Before I left for college, my cousin told me that the next time I came home, I would feel weird, because everything would still be the same, but I would be different. That my blue comforter, my messy desk with years of Seventeen Magazines and Cosmopolitans strewn around it, my little black Bunny, my mother’s warm and inviting arms, the loud commanding voice of my best friend would be the same, and it was I who was changing. There is something Ptolemaic about this understanding of the movement of life: that all these bodies and lives would remain stagnant compared to my growth, that the way I would come to measure the world would be through my own steps, rather than seeing it in concordance with those around me. This seemed wrong, almost self-involved, but, I mean, who was I to disagree with her four years at University of Maryland?
So I believed my cousin. This might have had something to do with the fact that she had long hair and a boyfriend who was cute and seemed nice, but there was also something else about it. I wanted to to know that everything would be frozen the way I left it. I wanted to know that my little sister would never start flirting with boys and my dogs would always be able to amble up the stairs with the dexterity of an eleven year old boy forever. I wanted to be able to come home and adapt myself to the world that I knew I fit into, since I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fit into the crevice that was waiting for me to come slip myself into it at St. John’s.
But to be honest, both possibilities scared the shit out of me. I wanted to find a home at St John’s, I wanted to find a family in the friends I made there, and I wanted to be able to keep myself warm and comfort myself with the safe and happy relationships I became a part of at St John’s. I wanted to replace my blue comforter with something less tangible: something that I did not fold up when I was done with it, something that didn’t tear and get stains on it if I dropped a ripe strawberry on it. However, simultaneously, I wanted to be able to hold my high school boyfriend’s hand with the same tenderness I did during our post-prom celebrations, and I wanted my mother’s homemade cookies to remain as delicious as they always had been. And my cousin made these sound like they were irreconcilable. I was going to have to choose between the freedom of my new found friends and the raw love of my mother’s chewy molasses cookies.
But after being home again, for another summer on my pink sheets, lying in bed listening to my neighbors brush their teeth and watch reruns of Saturday Night Live on a Wednesday night. I can still feel the light summer breeze dance across my cheeks as an eighteen wheeler barrels down the road on the way to Price Chopper, or wherever it is that giant trucks of bananas go. And in remembering this all, it strikes me that maybe nothing ever changes. I mean, of course things change, because all of a sudden I’ve stopped complaining about that terrible haircut I got, meaning that it has finally grown out, and my sister has stopped asking me to turn down my music, meaning that she now listens to Bon Iver at the same irrational volume. So I guess things do change; not in a way in which I can hold up a yard stick to them and say that my best friend is now at least eight steps closer to being a making-her-own-dinner-that’s-not-ramen adult, while my ex-boyfriend is four steps closer to being a I-can-buy-gas-without-complaining-about-the-price adult, and I’m three and a half steps closer to being a terrible-driver-with-worse-taste-in-music adult, but in a way that has an independence about it.
Sure, we all change. We all grow, adapt, and hold onto some belief which propels us forward which we didn’t have before, but rather than it being something measurable, it happens in a subtle way, so that it wiggles itself into our lives before we realize that nothing is the same. There’ll be a constant: a blue blanket, or a decade old issue of American Girl Magazine lying around to make you think that everything is the same, until you try to interact as yourself outside of the context of the past. You’ll try to bring the new in with the old, and then you’ll realize that something changed, that something in a conversation is the crooked picture on the wall that, no matter how many times you push into hanging straight, always hangs at that awkward angle that makes you uncomfortable when you become aware of it.
I noticed this over the summer while enjoying some mediocre sushi at a local Japanese restaurant with a friend of mine from high school. While we caught up over raw fish and seaweed, I couldn’t help but notice that the conversation lagged. It got stuck on points that we would have seamlessly passed over on the drive home from school in years past. We tried to make conversation over topics which were irrelevant to the story of our life, as if we were unable to understand the important parts of the story, so we latched onto whatever seemed the most graspable, failing to notice the other person over the din of the story, the noise of trying to make conversation over something which lacked a background, a knowledge, or to be honest, an interest. I guess we’d both changed enough that our lives had drifted far enough apart, and we’ve each adapted around a different life, we’ve each fit ourselves into a different mold that college has shaped us into. For as much as I am and always have been myself, the way that who I am is projected, the context in which “who I am” is given a story very much depends on where I am.
So does this mean what my cousin said is true? That when I got back from college everything was different, that I had changed while everyone else had stayed the same? I guess in some ways it is true that I’ve grown and changed considerably during college thus far, but it also stands true that this happened to everyone I know. We were all forced to re-evaluate who we are based on what in our environments tested us and caused us to question ourselves.
I guess when we grow up, it is not that we fail to connect or understand, and it is not that we change so much that who we were is consumed by who we are. It’s more that different things become important in terms of who we are. The fact that you can see my bra in every shirt or dress I wear, though still true, is no longer an essential part of my identity and understanding who I am. Who I was has not disappeared as time changed. Rather, the aspects of I am have shifted as they form a different completed puzzle.
I grew up with five best friends. We all have light colored hair and we’re all going separate paths. Some of us know who we are, some of us know what we want to do, some of us know what we want to wear tomorrow, some of us know what we’re doing next week, some of us know a direction we want to travel in, but it seems like the one thing we all do know is each other. Thus, I still connect to my best friends who recognized all the pieces of me as still being present just rearranged, and I am them as well upon returning home from college. We are still as close as we were in high school, despite the fact that one of us is a nurse, one of us is an engineer, one of us is a neuroscientest, one of us a traveler with a path to still be explored, and one of us is a wandering writer. So yes, my cousin was right that I came home and I had changed and it felt like everything else had stayed the same. But she was wrong to say that this knowledge, this fact that nothing was as I had left it would prevent me from ever finding a home in the past while living in the present.