The things I brought to MIT
And what I left behind
I started packing a full week before my flight back to Boston.
First: my clothes.
I folded sweaters and shirts and set them on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t remember everything I’d left in Boston, so I packed the clothes that felt right:
The white sweater you can see in all my high school photos. I still remember my delight when I realized it was under $10 and my mom agreed to buy it.
The giraffe onesie, passed down from my big, that will get passed down to my little.
The pride tank top I bought during Interphase before my freshman year with my roommate — the first purchase I ever made at MIT.
The matching Muji sweater I have with my dad.
The black ankle-length dress that I wore to my high school prom — too soon after I had broken up with my girlfriend.
It all fit into one side of my suitcase, looking up at me in neat Marie Kondo squares. My mom sat in front of me, helping me pack up underwear and socks and bras into sandwich bags so they would be easier for me to take out when I get to Boston.
She lectured me, in that mom voice, about how I need to fix the holes in my clothes. What about now? I thought. Is this the last time I’ll hear that voice?
Next: the sheets.
My mom insisted that I bring queen-sized sheets so I could dress the bed immediately upon getting to Site 4. She had them vacuum-sealed and ready for me to fit into my carry-on.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning my bathroom of the ants that had settled in the sink. Messy, messy, messy. I rearranged the soaps in my shower and remembered to close the curtain the way that my mom always nagged me to.
And, finally: my “school stuff” (loosely defined).
The first thing I did was sit down on the floor of my sister’s room (also loosely defined — she’s never lived in this house) and sort through all the different papers I carried back to California in March. I looked down at the philosophy readings I had in my lap and plucked off the most worn pages and made another list in my mind:
That Enoch reading that I did in Metaethics last spring with one line in particular that I keep thinking about: “We cannot and should not avoid asking ourselves what to do, what to believe, how to reason, what to care about.… Making the decision is up to you. But which decision is the one it makes most sense for you to make is not. This is something you are trying to discover, not create.”
A copy of The Stranger that I took from my high school library in my senior year. My dad mentioned at some point that they charged my family $14 for it. I didn’t know how to explain that I’m sorry, but the thoughts, the notes, the pages were mine.
The readings on love that my philosophy advisor sent to me over IAP; I still haven’t read them, but I carry them with me.
My notebook from Paradox and Infinity (24.118), a class that I took freshman spring that both amazed and confused me in equal measure.
I kept making the list as I went through more and more pieces of paper. I found, under all that philosophy, a torn off page of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness that I had messily scribbled on last spring.
“There are all of these thoughts + feelings trapped in my head… I am afraid that”
It’s cut off, and beneath it are all these little circles. What were the words? Around and around — no further from center.
I wrote that in high school, but it’s been with me so long that it feels like it’s projected everywhere. It’s been long enough that I have to sort through the little file folders of memories until I come to the right one.
“and what has come of it?
maybe it was this. maybe life was a loop, and every time she thought she’d reached someplace else it was actually just another point on its circumference, the same distance from the middle as every other point.
and what could come of it?
in the end, she’s alone. when her friend has moved on with her life, she is still trapped in a never-ending circle, going around and around; no further from center.”
Dec. 11, 2019
I pushed the thought away only to find, tucked in the left corner of my middle drawer, my old journal. It’s a blue, worn, standard-issue notebook. The edges of the cover are peeling up from years of being packed and unpacked, opened, and folded, and read.
I flipped it open and saw the neat little ovals scrawled in the corner of pages. I could never draw a circle that well, could I? Written everywhere was that same phrase.
“I continue to feel like I’m living in a circle. Around and around and no further from center, that’s what I wrote, isn’t it? But how do I get out of this circle?”
And the joy of living application, March 6, 2018
I sat down on the carpeted floor and started flipping through the pages. It’s only been a couple weeks since I last opened this notebook, but I’m a nostalgic person.
I read the poem that I wrote in high school, shortly after leaving the house from an argument. I remembered telling my mom, after coming back, that I was buried by the weight of my friend’s hospitalization, college admissions, and leaving home.
I said, “I don’t know what to do.”
She responded, “Mi amor, claro que no sabes. No eres una madre.”
I thought about how much has changed since high school. I wrote those words first while crammed into a corner full of poetry books, feeling like a worn-down image of myself. I think about how I write in California: tucked next to a wall, books splayed out in my lap, usually feeling desperate and tired. Quietly — carefully — I packed that worn-down notebook in my backpack.
I haven’t changed that much, I suppose.
I continued working through the different papers that I have around me. Eventually, I made three piles surrounding me:
To keep in California
To bring to Massachusetts
I’m working on a pile of 18.600 psets with disorganized pages when my mom walks in. She looks at the piles next to me, and the neat mounds of envelopes that are to my right. She asks why I’m bringing the letters.
That pile has:
A collection of birthday cards that I’ve kept over the years, a reminder that time keeps passing.
The stack of letters my dad wrote to me after I left home the first time.
The New Year’s letter my big wrote me in response to my own end-of-the-year letter.
The first letter of many that my high school friend wrote to me after she got out of the hospital.
The letter I wrote to myself in English class sophomore year that ends, “Ana, coming from the person who knows you best, don’t let this desire consume you.… No one person changes the world.”
I think about responding, I can’t pack you in my suitcase, but god, I’m going to try.
I don’t say anything.
My freshman year, I got hung up on all the things I had forgotten to bring with me.
“Breakfasts in bed, lechiza con galletiza, even just daily family dinners — always with tortillas. I bought Oreos yesterday, but I don’t have milk. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be the same.
I’ve been feeling guilty the last couple of weeks because I thought that it was unfair that I was homesick for school. [I’ve been missing] laying down on my spot of the floor and chatting with Dodt and hanging out with my friends. I wondered if it was selfish that I didn’t miss California.
But of course I miss my parents.
My mom and dad, who are always so happy to be talking to me, who send me care packages and daily texts, who are outraged on my behalf, and who I’ve been taking for granted for so long that it was strange the relief when I realized that they were still there.”
Sept. 30, 2018
I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I was going to pack the clothes, and the books, and the journals, and the letters. And this time, it would work.
When I left my tiny New House single in March, I remember closing the door and seeing naked walls. My wardrobe was open with no hangers, my walls were missing post-its and drawings, my bed had no Koya plushie, no pillows, no sheets.
I didn’t leave my room empty this time. The bed was still unmade. There was a half-filled mug from the tea I’d been drinking that was likely bitter by the time I left. It feels like I’m forgetting scraps of myself with my parents.
When I moved into my room in Site 4, still wearing the lab goggles my parents gave me for the plane, I set down that standard issue notebook I’d been carrying from the plane. I unpacked the sheets from the vacuum-sealed bag my mom gave me. I took a shower and remembered to close the shower curtain when I finished.
I am leaving home again. I don’t know what to do. Am I a mother yet?
A final list of everything that I brought to MIT:
The things that remind me of my family.
The bittersweet taste of home.