Monday, March 9, 2015

Nostalgia: A Letter To My College Self | by Elizabeth Sensky

I have trouble with nostalgia. Lately, it takes me into its stagnate air until I can barely breathe and tears sting my eyes. Being home does that to you. Especially if you’ve been far away for a considerable length of time, are in your early to mid twenties and are a particularly emotional person. So maybe what I’m saying is being home does that to me.

I sit at the kitchen island where I ate cereal or a Pop-Tart every morning before school and stare out the window as snow suspends in the sunshine, literally shimmering before my eyes. It is so beautiful that I want to distill it into my being. But its beauty reminds me of pain. It makes me nostalgic, because, like everything else, it will soon be gone and its imprint already decaying.

I’m driving down the road. 55 miles per hour, I think that's the speed limit. Two thin corridors of trees frame the asphalt. It’s a straight shot to the small hub of stores and restaurants ahead. I’m transported back to my first time driving on my own, license fresh in my wallet. I remember that particular, almost illicit, glee I felt taking my fake Coach purse, carefully placing it onto the seat beside me and driving off like I was headed for open road. In reality, I was headed to the grocery store less than five miles away. I remember my dad warning me to be careful. The car was a white Altima, soon to be known as the Mach 5, a clunker by all definitions. My family “bought” it from my Aunt and Uncle for one dollar. I was just going to the store and back, but the possibilities seemed endless.

I’m wandering through the mall. A mall I’ve wandered through countless times. At first with the rapture of the hunt. What can I buy? What’s cute? Want, want, want. Then, I spent my days working there. Starbucks before work, 30 minute breaks, countless board folding of obnoxiously colored logo tees and pandering to customers filled my time. I was good at it. I liked it. It’s also a place I grew to hate, with its special blend of white, suburban staleness. I acknowledge the pretension in that view now, but staring at the cream walls, I can’t help but feel the boredom exude from every crevice. Still, I’m drawn to investigate and stay for a little while. Marinate in the discomfort and swallow it like a pill. "It’s good for me," I think and take pride in confronting the feelings.

I catch my mother staring at me from her place across the couch. She’s simultaneously trying to figure me out, hold onto my presence, and cradle the little girl who now seems and is so far away. I want to yell; "I’M RIGHT HERE!” But am I? I can’t give her any secure view into my future. I want to ease her worries, to offer her an ironclad plan. But even when I do have plans, they seem to crumble as the words fall from my mouth. I’m no adult yet. Not when I’m home. I’m navigating the in-between, entering a new phase. Teetering into new territory.

This is a territory where I have things to look back on and for which I feel a clawing longing. That’s new to me, just as those things were new to me then.  A first love, the abandon and absolute freedom of magical nights, sober and otherwise, blind passion directed where my limited experiences told me was best to aim. And most times, my aim was good, making the memories all the more sweet. I was lucky. I am lucky. Counting my stars..

There was the that ripe summer night where the heat stayed after the sun had turned in. We were four strong as we walked across the road to a deserted park, one we had been to many times before. But this visit was different. Everything was breathing and pulsing with life. We rolled our bare skin in the grass, reveling in the intoxicating feeling.  And the trees, had we always missed this luminous quality of theirs? The trees gave way to a path that, to our sheer delight, was studded with lightning bugs, flickering among the daisies and weeds. Everything was fantastically connected, and it all made sense.

There was the way he looked at me. I could have sustained myself on the feeling  that look elicited for days. I, lying on the pull-out couch in his parent's basement, he, sitting just beyond the bed, staring and sketching my form. Nothing had ever felt so real. And like all first loves, no one else had ever discovered a feeling quite like ours. What we had was so uniquely, wholly special. Youthful bliss? Maybe, but no amount of maturation can tarnish it.

And then there was the agony. The first heart tearing night alone where sobs racked my body in a pain I had never known. “This is what they mean by ‘heart break,’” I thought. The cliched description was so utterly, profoundly true. Not all the stars had to be shiny.

It wasn’t all love and loss, although maybe that is what it all boils down to. But there were the spiritual things, too. The friendship and guidance of an old woman who accepted me and listened. She had a way of washing away worries, transforming them into enlightened lessons, reassuring perspectives. I could always count on floating during that drive home from her house. I held that relationship sacred, until it was was ripped from my chest. As a friend said to me after, “Now you’ve experienced that important moment when you see your mentor's faults.” I could have done without it.

All of these moments are now tucked away into the nooks and crannies of unexpected places, even a parking garage has the potential to become a time machine. When I’m whisked back, I think of that girl then and try to measure her against who she is now. But what kind of task is that? I usually just end up wanting to break time in two.

Every instant I remember and every one I have hopelessly lost to my subconscious all add up to a version of myself.

If I had to write a letter to my college self, I’d want to include these flashes of memory, of longing, of poignant nostalgia. Call them what you will, they grip me and make me mourn. Mourn for who I once was. The who I now love so tenderly yet could never appreciate at the time.

I can only hope that this former self propels me to a more transient idea of the person I’m becoming. Process not the end result. The journey not the destination. Self is no fixed entity. These are the cliches turned mantras I often find myself acknowledging in some form or another. Whatever it takes, right?

I think this nostalgia that courses through me is precisely what my college self couldn't fully understand. Sam Beam of Iron and Wine said in an interview with The Great Discontent; "I don’t sit around and listen to my music, so when I decided to release this album, I had to go back through everything. Some of those songs are now 15 years old or more, and you can feel the distance. Listening to them was like shaking hands with myself…”

Coming home, I’m shaking hands. And right now, the grip is sweaty and uncomfortable. But I feel it starting to loosen, and I’m sure that as soon as it becomes something I’m okay with holding, it will be time to release.

Have you seen my old self?
I think I must have lost her
I wonder if I cost her
Her life?
Have you seen my second self?
She seems to grow younger
More delicate than ever
But never better
I’m an experiment
Each trial is a test
Constant recalibration
I am recycled cells
I learn to like myself
more with each iteration
Where is my restore point?
I found an old sore point
All disjointed
My file corrupted
Where is my replacement part?
I need another new heart
The other one’s beat was
I am recycled cells
I learn to like myself
more with each iteration
I’m an experiment
Each trial is a test
Constant recalibration

Thank you for sharing your beautiful words, Elizabeth. 
 To see more of what Elizabeth is up to, check out her blog here

Until next time,

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