If It’s the Right Kind of Small

I unearthed the following post, long buried and forgotten, in the deep recesses of my computer. The post arrives here today from a few years back, when I had just started a short-lived blog called “Love in the Time of Question Marks.”

I’ve long since deleted the blog, and with good reason, but the following first entry offers insight into who I was, and more importantly, who I wanted (and still want) to be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This is for myself.

I’m sitting in a college dorm room, my freshman year of college, and outside my window there are marble (or marble look-alike) ionic columns and green, green trees and pink fading light on a pale blue sky. There’s a jar of white chocolate Flipz and another of Twining’s Lady Grey Tea packets, and today feels like a new beginning. Or at least I want it to be.

It’s my third week of college, and it’s not how I imagined it at all. I’ve idealized these four “short” years all my life. My parents told me about how they would stay out late and talk about philosophy far into the night, crammed into the corners of gritty cafes and feeling so immensely whole and alive. They weren’t beatniks or hippies or anything. They were healthy, good-looking, and normal. Yes, my mother was on the debate team, and yes, my father held night-long Risk tournaments with Star Wars fanatics, but they were normal enough. So all my life, I imagined the same for myself. I imagined the type of conversation that felt so good and deep and mysterious that it sank right through your skin and sent tingles up and down your arms. That’s what I wanted.

And now I’m here, sitting in my dorm room, as some of my hall mates pass in and out and around, but it’s not the same. Senior year in high school, you know everything. More importantly, you know everyone. There were only 140 of us (that seemed so big four years ago, coming from a middle school of 55) so by the end, I was pretty well versed in a lot of the details of the lives of my peers. I knew their favorite vacation spots and the number of siblings they had, without even having conversations with a few of them. It was that small. It’s still small here. There are only about 1,700 freshman. But that’s a big jump.

It’s not like it isn’t bad or anything, I just feel like I don’t know anyone. It frustrates me. No one knows me, either. But now, after three weeks, it’s not like the first three days. You don’t just walk up to someone, stick out your hand like a grinning idiot, and say “Hi, I’m Liz, what’s your name? Nice to meet you Bob. Where are you from? Me, I’m from Texas. What’s your major…blah blah blah.” Now we’ve all, apparently, been put into our toddler friend groups and I keep wondering — where’s mine?

Yes, I’ve got friends. But where are the ones just like me? I’ve was lucky enough to have grown up with two best friends. We were best friends in Pre-School, and we’re best friends now. That doesn’t happen in big cities very often, but it happened to me. So now it seems like I’ve lost quite a lot, and I’m just wondering when I’m supposed to begin to feel whole again. I thought it would happen immediately, but the opposite is true. The first week, I was filled with excitement, a balloon about to pop. And now, all the helium is seeping out, day by day. I just hope I don’t look as wilted when it’s all over. I hope I can fill myself up before then.

In order to make myself feel better about it all, I’ve decided to pick up a side occupation – this. And maybe it will help me feel more connected with the greater world as a whole, or maybe it will make me feel even smaller than normal. Sometimes small can be good, though, if it’s the right kind of small.

Anyways, we’ll see.

An Afternoon on a Porch

I’m not a native Athenian. I’ve come to intern, for the summer,  at The Georgia Review. They’re a fine literary publication—one of the best in the nation; and, perhaps why I like them most, they let me work for them.

They also give me Fridays off.

That’s why I’m sitting on my back porch, relaxing as the day yawns and stretches into afternoon. It’s rained, and the air is cool for the deep South in the middle of June. The rain stirred up the smell of plants and soil, and a soft breeze rustles the spiked leaves of the bamboo trees that hug the perimeter of my house. I’m drinking coffee and soaking in the air—it’s pleasant, just to wake up and breathe.The porch is simple—there are no tables, no chairs, just a square of wood planks with green, molded boards, a few plants drooping in plastic pots, and a neon hose that sprouts from a faucet in my apartment’s brick wall, coiling in erratic loops across the floorboards.

Behind the porch, there is a dense, green cluster of trees—what I thought at first was a small forest—but in reality is no such thing. It’s a sardine can: a small bit of land packed tightly with bamboo, a tall water oak overtaken by ivy, and a dense carpet of cracked, tan leaves. But it’s beautiful, too.

I wandered back there my first day, my feet clad only in flip flops (a mistake). Gold and emerald light shot through the leaves. Squirrels clambered through the branches, squawking as they passed overhead.

It’s someone’s back yard, of course. Through gaps in the slim shafts of bamboo I could see the back of a house, the red tricycle, tilted on its side, and an overturned, beige canoe, leaning against a wooden picket fence. Any thought of “forest” quickly disappeared.

But then I found something else in the trees: remnants of an old brick fireplace and the root of a chimney, whose brick trunk toppled long ago. It wasn’t much, just a ruin of something old and gone, but it was there—the past sitting quietly, hands folded in its lap, waiting for someone to remember it.

We all carry pasts within us, and it’s funny to be reminded that all those moments, the million collected fragments of our lives, are nothing compared to the greater memory of the world, or of the universe, even. Before giant mastodons lumbered across the ice, before the first pool of mud gasped and shivered into life, before a Universe expanded and condensed and splintered into everything, time hovered, a great eye, and watched. Our Universe is 13.75 billion years old, our world is 4.54 billion years old, the U.S. will be 236 years old next month, and I—well, I’m 21.

I’m 21 and sitting on my rented porch, idling away the day—and the summer— as clouds slide and shift over the sun.