I thought about this post while laying in a fetal position under an oppressively large comforter. A few days ago, my period cramps were as bad as they had ever been, so, after a sleepless night, I took some painkillers, crawled under my blanket, and waited for around 30-minutes, willing the medication to kick in. This time was feverish; I felt as if my consciousness was floating, ruminating on a series of fairly disjoint memories. It was one of those experiences where you come away with distinct feelings, although very little in the way of concrete thought. Here are a few of those feelings.
I felt very old. Concretely, this is simply untrue… I’m 19, which, I think, is universally agreed upon to be an age at which you’re painfully unaware of the world but slowly beginning to realize how little you understand it. I feel myself beginning to develop the sensibilities which render adults dreadfully boring to every child under the sun – a desire for safety, comfort, stability.
I wanted to be home. I can’t, to be honest, articulate what that means anymore. When I was 17, about to leave Arkansas for Boston, all I thought about was how quiet my hometown was. It was hard to tell if the silence was peaceful or oppressive in that place; it certainly felt stifling.
When I went home most recently, though, I felt differently. Arkansas is many things, the most obvious being beautiful. I forgot how starry the sky could be, and how blue. It’s almost ridiculously picturesque. Roads built through water-logged pastures, cows grazing between thickets of trees. Vast expanses of green, morning dew accumulating on individual blades of grass and refracting the morning light, ephemeral steam fog rising off of the surface of ponds during the sunrise. Hordes of red-wing blackbirds which move as a hive, settling on fields and turning an entire acre of land a shade darker.
Arkansas is gorgeous, but two years ago, I would’ve given anything for the promise that it wouldn’t be my entire future. The view from my window is of the skyline of Boston; the CITGO sign lights up offensively bright shades of neon blue and red, and the blaring of absurdly loud car engines will sometimes startle me when I’m studying in my room. As a high schooler, I daydreamed of this often. Opening the window to my childhood bedroom usually meant little more than making the soft chirping of birds slightly more audible.
I am not from here. When I walk to Kendall Square, I inevitably spend some amount of time gawking at the height of the buildings. It feels strange to be in the center of a city when you’ve spent practically your entire life in a small town. I am very aware that I come from a place where the only thing you see when you look up is sky. And the place that I am from exists less and less. Empty plots and grazing fields are being replaced by modernist-apartment buildings. The proportion of streets in my town with watering ponds for livestock is dwindling, replaced by the distasteful urbanity of a Southern City- sterile storage units and cookie-cutter houses.
There is something so old about yearning for days past. It implies that there is something to remember. I can’t tell how I feel about this. The narrative of “small town girl who’s trying to make it in the big city” is overused, but I’m most certainly trying to find my place and I’m not at all sure how to do it.
While digging through my closet in search of a suitable shirt, I found a grass green notebook, a white, plaid pattern on the cover. This was one of many diaries; I wrote a lot as a child. I remember what it felt like, too – pencils were still hard to grip, and I was so frequently frustrated at my writing quality that I often tore out and threw away enough pages from individual notebooks to make them fall apart. I flipped through this one, which had the characteristic degraded spine, and found approximately what I expected – badly drawn horses and blatantly derivative fantasy stories abandoned halfway through their production. The daily entries were interesting, though. I’ve never been terribly interested in writing about what happened in my day (life was very boring for a very long time), so I did a lot of meditative writing. I would never presume to call it anything near mature, but it is reminiscent of what I am like today (also, probably, not particularly mature).
The hallway to my bedroom had a mirror which I helped my father screw in with a power drill. I remember standing in front of it when I was small, wondering if I would be happier about who I saw in the mirror when I was older. I wondered if I would be smart, or funny, or less shy, or pretty. I’m nearly 20, and I feel very bad for this version of myself, who had somehow at such a young age internalized that she would forever be insufficient. It frightens me a little that this was such a through line in my consciousness for so long.
Growing up is strange, though, because at some point things that have always hurt begin to fade, and other things begin to ache. I like myself much more now than I ever have before. I feel lost, but not, really, internally. I have been able to resolve many of my questions about who I am and what I care about, but I do not know where I belong.
I often feel as though I am looking for safety and comfort and rest, but have difficulty finding any of them. I wish I were five years old again and climbing into the arms of my mother would fix everything, but I wake up from nightmares in a cold sweat and I don’t even mention them to her the next day. I am too old for this now.
There’s a fragment of something from somewhere about how “crying on public transport” is symptomatic of being in one’s early twenties. I have begun to feel viscerally alone, but not for lack of friends or socialization. This loneliness feels incurable, which is a terribly angsty line, but it certainly follows me around like a phantom. I’m not sure how to handle it, exactly.
In grade school, I would always ask my parents to buy me jellybeans during Ramadan. I would stay up late talking to my friends, drinking Snapple Tea and guessing what flavor bean we had drawn from the bag based on its color. I still do this, almost ritualistically. I will buy a bag of jellybeans from the Walmart Neighborhood Market the day I land in Arkansas, pick up a friend, find a parking lot, and talk in the dark.
Many of the people from my childhood have stayed in Arkansas. It’s strange how little I feel that they’ve changed. These friendships are earnest and long-lived and uncomplicated; somehow everything feels simpler at home. People have an abundance of common sense and a lack of self-importance (one must wonder how I am from there, too).
This was the place that raised me, but when I moved to Boston, I was so excited. I wanted to get out of the South, away from the systems of my youth – college in the Northeast was a promised land. I wonder if I ought to have grieved more for what I was leaving behind. The inky darkness of a chilly summer evening, punctured by lazily fluorescing fireflies. Earthworms on the sidewalk after a thunderstorm. My father’s earnest joy to see me. The smattering of stars in the night sky. Chalk on the sidewalk, and glowsticks which I insisted on cutting open out of curiosity. Jumping off of too-high rocks knowing full-well it was a bad idea. The bookshelf which I grew up on – Asimov, Austen, Tolstoy, Dickens.
Somehow these experiences feel as if they are gone. While making lunch one afternoon, I realized that my eyes were tearing up as I chopped an onion. I had assumed this was something I had simply grown out of, but here I was, squinting my eyes as they watered, feeling all the strange awareness that comes with any flavor of pain. I felt very human. My allergies are better in Boston. The sun is less hot. Onions don’t burn my eyes.
The flight back was quiet. I was childishly excited to see my friends again, but I still hadn’t found what I was looking for, at least not in any permanent way. The feeling of belonging is often fleeting, but I had felt it, even if I could already feel it fading.