It comes in waves
Reflections on the start of senior year
It’s my last year at MIT, and all I can feel is something pooling in my stomach that I can’t quite pin a name on. It’s something like dread, something like love, something like pain, ache, yearning.
When I was a freshman, I wrote that MIT was suffocating. I’m drowning in it again.
It comes in waves.
Days ago, now, my sister came into my room in California to bring me water. She asked me how I was.
Bad, I thought.
I said, “A bit anxious.”
My sister asked me what was going on, if I wanted to talk about it.
I took a deep breath in, counted the seconds that passed with air held in my mouth.
Let the air out, now.
My friend told me that the problem with being on campus is that they are again mourning what we could have had. I thought of something I wrote for an application a couple of months ago:
“One day, you will be older and you’ll say goodbye to the home you’ve worked so hard to build. You will leave for the airport and feel an ache so large that you worry it’ll tear you apart. You shouldn’t look back, but you’ll do so anyway.
And you will wish, more than anything, that you had more time to soothe the grief you know is coming.
Your wish will never be granted, Ana.
There is never enough time to spend with the people you love.
I am your future, but in many ways you make up mine. That probably didn’t make sense.
Maybe, this is a better way to explain it: I am still trying to live up to your goals and I am living out your decisions.
That makes you my future.
Please, be careful with that.”
“Dear Seven-Year-Old Ana,” Blogger Application Pt. 2 Electric Boogaloo
Whatever the feeling is thrashes in me, waves cresting and breaking onto the walls of my stomach.
I told my sister that I’m worried, but it’ll get better.
There’s a theory, in philosophy, that people can have free will even if all their actions are predestined. Even if everything is predictable, a compatibilist claims, we still have to go through with making decisions. We cannot expect for things to happen independent of our agency.
It always gets better, I assure myself.
That’s not the whole truth, but it’s close.
My sister and I lay down on my unmade bed.
The week before I left for Boston, as my dad was leaving for work, I waved with my arms above my head. I was waiting for my mom to come join me on a walk and, all of a sudden, I was struck with the taste of a memory from years ago.
My junior year of high school, my dad moved from Arizona to California. Every weekend, he would take our family’s pearl white Honda and drive the six hours to Arizona and back. The first weekend he left for work, my mom and I stood hugging at the mouth of the door. My arms waving above my head, I thought, don’t let either of them see you cry.
It was a different house, a different garage, different people, and yet the imprint remains.
I thought about a poem I wrote about in high school,
“Mom walks into my room and tells me how much fixing my teeth is going to cost.
Two thousand, seven hundred and seventy seven dollars.
That is how much I am taking from my family.
She’s told me stories about how in poverty she would brush her teeth,
remind her mom to buy toothpaste.
Keep minty breath and teeth as straight as gravestones.
I have not cared for my teeth as she has.
I worry I am putting my convenience over my family.
I allow myself to digest
from the inside out.”
I try to eat the feelings I still have trapped in my throat.
I have taken a lot more from my family than money, but I did not know that then.
I wrote last semester that I didn’t leave my room in California empty. There’s something striking about bare walls and a stripped mattress. That’s what was waiting for me in Boston.
Am I coming or leaving home, this time?
Ruth tells me that I can always make a home again. I, not we.
What will my life at MIT be like without her?
My friend told me last week that they were talking to some of the juniors, and how they were freshmen when they first left campus. They’re expected to be student leaders now.
There is no one left to care for them.
I send Ruth a couple of lines from one of my favourite poems:
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
“Good Bones,” Maggie Smith
When the seniors I’d gotten to know in the math department graduated, I wrote to one of them:
“I am terrified of being a senior. Not just because of growing older and the passage of time and the end of an era I’ve finally felt safe in, but because I know—I know—that I’ve got big shoes to fill.”
It is my turn to be the realtor.
I am afraid.
Everything swirls back and forth in my brain.
When I touched down in Boston for the first time in three months, I called my friend to pick me up from the airport. They took my carry-on for me as we headed out together.
We went grocery shopping with one of the younger members in my sorority.
I tried not to touch too many things in Trader Joe’s as we walked down the aisles. I put a bag of clementines in my grocery cart, but I haven’t gotten a chance to open one yet. I thought, don’t let the kids see you cry.
It’s been difficult to eat on campus because I’ve gotten spoiled. I am not used to eating alone, so I don’t.
It comes in waves.
I cry in the ten minutes I have between seeing people. Perhaps that is why it won’t come out now when I am alone.
I count the seconds that I hold air in my mouth.
I have finally broken a nail biting habit that I’ve had all my life.
I feel silly for being reminded of my sexual assault when I see the Frat Rush chalk on dorm row.
I hug friends that I haven’t seen in person for years now.
I feel too embarrassed to hold someone’s hand.
I stroll down the infinite and feel the rush of calling this place my home again.
I cry on a bench outside Stata because MIT still feels too big after three years.
I show the sophomores in my sorority how to turn on the stove. I teach them the best way to eat eggs with tortillas.
I am reminded that Ruth cannot turn on the kettle for me in the mornings, no matter how much we both want it.
I hate this fucking place.
Let the air out.
I have truly found paradise.