During senior year of high school, my choir performed at a conference in Chicago. Singing was wonderful, but more importantly, it was a fun trip for my friends and me as we wrapped up our final semester. During some free time, my friend Jesse and I wandered the streets around our hotel in search of coffee and pastries, still thrilled by the novelty of independence, even knowing that in a few short months it would be our new way of life.
We found a coffee shop. We got drinks and split a peanut butter banana chocolate scone (it would be important to him that I include this detail). Nestled into some high-backed armchairs by a large window overlooking the frigid February streets, we chatted about nothing in particular, taking bites from the pastry on the table between us. Jesse and I have been best friends since kindergarten. We had most of our classes together, traveled together and did all the same extracurriculars. We hadn’t ever been apart except for a month every summer when we attended different camps.
As we sat and enjoyed the comfort of being with someone who you know so well, I was struck by the transience of such moments. In a few months, who knew what would happen? I would be starting school in Ann Arbor and he would be 6,000 miles away on a gap year in Israel. We would be in different time zones on different continents going through completely different experiences. I always had an ironclad confidence our friendship could make it through anything unscathed. For a moment, that wavered.
Jesse nudged the plate toward me, offering me the last chunk of scone. For some reason, that small gesture was a sweet reassurance. I happily accepted, popping the bite into my mouth and pulling up the Notes app on my phone. With a smirk, I wrote, “You know it’s a friendship that will transcend the distance and the years and the changes when he gives you the last bite of his scone.”
I have always been intrigued by time travel. Not to some distant historical event or unknown future world, but rather to somewhere along my own timeline. I try to find ways to hop between the years of my life, showing myself the past or the future, a reminder of where I came from and where I might be going. Sometime in September each year I flip through all the pages in my calendar, travelling to the last week of school, and write myself a note: “Here is where I am, here’s where you may be, I guess you know what I got on the exam I took this week, huh?” In the spring I find these notes and smile, finding some nugget of naïveté within myself from just a few months before.
In high school, I would write myself time bomb emails, scheduling them to arrive one year from that day. I found it oddly comforting to read about my concerns from the year before, seeing them in the wide-angle lens of hindsight, and knowing whatever problems I currently had would be similarly trivial in a year’s time. By remembering exactly how it felt to be that girl a year before, I suddenly become her again for a moment, and I could see straight through to the future.
In the other direction, I leave observational breadcrumbs through the musings and lines of prose from which I gained inspiration for this semester’s column. They allow me to travel backward, reminding me how I saw the world at a younger age.
I was thinking about how reassured I was that day in the coffee shop as I drove Jesse to the airport last weekend. He goes to school in Atlanta, and had flown up for a visit. We spent the weekend doing nothing in particular, talking about nothing in particular. We just enjoyed the familiarity that comes from 15 years of close friendship. It wasn’t sad to say goodbye. I’ll see him again soon.
As I go through my life, I try to leave touchstones to which I can return and mark the passage of time and the unpredictability of life’s journey. I have never felt as though I am only my present self, but rather like a Russian nesting doll with past versions saved somewhere in my head, fitting into one another seamlessly and augmenting what was already there. Like some ancient redwood, each year I add a new layer of self as I grow outward into the world. I am 20 years old, but I am 18 and 15 and 11 too, the thoughts, experiences and perspectives compounding into one hodgepodge of a person.
As each year passes, I see how time can strip away whatever is not tied down tightly. I have lots of once-close friends with whom I never speak. I spent hours honing skills my hands and mind have since forgotten. I do not mourn these losses. They are preserved, if not in the present, then in some past self. I will relive long gone friendships and memories with the next time bomb email. I will remember how it felt to perform at a choral conference or do a slide tackle in a soccer game the next time I scroll through Notes on my phone.
More than anything, my adventures through time have taught me that a year from now, everything will be different, except for the things that won’t. I’ll always know how to string sentences together. I’ll always want to share a blanket with my big sister on the couch watching reruns of the “The West Wing.” I’ll always read before bed, have a penchant for righteous indignation and surround myself with kind-hearted people. And I’ll always want to split a scone with Jesse. I will shed the things I do not need and hold tightly to those I cannot live without, and march forward through time until I can meet next year’s me.
Kendall Hecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.