changes, i’ve never been good with changePosted: October 7, 2010
“Which city feels more familiar to you?” I ask to someone as we’re driving down a street known colloquially as The Drag.
“Sorry, what?” He replies. Apparently I had thrust him away from a woken slumber, lulled by the glow of streetlights starting their daily shift. “It’s been more or less two months since we both moved here from there, we’ve both gotten settled and started new routines.” The brakes of my car squeal loud enough to bother me as I approach a red light. I turn to my friend. “So which place feels more familiar to you?”
He takes a second to chew on his thoughts. “I guess here.” He finally says, as my wheels groan into motion once more. “Which feels like home?” I ask him, to continue the conversation. He smacks his lips, taps the dashboard, and clears his throat. “Well, I consider home to be over there, but if I were really to think about it this feels more like home.”
One of the strangest feelings I’ve felt would be the foreign comfort of my own bed. The one I sleep on now, its mattress is thin, sheets slightly scratchy (though I didn’t know this upon buying them), and takes more than a bit of effort to make any degree of decent. Every time I go back there, I sleep in the same place I slept when I was an idiot teen. The bed is soft and expansive; the sheets feel warmer to the touch. Now that I’m in that weird intermediary between youth and maturity, it’s not quite the same as it was before, only two months after I moved away.
Earlier that week, I visited a building that I hadn’t been to in quite a bit of time. Four months before I packed my wardrobe and bric-a-brac into bags and stuffed them into a ten year old automobile, I was about to graduate from high school. Since then, I hadn’t been back, and since then, I hadn’t realized just how much can change within such short spans of time.
Within the confines of that building’s walls, I managed to spend a significant chunk of the past four years befriending people, establishing habits and mannerisms that have stuck to this day, and ocassionally adding a few buckets of knowledge to my building reservoir. That day, months after I officially checked out as a student, I checked up on the place as an outsider mere hours after three thousand or so of my successors cleared the halls in riotous anticipation for the weekend.
The place was all but deserted by the time my friend, the same friend with whom I’d discuss our transitioning lives with days afterward, and I had arrived. We managed to find one classroom that wasn’t darkened or seemingly abandoned. Found within was a man hunched over his desk, barely recognizable from his past role as my mathematics teacher. This was a man I resented for having the audacity to have me earn a grade in rather than have an “A” placed gingerly on my lap, as naïve as that sounds.
We walked in, and his eyes lit up. He greeted us with a voice weathered by the years I never lived, his countenance hardened by those unexpected turns that circumstances can bring. His current state was worse than I remember. The three of us exchanged pleasantries, my friend and I told him stories of our newfound freedoms. He offered us words of encouragement with only a few nudges toward his life, to think that two years can take that much of a toll on someone is rather unsettling.
“Life isn’t about doing what others want, it’s about satisfying yourself.” He told us; with a voice that had the warble of old age. “If you don’t have the passion behind whatever you’re doing, it’s not worth it.” It was six o’ clock on a Friday and I was receiving bits of wisdom from this unlikely source. I assumed he was relaying the same set of words he relayed to his past pupils, until I saw a small amount of tears well up in the man’s eyes as he acknowledged that his days were waning as ours were waxing. He carried the weight of countless what-ifs and missed opportunities on his ailing bones.
He readjusted the cap he was wearing, which hid the side effects of modern medicine’s treatment of a disease yet cured. “Don’t just assume you’ll have more time,” he said before pausing. “Wait, what am I saying, you two young and you have your lives ahead of you, I can’t expect you to do that.” My friend and I laughed awkwardly. “It’s easy for me, someone who’s on the back end of things, to talk…”
He played that last part off with a chuckle. We left soon after, with him reassuring us that whatever help he could provided would be provided to us if we only ask, with us telling him that we would stop by whenever we made our way back there, that city that I sometimes struggle to consider home. I drove around for a little bit, my head dizzy with thoughts about my future. Talking to someone who’s already in theirs makes you realize your own inaction.
I keep using the same argument when I’m having a conversation with someone who isn’t sure of their timing. They’ll tell me how they’re afraid of doing something too soon, how they could prolong the status quo for just a bit longer, and I’ll say these four words to them:
“If not now, when?”
Lovers, hours before they’re bound to be separated by miles of dirt, rivers, and sky will do everything they can to prolong the time they have together, buying later flights and hoping to god for delays. Children before the first day of school will try to spend as much time as possible strapped to their seats. Time’s a cruel mistress who doesn’t give a fuck about these things, so rationality dictates that there’s very little good that can come from waiting those few extra moments.
And yet, now that I think of it, I tend to ignore my own advice. I know the inevitability of life’s crests and troughs, and yet when I face them I’ll invariably try to find ways to stop the tides. Facing the prospect of collegiate life, I spent weeks lulling myself into a sense of naïve, ignorant, stupid security, postponing the inevitable by putting it off altogether. That of course, ended in my own self-destruction.
Sometimes our lives fade away the sense of urgency that it desperately needs. Without a sense of passion or ardor, we end up twiddling our thumbs until we realize what we did wrong. I learned this lesson from someone who I had only expected to teach me of sines, cosines, and tangents, someone who has been through enough to earn an immense amount of respect.
The most recent parts of my memory have been interspersed by long stretches of highway. I’d watch fields transform into forests, towns, and city lights at eighty miles an hour, and if it’s quiet enough, think about my own stupidity. I know of the things I should be doing, and I know the reasons why, but faced with the option of staying someplace for a bit longer or setting off into the vast yonder, I’ll pick the first.
I’m yielding to some pedestrians, losing myself in the cadence of my turn signal. “So would you consider this city home yet?” I ask him. There isn’t a response. If it’s because I’m being drowned out by the music filtering from my speakers, or if it’s because he isn’t sure of his answer, I’ll never really know. It’s hard to pinpoint what “home” is when you’re forced to live and study in a city for three to five years, learning its intricacies and experiencing what it has to offer.
There’s no use in pouring your passion into a yearning for the past when it won’t return. It’s a much better course of action to find what and who you truly love, at this precise moment in space and time, and carry that into your future.
It’s useless to think that we can keep things as they always are, as so much of life is based on change. It’s also useless to think that life is decent enough when we’re not fully immersed in it. So rather than delaying what will happen anyway and dwelling on what could have happened, I’m trying my damndest to let things happen when they do, embracing the possibilities of what can happen. Of all the transitions I’m going through, that one might be the hardest.