Welcome to Wonderland

Reel Life

The day I came up to Berkeley for CalSO marked the start of a new era. Fresh out of high school — the day right after graduation — and with a friend on my arm, I flew unsupervised to the wonderland I’d call home for the next four years. From the airport, we took the AirBART shuttle to our very first BART station and from there sat through the half-hour of grinding rails and cartoonish beeps as we made our way into Berkeley. It all sounds very adventurously of-the-moment and admiringly independent — it was supposed to be, after all, the quintessential manifestation of our newfound freedom.

In reality, half of our travel time was spent orienting our phones in an attempt to read maps and pausing in our steps to make sure that we, as the blue dots in Google Maps, were moving in the right direction. And for some odd reason or another — we were advised again by Google Maps — to get off at the Ashby BART Station and walk the four-mile trek to campus with our suitcases in tow. Tired, we settled on dinner at Walgreens and opted out of socializing for a quiet night in. Our first night in Berkeley, we spent our night with Harry and Sally.

In one of the last scenes of “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry, realizing his true feelings for Sally, makes a dramatic entrance into a New Year’s Eve party and turns the dropping of the ball into a cathartic moment of his own.

HARRY: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and the thing is, I love you.
SALLY: What?
HARRY: I love you.
SALLY: How do you expect me to respond to this?
HARRY: How about you love me, too?
SALLY: How about, I’m leaving.
Sally turns and walks off, parting the crowd.
Harry follows her like a terrier.

We don’t ask for permission — we rarely do. This phenomenon hit me hardest during my first semester of college, and it used to scare me, the way people could so casually slip in and out of each other’s lives and could do so with such indifference. Without so much of a knock, we intrude and invade, unloading and setting up camp wherever and whenever we sense even the slightest bit of hospitality.

If we’re lucky, we feel welcome. If we’re luckier, we are welcome. But only the luckiest hold steadfast the blessed delusion of both and live fully and wholly, unrestricted by the margins of a harsher reality. What folly are formalities in our nonsensical actions every day? Each of us vagabonds wandering the vast expanse of the land, searching anywhere and everywhere, expecting nothing, awaiting everything, both bound and fueled by our fears and dreams, our fantasies and our nightmares all one and the same. It’s illogical that two such diametrically opposed poles of a binary can be so easily interchangeable, but I find the illogic strangely comforting.

It goes like this. You’ll have the most wonderful of small-talk conversations in the measly seconds spent waiting within elevator walls, only to never see the conversationalist again, and you’re left with a mere number, a floor of a building, a souvenir. Perhaps you managed to catch a name, perhaps you didn’t. Either way, you’re torn by the pangs of a severed connection. And you’ll start to wonder if he or she really cared about how “it” was going. But you’ll move on, as one should, but you’ll hold onto that moment. Perhaps you’ll see him or her again — walking down Telegraph or on the 51B or on Sproul Plaza — and you’ll light up for a second but shy away just as quickly with an army of excuses before you. He or she is with somebody — you don’t want to interrupt. It’s too crowded — you don’t want to make a scene. Or you’ll find the brief moment of confidence to walk toward him or her and then quickly divert your attention upon seeing the fliers in his or her hands. You’ll remember — to some degree — but you’ll flutter yourself with amnesia. You’ll choose to forget.

Still, the fleeting moments and the familiar faces — no matter how fuzzy or how plain — make our vast campus seem just a bit smaller and a tad cozier.

The scene continues.

She starts to cry.
Harry puts his arms around her.
They kiss.
A long kiss.
The twinkle ball goes around, twinkling.
They go on kissing.
Auld Lang Syne continues in the background.
HARRY: My whole life, I have never known what this song means.
SALLY: I know exactly what you mean.
HARRY: I mean, ‘should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we do happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?
SALLY: Maybe you’re just supposed to remember you forgot them, or something — anyway, it’s about old friends.

We change lanes on the freeway without using turn signals and switch from one radio station to another to match our own tastes. But we also give without expecting return. As much as we long for exchange and reciprocation, we give and we risk our time, our identities and ourselves, welcoming whatever outcome awaits. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it happens.

So here’s to the new semester — to the beauty of forgetting and of being forgotten, and to the fog that encases us all.

Contact Casie Lee at [email protected]