Lately, I’ve been having trouble remembering The Before. Perhaps it’s a touch dramatic, but “The Before” is the only way I’ve really thought about life before the pandemic — and let’s face it, I’m a touch dramatic myself. Strangely, my memory’s been shot since March, and I often find myself forgetting normal things, such as what I’ve eaten for breakfast, or that I’m still in school and not yet a retiree. The last memory I have of Berkeley is haphazardly packing one suitcase thinking I’d only be home until spring break. Everything else feels like it’s lost like some iCloud account I’ve forgotten the password to yet again.
Despite all the disorientation of these times, I’m incredibly privileged to be safely hunkered down at my childhood home. I can’t help but feel disarmed, however, by the strangeness of essentially reliving my high school life. It’s especially ironic considering that upon beginning college two years ago, I thought I’d finally pulled off my escape from that world. Although I fancied running 10,000 miles or light-years away — like any other 18-year-old who’d read far too much Sylvia Plath, far too young — I’d accepted taking the 425 miles from my house to Unit 2 instead.
If that reads like the plot of some D-list A24 film, well, you’re right. Like many an angsty teen, I resolved to rebrand. But freshman year didn’t go anything like that, because of course it didn’t. It turns out geography doesn’t change your issues with yourself, and going to a prestigious college doesn’t fix your insecurities either. Actually, it just further reveals them in all their horrifying detail, like one of those awful superzoom mirrors from Bed Bath & Beyond.
Instead, I ended up with two cruel roommates, a depressive episode and “friends” I thought would solve all those problems but turned out to be the worst of all. Save for a few remaining gems of people, nothing worked. Berkeley became the enemy, but I didn’t want to be home, much less anywhere. With therapy, however — and then some more to work on being real during said therapy — I slowly yielded to the idea that home may not have been as bad as I thought. And now that I’m back, I’m finding comfort here.
There’s comfort in returning to my dining table for homework like I once did, with its memories of Christmas Eve dinners and familiar wood grain; there’s peace in my bedroom, with its everlasting Downy fabric softener smell and CDs from when CDs were still a thing. I’m finding old me’s everywhere, in rancid bottles of middle school perfume and letters to high school crushes whom maybe one night I’ll have the nerve to message on Instagram (just kidding). And now more than ever, I can feel all my past selves worming their way through.
But with the pleasant memories of a childhood as lucky as mine also come the traumas, the wounds that heal only to be opened again in memory. I’ve spent the past few months gently tracing a finger over the invisible scar tissue remaining, learning the way it aches and changes shape along with me. And while there’s certainly nothing idyllic about quarantine or the devastation before us, I’m trying to approach this time with more compassion for my upbringing and myself than ever before, learning what happiness feels like even amid chaos and confusion.
Although I know it will take a lifetime, I’m increasingly accepting growth as part of daily life, rather than hoping to absolve all my pain into a neat little box that doesn’t bleed into my life, because it always will. In any case, my last name, Lykke, actually means “happiness” in Danish — so even if my pursuit of happiness doesn’t always pan out the way I think it will, I take comfort knowing it will always be with me.
A few weeks ago, I visited my combined K-8 elementary and middle school. No one on earth knew, but time stopped for me that day. Suddenly, my memory awakened from its three-month slumber, and I was 5 again on my first day of kindergarten, Dora haircut and all. Then I was 13, in eighth grade amid the throes of puberty, my best friend Jessica by my side in the lunch line. I walked the grass field with the same scrags of weeds in all the same places, touched the monkey bars with those craggly paint edges that still itch my palms, sat under the pine trees that smelled the same as they did a decade ago.
On my way home, I passed a tile mural that struck my own memory of making those very tiles with my parents at a school carnival years ago. I think one of my old selves finally made her way through because I recognized her hand almost immediately, tiny and stamped in coral paint, shining in a glossy slick from the kiln and with the same indent on her left thumb as mine. The flesh remembers.
I put my hand to hers, and for the first time in a while, allowed myself to see her without any judgment. I forgave her and told her that she didn’t need to worry, that her best was more than enough — and in some strange way, I think we did acknowledge each other. And then as if by magic, I reached into The Before and accepted her.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.