. I had to have a 2 a.m. solo dance party in my bedroom in the middle of an all-nighter of transcribing interviews to remember I can survive this. I had to share drinks across tables in a loud bar with near-strangers that managed to become friends in just days to believe it was possible.

I’m excited to be writing this only a few weeks into this experience, so that looking back I can remember how impossible it all seemed and how easily it came together in reality, which I can’t help but think is pretty damn stellar.

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Reflection

More Than Bitter, More Than Sweet

I miss this place even though I am still here, even though the boxes aren’t completely packed and I still have a pile of clothes in the dryer. I miss it more and more as the reality of leaving becomes tangible, as my little sanctuary looks less and less like my own. I pulled the artwork and photography off the walls of my apartment and carefully wrapped the frames with paper and the purple bubble wrap that Makes Packing Fun so they would make it safely to a new, albeit temporary, home with new walls to tell stories to. Stacked one on top of the other, they fit snuggly in two medium-sized moving boxes, and I was amazed at how small that seemed, and how empty my walls look without them.

I couldn’t bring myself to unscrew the wooden block with the sturdy rubber arms that holds my ukulele on the wall. I imagine that will be one of the last items to be packed. I have dreams that my last few weeks in my hometown will be spent under trees late at night with the breeze that is still warm from the day, with old friends home for summer, playing ukulele covers of old favorites which are not-so-old when you’re twenty one and have only really cared about music for less than half of your lifespan, but manage to feel comfortable and nostalgic anyway. And if I had it my way, there would be minimal tears and minimal sadness because it seems like such a waste, but I’m not foolish enough to truly hope for such luck.

I constantly try to sort how I’m feeling about moving away. I spent many days saying I would begin packing, but found myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom instead, crying over old drafts of stories from my first creative nonfiction workshop two years ago or feeling too overwhelmed by everything to do anything at all.

Everyone I love and care for is excited for me and they tell me how proud they are and I smile and thank them and tell them I’m excited too, but that leaving will be tough and they remind me I’ll have a great time and I usually say I know but I’m not very convincing. I feel like a talking cardboard cutout with a few recorded sound responses could replace me most days, because I have the same conversations about grad school and moving to New York three times a day.

I am excited.

I’m also terrified, nervous, sad, uncertain, and numb about the whole thing. And in these stock conversations I hear the same word over and over again: bittersweet.

Bittersweet just might be my least favorite word, because anyone who has ever felt conflicting emotions, who has simultaneously waved goodbye and hello, anyone who has left home to find home, knows that bitter and sweet don’t even come close. Bitter and sweet and sad and excited and nervous and all of the words I have can’t touch what it’s like to move away from people you love in a place you love with bedrooms you’ve cried in and trees you’ve played music under and streets you kissed boys on and beds you were tucked into and a group of barefooted ladies that you danced with to polka music and a sweet dog that felt like your own, and a town that for the only life you can remember called you one of its own to live in a new town with all the promise and possibility that comes with discovery.

And through all the fear and uncertainty, the only thing I know is that I’m incredibly lucky to be so sad to leave such a wonderful place.

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Reflection, Relevant, Remembering, Ridiculous

‘Round My Hometown

It’s interesting going to college in my hometown. I say interesting because that’s the word we use when things are neither good nor bad. And I suppose Denton, TX is my hometown, although I don’t know if I’ve acknowledged it as such until recently. I don’t have any family here or anywhere close to here besides my parents and sister. And as a whole, looking to generalizations about Texas and Texans, I don’t see where I fit in. But in this quirky little town that, in reality, is not all that little anymore, I certainly found a place. And I love it most when I feel I’ve made a home here as a young adult, separate from the one I grew up in.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about home lately. Summer and winter breaks from classes prompt this, with old friends and acquaintances returning from school or their newly-established homes to visit family. College towns have seasons like beach towns and ski resorts do, instead marked by the beginning and end of the semester, not the weather. The local coffee shops close early, streets around the university are empty, and the bars become filled with Dentonites, those of us who stuck around and those who come back.

You find yourself in restaurants and grungy bars with people you once shared bleachers and classrooms with. Everyone looks a little worn around the edges, even you. Especially you, it seems. In any case, you don’t know how you’re supposed to feel about them. Obligation? Regret for not keeping in touch? Complete apathy? To complicate matters even more, your college friends will mix with your high school friends. The girl you studied abroad with works at a Victoria’s Secret with a girl from high school who you recently deleted from Facebook, so that’s awkward. While they seem to be two worlds completely, space and time has continued as it always does completely outside of your life.

I vividly remember the summer before I began college, before many of my friends moved to various parts of the country for college. I was scared of change and probably still am, but I wasn’t worried about losing my friends. I thought the ones that mattered wouldn’t disappear, nor would our friendships. And the people I lost touch with wouldn’t be a huge loss or we (presumably) would have worked harder to stay friends.

