I was transported. Tagged as a second-semester sophomore and released, some Thursday, back into campus as a senior. In the weeks leading up to it, I fielded questions about the school year mostly with that I felt hopeful. I think I meant to say awake. Alive. At least more so than the past year and a half. Excited to be returning to a place that looked awake and alive as well. I was so concerned with escaping the drawl of the past three semesters I forgot the goal was to make a life afterward, outside of this. There’s only so much time until I am uncaged again, set off into an even less tame environment, and I don’t envision the hopefulness I created for this year lasting long enough to come crawling out with me.
Seniors are fast-approaching a confrontation twenty one years in the making, and while everyone else has been preparing, I’ve been forever masquerading through the motions.
I was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society in seventh grade. Our mentors were eighth-graders seasoned by nothing more than hours of community service that most either forged or substituted for familial favors. Following their footsteps, we were to stand in the middle school gymnasium and be introduced to the families of spectators in the bleachers, ending with our career aspirations. I was freshly thirteen and my future plans were far from concrete.
I knew I was inspired by Salvador Dali’s paintings, Rick Riordan’s books,my binges of YouTube videos,my misunderstandings of Socrates,my father. I coveted a future that was steeped in possibility, one that looked like a million different ways to find fulfillment and bring ease to whatever piece of the world that offered me. But, if I had a penny for all the inspirations I never let linger long enough to be defeated by career searches, I wouldn’t be writing this column. So, I curated an image. One I thought was palatable, professional and predictable, to match the skirt I let sway above the scabbed front of my legs. I went with a toss up between aerospace engineer and neurosurgeon, bullshit so steamy it caught the attention of every head seated in those bleachers. Those types of ceremonies still felt meaningful then. I was still under the impression they reflected something about me personally, my aspirations and potential to breathe life into them. I didn’t consider the tens of thousands of other gymnasiums doing the same thing, maybe even at the same time, and how many lives and lies lined up exactly with mine.
The fact that I sit now with the likes of future neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers is somehow unsavory. I know my future is supposedly bright as well, but without the opportunity to make up for lost time, it all feels beyond me and out of my control. I have simply been transported.
Multiple times during junior year I found myself aimless and alone in the hours before sunrise reciting facts to myself. I was twenty. I am a college student at Cornell University. I lived in an apartment with two roommates and it is probably still my turn to do the dishes. I tried to compare it with what I thought these facts would look like before I was within them, or before I was close enough to have a realistic idea, and suddenly I was seeing a former me. One who was more idealistic. I imagine she’d look at me with something like combined confusion and pity, trying to come to terms with a scene that was nothing like she dreamed and exactly as much as she could expect. When I remember what I used to be, or what I think she was, I get a pit in my stomach. A pain to throw her up, wash her off and salvage her. My brain doesn’t run wild with academic anxieties the way it did in grade school. But it doesn’t run wild with excitements or possibilities either. It’s gone quiet with the complacency that comes from the fear of getting anything wrong while not completely believing in what’s right.
As tumultuous as the journey has become, pandemic considered, my destination was always simple: degree. The details don’t matter, the distance has always been too much, and will be until the finish line is at my feet. But even with fall not yet here, I feel a cold growing in them starting at my toes. A wondering is awakening in me, about why to cross and what waits for me. I figured over four years, a path might present itself. Uncover from a mess of ivy and weed and wood to let me know my quest is through with, the next installment is promising and ready to be stepped into. Now I worry the serialized certificate will only prove to me how incomplete this chapter has rendered me.
I have been made into a student. And for all the silly things I sacrificed in the process, I’ll soon lose this cast too. College has been a marathon for all of us and to finish it should be bliss. But the brutal beating of my heart to keep up with the crowd and sideline watchers to bear witness to my pain feels worth more to me than the directionlessness that awaits once there’s time to catch my breath again. Since my acceptance here, any suffering I’ve claimed to endure has been scholarly. Soon it will just be stress. A symptom of our economy, a shitty commute, standing through a slow supermarket checkout line without friends by my side.
I know nostalgia isn’t much more than the trick of convenient forgetfulness, but I miss when the world felt more like something to inherit than hide from. I’m cowering now, in anticipation that when the clock strikes May and the student in me meets its maker, that I and the real world will greet each other with nothing to offer one another.
Alecia Wilk is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Girl, Uninterrupted runs every other Tuesday this semester.