One day a week since September I’ve been driving back to the university campus where I spent the last two years of my Bachelor’s degree.
To the university campus where, 10 months ago, I could’ve sworn I’d be stuck for the rest of my life.
I have been graduated over six months now but if I think about it long enough that old despair comes back to me like a cold you just can’t shake. That despair, my old dear friend. I can remember it all. The smell of looseleaf at 4 a.m. while sitting on my couch sketching an outline for the paper not due until a month from now but it’s stressing me out so much that I can’t sleep so I’m up at 4 a.m. sketching an outline for it. The acidic burney taste of my 7th DDP in as many hours. The roughish texture of library books that haven’t been opened since the last time some poor sap had to research this same subject. The physical pain I felt while writing out multi-thousand dollar tuition cheques every October and February. The physical pain I wished upon the most horrid professors every time they doled out those demeaning looks. The pungence of sweaty palms and erasers during final exams with the clock ticking and the prof at the front of the lecture hall crunching on almonds. The frantic clack of keyboards in the library. The very real anxiety from thoughts like “What if I can’t do this?” “What if I never finish?” The endless lines in the bookstore during the first and last week of every semester. The rage. The hopelessness.
But then there were times, brief glimmers of time but very real moments nonetheless, when it wasn’t bad at all. The surge of joy from somewhere deep in my gut—yes, gut-joy—when I submitted a 20-pager after babying it along for weeks and months. The even greater surge of joy when I got it back marked A+. The thrill of knowing that every week brought a four-day weekend (Tuesday/Thursday classes? Yes, please). The exhilaration, the exuberance, the jubilation of winning $200 and third place in a university-sponsored writing competition. The peace that came from knowing all that was expected of me was to sit through class and regurgitate information. That all I had to do was learn, and that would be enough.
One day a week since September I’ve been driving back to the university campus that, 12 months ago, I really thought would be the death of me some days.
Every week I walk through those quiet halls on my way to piano lessons (not for credit, just for fun), and when I do, this is what I feel: I feel the ghost of my past life following behind me, a shadow racing to catch up with my current self to take her place, to be where I am now because it looks so much happier than where I was then—it looks so much calmer, so much less stressful—and because all I want is to be out of that place. I feel the shadow of myself lurking around corners, hoping to latch on to future me and hitch a ride past all the unpleasant parts in between.
I don’t ever let her catch me though. She can’t skip the unpleasantness. The unpleasantness is necessary.
To anyone in the middle of something hard, especially if that something hard entails documents of more than 15 pages, I bring you this message from all of us on the other side: it exists. The other side exists. It really does, and you’ll make it here yourself before you know it, and you’ll be better and you’ll be stronger for it in the end.