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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

leaving home, coming home by Shuli J. '22

I jump from the train, I ride off alone // help me hold onto you

Shuli Approved TM Playlist for this blog post: Taylor Swift’s Lover album, but you just alternate between playing “Lover” and “The Archer” over and over. If necessary to lighten the mood, finish with one play of “Paper Rings.”

 

Here is an actual thing I said recently: “I’ve bought my plane ticket home, but I haven’t bought my plane ticket home yet.” I could get all linguisticy about how meaning is not conveyed just through bare words, but also through context that exists separately in the mind of the speaker and the listener, and miscommunication arises when some part of that context is not shared etc. etc.…

But what I’d rather talk about is ~my feelings~. (Wow! Writing about your feelings on the internet?! Everyone knows that we bloggers of MIT Admissions would never partake in such an unsavoury activity.)

During this busy and exhausting semester, there was not so much time for feelings. I carved out a few hours here and there when it was absolutely necessary to confront something really crucial, and otherwise I just sort of skated by on ignorance. And when the end of the semester came I forgot I’d done that, and blithely continued on living as I had been living, until the very end of my very last day on campus, when I sat down on the floor01 listen, it's my floor, I know how clean it is, I'll sit on it if I want to to pack. I put on Taylor Swift and by chance the first lyric to the first song went

We could leave the Christmas lights up ’til January
This is our place, we make the rules

and I oops! Cue me, sobbing haplessly on the floor and simultaneously trying to figure out why.

The analogy I came up with is like this: if you have a phone with a bunch of apps, occasionally each app needs to do an update. And if you let the updates pile up, over, say, four months, then you have a lot of updates to do. And if you intend to tap something else and accidentally hit the Update All button, then your phone is gonna crash. Oops.

So I’ve been using the break to reboot, and do these updates one by one, and also think about why apparently sitting on my floor playing Taylor Swift is my equivalent of hitting update all. And here’s what I’m thinking:

My floor is, well, mine — perhaps more than your floor is yours, since I installed mine myself. And although last year I was happy here at MIT, even called it home out loud, it was always with the feeling that things would change: freshman year is different academically; you’re still figuring everything out; you have to move02 In EC, freshmen often live in doubles and upperclassmen almost all live in singles. You can stay in the same single for as long as you want, but if you're in a frosh double, you have to vacate it for next year's frosh. at the end of the year. And now in sophomore year, I have (hopefully) met/confronted/conquered MIT as it really is, moved into a room I can keep indefinitely if I choose to, and worked to make it my own. It’s home. This is our place, we make the rules.

 What I didn’t notice during the semester is that I no longer, apparently, seem to think of myself as “being in Boston” when I’m at MIT; now, I’m just “being”.

And yet when I go home to Toronto I am just “being” there, too.

Like the word “home”, “being” is two different words masquerading as one; unlike “home”, here I cannot define the difference for you, because I don’t understand it myself. Like an elementary schooler, haphazardly trying to define a word without using it in the definition, I can only gesture at it and talk around it.

When I first came to MIT, I would often pass by a random person in the hallway and mistake them, just momentarily, for a friend or an acquaintance from Toronto. I still do this sometimes, but I’ve noticed these past few days I’ve been home that now the reverse happens, too, and I see an MIT friend in the face of a Torontonian.

I take the subway downtown to meet my high school friends, the same familiar route I used to take to school and back, twice a day for six years. When I’m walking somewhere with nothing on my mind, what I always end up thinking about is my feet touching the ground. It doesn’t feel like a connection to the earth itself; just to the little scrap of whatever happens to be directly underneath me, so that every time I put a foot down, that piece of tile or carpet or concrete feels like a part of me.

It’s the same connection and the same feeling on the Toronto subway platform as it is on the path across Killian from building 3 to building 2, but the scrap of ground is entirely different, and so by extension, I am entirely different.

And yet I am the same.

If you have two places where you are fully yourself, it doesn’t have to mean that you have two selves. But it does mean that your one self will feel pretty darn weird. It’s not as if I’m pulled in two; the weirdness is the lack of pull. It’s like… quantum entanglement. Being the same person in two places at exactly the same time, living two lives and vulnerable in twice as many ways.

And the feeling is so new. Freshman year, especially in the fall, I struggled a lot with being away from home. I cried in the shower, like, weekly – and that wasn’t necessarily bad. It was a growing pain. I’m not done growing by any means, but I am done with that kind of growth, I think. I probably only cried over leaving home03 we won't talk about all the other things that made me cry :') once or twice this semester, and as with the endings of so many things, I didn’t even realize it was happening.

Paradoxically, now that I’ve noticed it’s gone, the lack of pain pains me. It’s the end of the end of an era; there’s nothing left now to hold on to. Help me hold onto you…

I’m turning twenty in this upcoming year. I’m turning a lot of things, slowly and sneakily and without my own notice. And I don’t really understand what’s happening, who I’m becoming, what it means to grow and change; I struggle to describe it clearly. All I can do is keep thinking about it, keep working through it, keep living it and trying my best.

I was going to end by saying that the only way to gain an understanding of life is to live it, but I think it’s even more than that: I think that, like a map the size of the territory, the only possible understanding of life is living itself.

  1. listen, it's my floor, I know how clean it is, I'll sit on it if I want to back to text
  2. In EC, freshmen often live in doubles and upperclassmen almost all live in singles. You can stay in the same single for as long as you want, but if you're in a frosh double, you have to vacate it for next year's frosh. back to text
  3. we won't talk about all the other things that made me cry :') back to text