As I traveled from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport back to campus in January, I peered out the window of my cab with utter amazement. The sapphire sky and soft glow of the afternoon sun looked exactly as I had remembered it, but this time, the world was coated with snow. I come from a tropical climate, so the idea of a cold winter was totally foreign to me. The world cloaked in white looked so beautiful, just as I had imagined it in my head. I had spent years fantasizing about building a snowman and getting into snowball fights, so the brightness of the snow as it fell from the sky made me look forward to those new experiences that lay before me. This winter semester would finally allow me the opportunity to see and touch real snow for the very first time. Even though all of my classes were online and many of my friends had moved back home, I was determined to remain optimistic about this coming semester. After all, it’s college. I had spent years imagining late night adventures, striking up conversations with complete strangers and shouting the lyrics to trashy pop songs into the void of the night. Here, I could do anything I ever wanted, right? Snow gently wafted in the calm breeze sweeping through campus when I stepped out of my cab in front of East Quad Residence Hall building. I reached my hands out to catch the delicately hovering snowflakes, but their frigid tendrils stung my hands.
Over the next several weeks, the sky lost its vibrance. The uniformly gray clouds filled the sky with their emptiness. The days blended together as the winter nights devoured the afternoon sun. The dreariness of winter seeped through my window. My empty cans of energy drinks, all neatly stacked like legos in my overflowing recycling bin, were the most vibrant decor I owned. Even when I consumed 600mg of caffeine a day (halfway to risking seizures according to the Food and Drug Administration), I still couldn’t bring myself to make the arduous trek down the hall to the trash closet. The mess in my room held little importance since I was my only company anyway. I barely had the energy to walk downstairs to the dining hall, never mind my dreams of exploring the city around me.
On a particularly gloomy morning, desperate to rediscover the warmth I felt when I saw snow outside of my cab window for the first time, I ventured out into the cold. I circled the campus aimlessly as if I was waiting for some divine inspiration to strike me. I stared up into the colorless sky, waiting for fresh snow to fall and posing for what I imagined to be a beautiful cinematic shot in the imaginary movie of my life. Meanwhile, my feet trudged along the earth. The grime of the sidewalk fused with the slush of the trodden snow left behind a brown, misshapen depression in the wake of each step. It felt as though I was sinking into the ground itself. With each step my feet felt heavier and heavier. Eventually I dragged myself over the empty Diag, dusted off a snow-covered bench and let myself slouch over in my seat.
In high school, I used to dream of escaping my mundane yet stressful life. I wanted to build a snowman, get into snowball fights and skate on the surface of a frozen lake. Yet between the cold, my coursework and COVID-19, I still had little control. The fantasy world I built was toppling down before my eyes, and I just had to accept it. The life I had imagined was not one that I could live. A cold anger ran through my veins. What use are dreams if they never materialize? Frustration mounted inside me, but I didn’t drink enough caffeine that morning to have the energy to be upset. My eyes drifted from the gray sky to the uneven frost-covered ground, while I just sat frozen in place.
Then I noticed the footprints left by each passerby filled the whole sidewalk. Who were they? Where were they going? Why? I could never know the answers to these questions, and I realized that I didn’t need to know. I had spent so much time constructing intricate fantasies about my future that I couldn’t be satisfied with just not knowing something. Every raindrop, every snowflake, every dust particle had to be a metaphor. I had to be in control. Each time reality didn’t serve me, it felt as though the entire world was collapsing. But, my lack of control was relieving. I couldn’t control the weather or predict the future, and I realized that I could be just fine with that. Instead of hiding from anything that threatened my fantasy worldview, I chose to embrace the unpredictable and the unknown.
I pushed myself back up from the bench and balanced on my own two feet again. Who am I? Where was I going? Why? It was all up for me to decide. I chose to walk away from my past idealizations and learn how to accept my lack of agency. I looked neither up at the sky nor down at the ground but forward. I set my sights on the horizon and started walking back to my residence hall, letting the stray snowflakes fall on my face.
MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be reached at email@example.com.