Since You Last Saw Me: On time traveling and uncertainty

Whenever I return to my parents’ house, it’s like traveling back in time. My childhood room, filled with personal artifacts I can’t bring myself to throw away, seems to shrink every time I enter it. The whole setting doesn’t seem quite right. This new life I’ve been living on my own feels incongruous with everything here, and reincorporating myself into the comings and goings of life at home feels like new skin being grafted onto an old frame.

Maybe that’s a slightly overdramatic comparison. This is only my second year coming home for Thanksgiving break, after spending the second half of last semester at home. I’ve spent far more time here than the average college-going student in a non-pandemic year. It’s something that tops off my already-towering list of worries about the future: Is this allowing me the space to say goodbye? My current relationship with my childhood home is not the one I envisioned having in college.

For much of my high school career, the college process loomed insistently, ominously over my head. I was afraid of it for a number of reasons, the most prominent of which was my lack of knowledge. I knew that I was good at school, and that if I applied myself, I could accomplish things outside of it, but being intelligent and knowing what you want are two entirely different things. And I had no idea what I wanted. So I did what was required, and not a lot more.

In an extremely unsurprising manner, future uncertainty draws you toward the things that are already certain, familiar. The house had that effect on me. I knew that no matter what stressors school brought, whatever crises I was having, stepping over its threshold could give me some semblance of respite. I could make myself a cup of tea and watch a vacuous Netflix show, forming and fortifying a temporary barricade against tough questions.

In hindsight, I can see that my juvenile self-protective procrastination made me miss a lot. I didn’t find my school’s forensic speech and debate team, one of the only extracurriculars I actually enjoyed, until my senior year. I chose my first early decision application poorly, just to have something pinned down. I didn’t pursue independent writing, one of the activities I’m now most passionate about, in any meaningful way. That’s what feels uncomfortable about my return: alternating feelings of pity and frustration toward my past self.

I don’t wish to return to that persistent hesitancy. I’d like to think of my current self as much more certain and driven, not someone who merely punches the clock. And yet, uncertainties still loom: a pandemic, an undecided major, the unplanned expanse of next summer. Sometimes I find myself feeling just as unsure as this past version of myself. Nonetheless, tempting as it may be, I’m resolved not to shrink back into my shell. If I can’t resolve uncertainty, I’ll find ways to live with and interrogate it. I owe it to myself.