I’ve been trying to be honest on this page, but I can’t. I can’t even say what’s going on in my head. I’ve just graduated from college…. “Congratulations,” everyone says, as though I’ve reached some mark of adulthood, but instead I am sick and sad, like I felt when my mom went away on business trips when I was a little kid. If she went away, would she really come back? And how would anything feel at all normal while she was gone? It’s the same sick-sadness that hit me after freshman year, and sophomore year, and leaving Denmark junior year. It’s a little less sharp now; so much practice with goodbyes has taken the edge off. But it’s still there. I’m still downing Pepto-Bismol and allergy pills, because stress makes my stomach flip-flop and my allergies worsen. Now I have a little more perspective, and I know in my head that I’m not going to die here in this summer heat, in this empty room, like I thought at the end of sophomore year on move-out day. Of course everything will be ok, it always is. It’s just the in-between time that hurts.
Little things help. Yesterday I climbed the stairs to the El platform, missing Patrick and trying to rationalize that our time apart would go quickly. Then, on the bench on the platform, I saw a beat-up cassette tape. I picked it up and read, “Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits”. I couldn’t do anything for a few minutes but stare at it. When I got home, I popped a few pieces of it back in places and wound up the tape with a pencil. Then I dusted off the tape player and put it in. “Down to the River” began playing, mid-song. I listened to the tape twice as I packed.
Said goodbye to Patrick. For a little bit. I’ve since had “Thunder Road” in my head all day. Tara left — we hugged and cried some more. Then my mom left for the airport. I’m still wearing what I wore to graduation; feeling like Mrs. Havisham as I sweep and pick up remants from yesterday’s party. The summer subletter is moving into Tara’ s room right now. The weekend has melted into a pool of mental pictures.
I have lots to write about… at the convocation today, some ordinary graduation things: the super-rush right before my name was called to receive my diploma, the trance-like walk under the hot lights, smile at the enthusiastic applause from my friends, the clockwork handshake, pose for picture, sit down again.
Yesterday at commencement, not-so-ordinary graduation things: running to the stadium when we couldn’t catch a shuttle, black gowns flapping and caps about to fly away, hopping in Eliina’s family’s pick-up truck, Amanda stopping traffic so we could make a left turn, jumping out of the truck, running to our places and waiting in the restless herd.
Sad graduation things: Sticky hugs in 90-degree heat at our barbecue, last poses for pictures with the whole gang, last long looks and kisses and post-adrenaline depression.
Happy graduation things: Conversations about the future, congratulations from professors and friends.
Questions: Did I really just graduate? Am I old enough for this? What did I do to deserve this diploma? What does an academic honor mean, and what does it mean that I didn’t earn any? What did I really accomplish this year? Am I holding myself back by not believing in myself? How did we all end up here, dressed in caps and gowns, these people that I once met on a sticky 90-degree day not so long ago?
Answers: Life doesn’t end after college. Good friends will stay. The endless banter in my head argues against itself all day, that this is happy, this is tragic, this is the worst day of my life, this is the best thing I’ve ever done. I am grateful, in pain, in love, in shock.
Somewhere in the swirl, a calm voice speaks softly: Everything will be ok. …. Lots to write about, more to come.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell
I am balancing time for packing, time with people I like, time with people I love, time to buy shoes for graduation and the formal, time to see old friends and new friends and best friends, time for cleaning and last sandwiches at the deli and last chances to make dinner together. I am balancing last nights to sleep in my bed, last nights to take peaceful walks along the lake, last nights to stay up drinking wine and watching candles burn. Last-minute graduation details: cap, gown, food. Hording time, wasting time. I am ending, beginning, ending, beginning.
“You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain… Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain… Waste your summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets…” — Bruce Springsteen
Last night I said the first goodbyes of the year, to Kristina and Ryan, in a beautiful group hug. But this time, I’m not seeing it as goodbye forever. So far, nothing’s been forever.
Went to my first-ever bachelorette party last night for a friend who’s getting married in August… Nine of us dressed up in various versions of tight/sparkly/sheer and went downtown for cocktails, drag singers and dancing. Everything I wore was borrowed: dress from my little sister, shoes and jacket from Eliina, necklace from Amanda. And come to think of it, everything was also blue — the shoes, for example, were sparkly, navy blue, five-inch platform heels. I’d just recently been reminiscing about my four-inch gold platforms from my high school senior prom, so I thought it’d be fun to wear them. Which it was. Except for the whole walking thing. Eliina wore equally tall platform, knee-high boots. We lagged at least five feet behind the group at all times, moving at top speed. ….But as always, what I ended up wearing and where we went didn’t matter as much as I’d expected. I enjoyed the pre-departure dress-up sessions and the El ride just as much as anything.
“There’s a dark and a troubled side of life…There’s a bright, there’s a sunny side, too…Though we meet with the darkness and strife… The sunny side we also may view…” — The Whites, Keep On the Sunny Side
Ah, stubborn Italians. In a story on how instruction manuals are viewed around the world, Wired reports that for Italians, instruction manuals “must never, ever tell them how to use a product. You merely suggest what they might consider doing with it.”
the best places
One evening this week, Amanda, Eliina and I curled up on the couch by the window, feeling like peaceful kittens. We slept a little, talked a little about imagined futures (Babies? Cats?), and listened to the faint noises outside. When we finally sat up, a white kitten was staring directly at us from a window ledge in the adjoining building.
Amanda figured out which poem I meant. I could only remember pieces of it. But she’d learned it in French class, too, so she knew what I was talking about. It’s by Jacques Prevert, and it’s here, translated.
Amanda woke me up at 4:30am to work on my Poli Sci paper. Apparently, although I don’t remember it, I told her that the phone was ringing. Then she and I shared a pot of coffee. Now it’s 6am, and I’m listening to Born to Run, noting as each song starts and ends, ticking off the CD track by track. The light outside turned from gray to clear gold in just a few minutes. My paper is due at noon.
Update, 7am: I have now listened to Born to Run twice. Time for a new CD. Aretha Franklin, here I come.
Update, 8pm: I finished the paper at 11:30 today, got to the Poli Sci office at 11:50 and turned it in. Yay for that.
“I will be with you always, except when I’m watching the Simpsons.” — God’s LiveJournal (followed by a comment from a reader: “God, I understand. I don’t think about you when I watch the Simpsons either.”)
I’ve worked all year on a project that helped local kids create their own magazine. We’ve been working since October; just getting them to write anything at all has been the biggest challenge. But eventually they did. And for the past three days, I’ve been designing the magazine — playing with Quark XPress, immersed in their stories. Yesterday evening, the kids, parents, volunteers and friends gathered for a celebration dinner. I watched the little ones jump rope, giggle and dance. I saw the parents beam proudly at their teenagers. And the project, which I’d clung to stubbornly this year in hopes of some progress, felt worth it.