Remember This

by Erica.

My family is a picture-taking family, with no party complete without at least two aunts wandering around with a DSLR camera, making tables of relatives bunch together with pained smiles and half-eaten plates in front of them. When my cousins and I would whine and complain when my mother ambushed us with a camera, she’d chide us, asking “don’t you want to remember this?”

Perhaps she was right. Flipping through old photos became a favorite family past time, and the importance of taking pictures became something of familiarity as I grew up. Currently, there are thirty thousand pictures on my phone’s camera roll, as well as four hundred video clips from this summer alone.

The imperfection of photography in capturing the entirety of the moment has led to the manifestation other methods of documentation as well, from vigorously keeping journals to writing down things people have said and things I’ve thought in the Notes app on my phone. Perhaps, I thought, one way to counteract the shortcomings of a single media is by combining a myriad. So I began writing different things in different ways, taking pictures but also videos, keeping letters but also restaurant receipts.

And with that, my overarching goal has become to remember. I want to remember this past summer, in the weekend that I saw one of my best friends for the first time in half a decade, and in the ten weeks that I lived in the same building with Allison, on the same college campus, when we had lived 2779 miles and 101 miles away in the past. I want to remember it in the night I stayed up till 7am, wandering around campus alone, struggling to mitigate the flare up of the stresses that had been racking my brain for the past several months. I want to remember how happy I was, and to be continually striving for that. I want to remember how overwhelmed I felt, and to be reassured that moments like those do pass.

This all has resulted in a haphazard collection of words and images and ticket stubs with no immediate value to anyone who may stumble upon it. But put together, the jagged edges of each memento create a mosaic of my thought, goals, and emotions that in its entirety form a narrative of this summer, of freshman year, of growing up, and of everything that these nearly two decades has brought about.

With another year of college beginning, with another goodbye to home and flight back to the place where I am building a new stage of my life, I am continually searching to perfect the duality of fully taking in the current moment while taking enough out to remember the moment forever.

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When My Home Was Not Also My Mother’s

By Allison.

When I return home now, I am part daughter, part guest. My bedroom is still filled with my furniture, but the drawers are empty and my favorite outfits are hanging in a closet across the country. I have to ask my mom where the dish towels are kept, because she has moved them since the last time I was home. The ice machine doesn’t work, but I don’t know this because when I was last home a few months ago, it was making ice just fine.

And I have learned this routine, half home in New York, half home in Texas. I have learned to live in this divided way; I have even learned to love it. But this summer my mom came to visit me in Austin, landing in my dorm room with a roller suitcase, Italian bread, and heat exhaustion. Suddenly, I wasn’t her guest, but she was mine.

It was the first time I’d ever had to invite my mother into my life, because our existences were not already shared. I had to show her how to turn on the shower, and where I kept my hairbrush, and how to swipe into my dorm room. I was host, now, and the role reversal was palpable.

I had created enough of a life separate from her that just by sharing the simplest parts of my routine, I was bringing her into a place she was unfamiliar. I had to welcome her into a world she had never seen before, only heard about over phone calls and glimpsed through snapchats.

Though she still played mom, buying me things for my dorm and taking me out to lunch, there was a distinct difference in the weekend spend with her. I have always been her navigator to aid her lacking sense of direction, but this weekend we were in a city she had never been to, one I had become comfortable within. Each street and building was new for her, while I waltzed around with familiarity and ease. The heat staggered her and kept her in bed while I slipped on jeans without thinking about the humidity.

And so, just for a weekend, we lived in a world that was more mine than hers, and I was able to show her a place where I had become myself. I was able to give her context for each of the moments she had commented, “But you’ve changed so much,” when I flew to New York to come home again.

Iced Hazelnut Lattes

Erica.

