The autumn air, alluringly crisp, surrounded me as I opened the passenger seat door to my grandfather’s car, ready to make the five hour trip back to Long Island. We stopped at Dunkin’ to pick up coffees to sip along the way and drove through color changing mountains, whose seemingly unreachable summits countered the mountain of laundry I left sitting on my dorm room floor.
Whenever I drive back to Long Island I think of the ending monologue from the movie Lady Bird, where the main character who goes to college in New York talks about driving around her hometown of Sacramento, California. She describes the roads as “all those bends I’ve known my whole life,” conveying the exhilarating familiarity of home and the silly longings we have for the bends on which we grew up around.
Similarly, in her essay “Going Home,” author Joan Didion explains how returning home leaves her “paralyzed by the neurotic lassitude engendered by meeting one’s past at every turn, around every corner [and] inside every cupboard.” When I arrived back home, I went up to my bedroom and looked into the mirror that has reflected me my entire life, to see that I looked a little different. It holds my history in its shimmering rectangular body. I’m confronted with all of the beliefs I held that I no longer hold to be true — that enzymes cannot regain their shape after they react or that the American dream is still achievable for everyone. It took a college biology textbook and a semester of sociology to reflect the truth.
I sat down at the kitchen table where I learned that Christopher Columbus committed genocide in my seventh grade social studies class, not understanding why my parents had learned the opposite. I went home to find that we can never change the past but our perceptions of the past are forever changing. When we leave Cornell to go home, we are faced with our past selves, experiences and beliefs which allow us to see the ways that we change. It’s the four year cycle of going from home to school to home again that allows us to look in the mirror and leave our childhood bedrooms with different perspectives.
I hope societal perceptions of the past move towards truth. In some ways they have — as evident by the differences in generational learning between my parents and I, and the declaration of Indiginous People’s Day as a federal holiday by the Biden Administration. Though we still have a long way to go in terms of acknowledging wrongdoings committed to marginalized communities and in creating space for these communities, this is a critical first-step. When society takes a long look in the mirror, I hope that the echo of the past ceaselessly persists — changing perceptions of history from falsehoods to truths, to uplifting the voices of people who have been silenced.
I opened my bedroom closet to find that history is a door stuck on its hinges, never completely closing. It’s the creeks of my bedroom floor, echoing to remind me that they are still there, though they are no longer predictable. F. Scott Fitzgerald ends The Great Gatsby with the quote, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Fitzgerald describes the inescapability of the past, because even as we grow and change so do the ways we perceive our own pasts. When we go home we feel like giants in our old high schools, as if we could outgrow the hallways in the way that one outgrows a shoe. We notice the little ways that our childhood friends change, like whether they lose interest in something they loved. That is the essence of growing up. It’s funny realizing that everyone runs on a slightly different schedule; I watch my brother completing the classwork I did four years ago. I know that I too am running on a different schedule in a place five hours away from home, with unfamiliar bends in the roads and mirrors that refract light differently.
When I returned from fall break I subconsciously reached for the nightstand in my childhood bedroom, banging my hand against the wall, waking up to my dorm room and a pile of laundry.
Rebecca Sparacio is a sophomore in the Dyson School. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Space Between runs every other Wednesday this semester.