On Thursday afternoon, I ran into my freshman year roommate. She was the second person I met at MIT, right after I arrived in my room and my temporary roommate and I went down to the lobby to mingle. We have been good friends ever since. Ours is one of those friendships that is based on mutual respect and trust, and not on common values and opinions (she is a conservative Republican and I am a liberal Democrat). I mention her because she is one of those people I like to have around when I want to vent. We will be 1,038 miles apart next year.
“How did we get here?” she asked me, “When did four years pass?” I stood there looking at her and wondering what life would be like when the people I have cared about for the last four years won’t be in a one-mile radius anymore.
Another straw on my back.
There is this line from an Edward Albee play: “And there he was, malevolence with an erection.” It comes out of nowhere during a breathless monologue about a slobbering dog, and when I read it during my senior year of high school, I couldn’t breathe for a second. Life is hitting me like that right now.
As my friend Brian said, “It’s one of those years when everything changes.” Like 1968.
The idea that after June, I will be a college graduate — an official adult — is terrifying. My friends are moving in with their significant others. I know people who are engaged. My mind is consumed with thoughts of responsibility and with worries about how I’ll make it in a world with no summer vacation. I have to look for an apartment. I need to start thinking about retirement.
I am mystified by my newfound adulthood. Last week my mother forwarded me an e-mail with pictures from her freshman year at college. She had hair down to her hips and she was wearing a miniskirt and smiling. It occurred to me that at those moments when the pictures were taken, she had no idea what life would bring her; that she would have four children, settle in suburbia in an old farmhouse, and be married to someone who developed the Mastodon Theory. Before I saw those pictures, I had never really accepted the fact that my parents were once at this junction themselves.
This year, I’m going to have to let go of this idea that I exist in a world in which my only job is to learn. Eventually, I’ll have to acknowledge the fact that the kid who climbed trees and spent the summer after freshman year of high school eating nothing but ice cream cones lives inside of me, and is not actually me. I will have to realize that I will become an adult, and my children will only see me as one.
I started to let go of my past on January 26th of this year. It was Chinese New Year and I was in Beijing and had decided to make the pilgrimage to the Lama Temple to burn incense, toss coins and hope for luck, fortune, and longevity. I had a big decision to make that day. I could visit someone and open something that I had already locked up, or I could watch the incense burning and let my past float away in the acrid gray smoke.
As I watched the men at the temple remove the cart that was filled to the brim with charred red and gold sticks and replace it with a new one, I decided I was going to go West. Back to America, and then on to St. Louis, and maybe, one day, to California.
It is Year of the Ox. Oxen are bred to pull weight and to do work, and it was the oxen that moved west; they dragged the belongings of Americans that were uncertain about their future. I decided that this year I, too, will move forward. I will pack up my school books, buy a couch and a kitchen table with four chairs, and travel West. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll strike gold.