On my first flight home from Michigan in December 2011, my stomach bubbled with a familiar Pancheros burrito and knots of excitement wound themselves tighter as I flew closer to my at-the-time long-distance boyfriend. Sophomore year, I felt the relief of being done with a semester that I finally enjoyed and belted delayed laughs as a result of the talent show at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Junior year, the flight took off for San Francisco and I played Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave on repeat as I prematurely fantasized about my semester that was about to take place in Madrid while drifting in and out of sleep on the plane home. This year, however, was different; it was calm and platonic. Although it’s the last time I will be making this flight home for such a brief time, it felt tranquil and I felt accustomed to the typical waves of nausea and excitement that one associates with coming home, wherever that may be and whatever that may mean.
There’s this weird thing that happens when you are dropped off at college. You watch as your parents cascade down 5th Bartlett as the heavy blue metal door slams in your face and you think to yourself, “What now?” Presumably, you have been caged in your house for a strong 18 years and all of sudden you are let loose. Maybe it’s just my closest friends and me, but I felt confused. For lack of a better word or psychological term, I embarked on the biggest identity crisis of my life upon seeing that dorm room door crash in my face. The process of coming home and the nostalgia of the holidays only exacerbate this reminiscent feeling about my first day on campus and serve as a pivotal point to understand one’s growth.
It’s difficult to tell someone to embrace these times. To embrace the awkward hugs that you face in your local supermarket or the run-ins with your mom’s friends at her holiday parties, but these moments of discomfort are essential and inevitably shift through your college formation. These encounters give us something to laugh about and learn from when you are finally 21 and can sit around the bar ordering tequila shots with three guys you took Calculus with six years ago. It’s not that everything is entirely normal or comfortable now, but there’s a certain reassurance in the fact that life continues upon its meandering and ever-changing path. The discomfort and fluctuations are normalized and you began to feel more and more prepared for what’s next even as the future gets more and more expansive.
Now, in the depths of my senior year Winter Break, I see home as a different place. I recognize that where I am today was not by fault, and is much accredited to my time at the University.
At a bar the other night, I spoke with a guy in my graduating class from high school that had been crowned the biggest clown in our grade. He was that macho man who showed little emotion. This year, he told me he was into writing and screenplays. He reminisced about the time his babysitter thought he was sleeping and he stayed up watching “Silence of the Lambs,” consequently crying himself to sleep. He didn’t stop smiling as we promenaded around the saloon looking at old couples rekindling flames, or more, often-new, love interests emerging from the woodwork. I am reminded to leave room for change.
At Christmas dinner, my friend Laura spoke to me about her friends who had developed eating disorders and their strange relationships with food while at college. I told her I remembered those times. After my freshman year 20-pound extravaganza and my workoutaholic sophomore year, I was ebbing into a normal relationship once again with food and my body image. Not to say these feelings won’t emerge again, but I feel at ease with my ability to take the turns as they come.
On the way home from skiing in Lake Tahoe, I was discussing an encounter I had with a friend to my dad. He thought for a second and asked me if I remembered the first page of the Great Gatsby. He has been reciting it for years, but reminded me again, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ ” Sometimes it takes the simple repetition of sacred words.
The holidays, fortunate or not, bring back shadows of the past. This year my dog wasn’t dressed in her holiday garb and our dearest family friend wasn’t cutting coffee cake in the kitchen, but we did have a new recipe for garlic mashed potatoes and one young child joined us at the kid’s Christmas table. Remember the time is now. Remember this as hard as you can, and as you hold on to the present moment it lightens the holiday shadows as you remind yourself that now is not forever. What is now the present will next year be a memory. We will continue to wonder who we were and are, but this knowledge that the undulations of emotions and inevitable growth are persistent keep us thinking as the new years roll through.
Dani Vignos can be reached at email@example.com.