But growing up is never that easy, and growing apart is certainly not painless.

As I’m about to begin my last semester as an undergraduate, with plans to move away in a few short months, I’m realizing more and more that sometimes we change as individuals too much for our friendships to survive solely because of history, of shared experiences from our pasts, of once being friends. It takes hard work, and sometimes it can’t possibly work. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I do plan to continue working on a few goals I set for myself in the middle of last year, one of which was to not keep friends out of obligation. You may disagree with me on this one, but I decided that friendship was too important to me to reduce to facebook stalking and a text message on their birthday. While it’s not ideal, I think it’s okay that we get caught up in the lives directly in front of us, and that work and school keep us so busy that we don’t acknowledge each other for months at a time. I am certainly not immune and I have many friends where this is the case. But what is there behind all of that is a mutual level of care, an understanding that we’re invested in the other, we think about each other, and there is love motivating a friendship, not obligation to something that once was.

***

I remember how our worlds once connected, how they intertwined so tightly I never imagined they would ever do otherwise. But I want to both recognize how they once did and no longer do, to be kind to one another, but not regret the directions we’ve moved. We forget the capabilities of time to change us, neither for better or worse, just significantly. In this town, everyone seems to know everyone. But in reality, no one really knows anyone at all. We may not know each other at all.

But if we want, we could re-meet, without presuming we know everything about each other because we shared hallways and glances across tables of coffee shops four years ago. As lame and aphoristic as it sounds, I think friendships begin with discovery, and that’s a pretty spectacular thing worth shooting for.
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Relevant

On Growing Up and Contradictions

An artist named Noah Kalina created a video in which he pieced together 4,514 photographs of himself, one he took each day for over twelve years. The result is an impressive physical documentation of the passing of time. The changes in clothing, the cycles of hairstyles, the way we were defined once as someone’s granddaughter, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, the trends and fads we move through and move past, the people that appear as shadows passing in the background, the spaces we live, and even the way our eyes once sat slightly higher on our faces goes unnoticed until we see a photograph of us from years before and it hits us that time passed without us thinking about it. It passes both quickly and slowly enough for us to forget we were ever someone else.

I spent at least three weeks of that summer packing up my life to move into my first college dorm. I spent thirteen years creating that room, the one with walls painted the perfect shade of blue, somewhere between sky blue and the classic Crayola crayon blue. The room with blue walls that were incidentally covered with thumbtacks and double-stick tape lining the corners of posters of indie bands, fashion magazine cutouts, and photographs that climbed from the floor to the ceiling. It was in that space that I created a sanctuary, the ultimate judgment-free zone, a space where it was okay to fall in and out of love, a space to mistakenly mix paint colors on a canvas, to squeak my way through impossible études on my violin, to write in journals no one would ever read. It was a space to escape to, a space to hide in, a space to both live and learn. It was there that I grew up. And as I packed up that room with the perfect blue walls, among the old notes that had been written and passed between friends that read “LOL” a few too many times than I’d like to admit, I found a familiar birthday card wrapped in a familiar pink envelope. Without opening it I knew what it was and who had written it. The envelope had appeared in my mailbox on my seventeenth birthday and it would be the last card I would receive scribbled in his faint black handwriting: “Love, Papa.”

Two and a half years later, I was sitting in a booth with a stack of books in front of me. A lukewarm cup of coffee separated from the cream I had poured into it earlier. My pen rested on the table and a paper eagerly awaited existence. In a college town like the one I lived, the perfect place to study was hard to find. The fluorescent lights of the library were harsh and uninviting and the coffee shops were saturated with twenty-somethings that seemed to enjoy flirting with the baristas and complaining about hangovers more than cracking open a book. So I searched until I found my spot, the perfect spot in a small restaurant, where coffee refills were cheap and power outlets were abundant, but all I really needed was a quiet table tucked in the corner. I glanced up from the English paper I was successfully failing to write and saw an old man pulling out the chair of a table near mine. We exchanged smiles. He held a small plate with a scone or a bagel, and in his other hand a cup of coffee. His hands were a little shaky until the porcelain mug found its place on the table. I had only one of four grandparents left, and my grandmother looked ten years younger than she actually was all my life, so I had no frame of reference for how old the man could have been. In the two years I worked in a retirement home during high school, I never asked one of our residents how old he or she was. Certain questions are simply inappropriate. The old man opened his newspaper and folded it in half to sit flat on the table in front of him.

In that moment I imagined the circumstances that had brought him there alone. I imagined the framed photographs that may have sat on his mantle, on his walls, on his bedside table, of curls and smiles and eyes that twinkled. Past tense. I imagined a life, a full life, one with many faces, ten times as many faces as I had seen, enough to fit in four of my own lifetimes. I imagined my own grandfather, his old brown Volvo and his even older brown coat that smelled of cigars my entire life. I imagined how he spent his mornings that year and a half he lived without my grandmother before he himself died. I imagined the spaces that he occupied and the newspapers that piled up in his car and the house on Curlew Street that must have been too quiet.

