As I get older, time has a funny way of eclipsing me. I realize it’s passing; yet, it’s impossible for me to notice when I’m in the moment. Though much of 2020 was stuck in place, I still wrestled my way into adulthood. Dynamics with my friends and family shifted, I turned 21, I moved out, I transferred to UC Berkeley — all in the dust of 2020.
I get little moments of solitude throughout my day; they’re just moments, but in them, I can tell I’m wearing the worry of the past year on my face. I attempt to fill those moments with social media or cleaning. I know I have been an active participant in my dissonance towards change. For instance, I have been thinking in a strict to-do list format lately. Schedule, read, zoom meeting, call mom, make dinner, repeat. I haven’t wanted to process the last year of my life, good or bad. I’ve been plowing forward without looking at the fields behind me.
The most peculiar part is that I will be graduating college next year, and the person I was before this year has morphed without me even processing that change. I’ve grown so much from that 17-year-old junior college student, but I still feel her in me at times.
I feel her when I’m obsessively checking my financial aid status; not because there is new information available for me to look at, but because I feel anxious about the future and hope that maybe if I check it enough, it will all work out. I feel her when I’m being overly polite, compromising my opinions to save face. But I also feel her when I’m dazzled by a book or a friend’s secret, or when I get excited talking to a stranger.
While there are still some similarities between her and I, I’ve done a lot more. I’ve hiked down a mountain and walked along the highway in Mendocino. I’ve shared a cigarette with a Texan in Canada. I was in Italy during the first day of its COVID-19 lockdown. I’ve eaten a rattlesnake. I’ve won some awards. I’m not as scared anymore. These, and many more, are not things she would have seen coming. I’m sure they’ve changed me in some way, I just wish I could pinpoint how.
Maybe I’m too focused on the tangible, wanting to present a reason to the world for the way I operate. “I am like this now because of this and this, so now you understand me and can’t judge me.” Definite error. If there’s one thing I still am afraid of, it’s judgment. It’s silly, I know — I can’t control what other people think. But sometimes I wish I could. I spend an absurd amount of time trying to figure out what thoughts are in other people’s brains, so much time I almost forget about what thoughts are in mine.
That being said, I refuse to get too stuck in the narrative I’ve painted for myself because it’s always changing. Sometimes I feel memories are like mud, sinking me further and further into what I used to think of myself. Memories are important, but how you perceive them is just as vital to progress.
How can you learn from your past if you’re not looking back on it? You can’t. But you also can’t move forward if you are exclusively stuck in your past. I’ve been walking this line all year, where I’m either completely avoidant or the silence brings a haunting memory that I can’t seem to shake.
The ice is thawing and life is reemerging, but it looks different than before. I don’t have the same “clear trajectory” I thought I had prior to 2020. Younger me would be so scared of not perfectly curating a five-year plan, but it actually feels liberating. Life is so unpredictable — it makes me want to reach out and grab hold of what I want, no longer worrying about the reaction of others, as I would have before.
I want to reconnect with my family members. I haven’t spoken to my aunt since I was 10 years old, but I think about her all the time. We have the same birthday. I’m ashamed I haven’t reached out earlier, because she was such a force of nature in my youth, but I know I’ve been avoiding it because it’s painful. I’m afraid our relationship will be different because I’m an adult, and I still want to be viewed as a kid in her eyes.
I want to reconnect with my body and learn skills that I can do with my hands instead of feeling trapped in academia. Maybe I’ll take up pottery, get better at yoga or learn to sew. I’m so alienated from my body that it feels like I don’t know how to use it anymore. I would even take up knitting, just to make sure my hands work for something other than typing.
I want to be present and thankful for every moment because I haven’t been. I let the moment elude me at times, focusing on the pessimistic side of things or letting my brain fill with thoughts that don’t serve me like what that friend from five years ago is doing on Instagram.
It’s not fair to try and quantify my life by the days gone by, but it’s a hard habit to break, one that I used to not take issue with. Now that’s starting to shift. If the wind or the sea isn’t bound by how many days go by, why should I be? I want to take it day by day, honoring everything that came before it and acknowledging what is coming next without putting too much pressure on it.
Kindly admitting this and not putting myself down for it is probably the biggest change from my past self to now. Living a life full of guilt and insecurity is taxing, and ultimately a personal decision I’m tired of making. I’m ready to be kind to myself because there’s really no point in the silent torture. Time is going to pass all the same.
Contact Riley Palmer at [email protected]