***

Adults seem to speak in clichés, saying things like “life is a series of letting-go moments,” and “time flies,” and “kids grow up so fast.” The world will do its best to remind us that one day we will be on our own, cut off from the safety and security of our childhood bedrooms and bicycle helmets with butterfly stickers. Growing up, they’ll prepare us to be independent, to have careers and make mortgage payments and drive ourselves to the doctor’s office when we get sick. We know about those things. We accept them as inevitable because growing up is messy.

We spend the first fifteen years of our lives blowing out the same number of candles as years we’ve been alive, an annual celebration of time and of course life, but most importantly, a passing life. We’re eager for each birthday partially because of presents and parties with cupcakes and balloons, or even simply the attention that the day brings. But more so, I think, we anticipated birthdays because of what it meant to be older. Ten years meant double digits, thirteen brought the ever-awaited “teenager” status, sixteen brought car keys, and seventeen meant rated-R movies. But no birthday seemed to top the one birthday many twenty-one-year-olds don’t remember the next day. I’m not sure when we stopped celebrating and I’m not sure what changed. All I know is that we lost this yearning to age as, well, we got older. You never hear an adult respond if someone (god forbid) asks her age with, “I’m forty seven and a half!” with the excitement that an eight-and-a-half year old does. We don’t like to think about the fact that time is passing and our bodies are aging and the fact that our hair is turning gray any more than our driver’s licenses remind us. And aging becomes more of a dreaded acceptance of time running out and missed opportunities than a celebration of life. Birthdays become something to fear as they point to an end. But maybe it only seems that way when you’re young.

The old man read his paper for twenty minutes before a woman around his same age joined him with a similar cup of coffee and a plate with a scone, or maybe it was a bagel. She took a section of the paper and they sat quietly together. My grandfather has been dead for almost three years. My dad looks more and more like him with each birthday that comes in and blows away. And I’m nowhere closer to understanding how time both changes everything and nothing at all, nor how clocks seem to have hands that spin backwards and forwards, both counting and counting down.

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Relevant

Home

As you buy plane tickets and pack toothbrushes into suitcases and plan many months of your lives (and maybe even years in the future) far away, I’ve given a lot of thought of what home is and why it’s so hard, at least for me, to leave. Home, more than everything else, I think, means safety. There’s something about home that distinguishes itself from the rest of the world. It’s as though the city itself, with the familiar sidewalks and coffee shops have your best interest in mind. After all, they are the same sidewalks you were riding when you fell off your bike as a kid and the same coffee shops you sat in, hiding behind cups avoiding eyes looking back at you across the table. At home, the world seems to keep an eye on you, seems to keep you wrapped in the warm embrace of familiar faces and streets. You always know where you’re going. The town seems to carry you from place to place with little effort. You’re untouchable. No one ever expects anything bad to happen to you when you’re home. Roots seem to ward off violent car accidents and horrible diseases, or at least we treat them as though they do. And if nothing else, a first aid kit is always nearby. You’re never far from people who know you, who will take care of you even when the world seems to tell you you’re on your own. But in reality, the world doesn’t have to be a scary place that’s out to get you, that wants to see you fall. It can be a place that’s rooting for you, constantly too, hoping that you’ll find a comfortable place in it amidst unfamiliar faces and streets, that you’ll find your way despite street signs you can’t read. It can be place that desperately wants to get to know you better, that values discomfort and vulnerability and growth and understanding enough to wrap you in its arms and keep you safe even when you can’t move past your nerves to realize it.

The best part of home is knowing you never have to be alone. You always have someone, and someone who knows you well, someone who understands why it’s so difficult for you to speak sometimes, someone who doesn’t freak out when sad things make you cry and combats your tears by smearing them all over your face calling them moisturizers. It’s effortless, and friendship comes as unconditionally as family. And while I’m not ready to have those adventures away from comfort and familiarity, know that I want you to go. Know that I don’t want to keep you here. Know that I understand we’re different and that I don’t ever want to hold you back. Know that I’ll miss you a lot and I’ll remind you that I miss you not because I want you to come home, but because I miss you all the time when you’re gone, and I can’t not tell you. I’m afraid you’ll forget me. I’m afraid you’ll find a world that’s more exciting that this one, that you’ll find a world that doesn’t need this crybaby. I’m afraid you’ll find a world, one without me calculated into it, that’s better for you. But know that I want great things for you, that I want you to find beautiful places and new people to reciprocate smiles and hugs in this grand world even if it means I don’t get to be close by. Know that I’ll make it hard for you to leave, but not because I don’t want you to go, but because I love you very, very much.

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