When I was thirteen, the local Starbucks sat on the perimeter of my accessible world. With no driver’s license and no reason to leave the house every day (homeschooling felt restrictive sometimes), it was the most exhilarating escape from school and home. Walking a mile just to sit at a table and drink a strawberries and cream Frappuccino was an adventure, and at age thirteen, my life needed adventure.

As time went on, Starbucks served not only to put distance in my life but to bridge it. Becoming friends with Allison in high school meant a 3000-mile friendship filled with copious texting and seeing each other only a few times a year; this scarcity brought along the sense of responsibility to fill every minute with excitement, but the frantic darting from museum to museum in New York and Los Angeles drained even our eager souls. And so we often dipped into the local Starbucks, sitting down with green tea lattes, charging our phones, and talking about the more serious things that never came up while paddle boarding or mini golfing.

But as college rolled around so did friends in closer proximity, and instead of going to coffee shops to chat, I spent Saturday mornings studying with them, together, but separately. Three cups of coffee and a few bagels on the table, we pored over textbooks, each listening to his own Spotify playlist, on the coffee shop patio as Lake Austin lapped on the boards beneath our feet.

I, on occasion, expanded my limits to outside Austin: one Tuesday morning last semester, my cousin and I ended up in a coffee shop in Waco, Texas, a hundred miles from the physics class I was supposed to be in at the time. Fatigued by school, we had impulsively bought bus tickets the night before, hit the road at six am, and there we were, drinking iced chai and planning out our adventures for the day.

As I write this, I am in my seventh coffee shop in the past couple of weeks, and as you read this, I may very well be on my fifteenth. This summer, in all its quiet, uneventful glory, has brought about mornings of opportunities to find the best coffee in Austin. My Moleskine journal is slowly filling up, Jack Johnson’s music has made more frequent appearances on my Spotify, and here I am, scouting out more new coffee shops to house the adventures and memories that this next semester holds.

 

I am continually in awe of the ability of coffee shops to provide an escape from reality amidst reality—the bustle of conversation between cashier and customer not breaking the peace but rather facilitating it. There’s something to be appreciated about these forty different personal bubbles existing at the same time; those typing away on their Macs and those eating their bagels and those sitting with friends and those scribbling away in their journals not infringing upon each other’s space but somehow calmly coexisting.

If these coffee cups could talk, they’d tell of my lightest chats and heartiest laughs, the my rawest conversations and most-appreciated company. They’d tell of the best first dates, the most productive studying, the calmest journaling, and the most tranquil breaks from this harried life. They’d tell of the times I sat with an iced latte, baring my soul to another human, and the times I sat with the same type of latte, baring my soul to a piece of paper.

It’s amazing how much can come along with a cup of coffee.

My Current Headspace

Allison, your local list-maker extraordinaire.

Recently, I’ve been making lists of the things that I spend time thinking about, just to have a log of my daily experiences. Here’s an abbreviated list of my current headspace.

  1. Will I ever get over the fact that I am currently living the very life that I dreamed about when I was in high school? Will any of this ever feel real?
  2. There should probably be more dogs in my life.
  3. Happy crying scares people just as much as normal crying; I should probably stop doing that.
  4. That guy I saw on the ferry three years ago who had on a business suit but when he sat down his bright blue polka dot socks stuck out from under his pants. Does he wear zany socks on a regular basis or was he just running low on clean laundry that morning? Does he even still have the same job that makes him commute into Manhattan?
  5. I’m starting to like chocolate ice cream and this isn’t a character development I’m open to at this point in my life.
  6. How can I possibly ever learn all of the chemistry that the grad students I’m working with seem to know?
  7. I should probably go to a doctor.
  8. Yikes.
  9. How many dogs is too many dogs? (Probably about a hundred.)
  10. I never drink enough water.
  11. I could shave my head and get five tattoos, like, today.
  12. I know I’m the same person as when I was 14, so why is it so disorienting to see a photo of myself from that age and realize that the girl in the pictures looks just like me?
  13. When did I become the type of person who puts on pants when I check the high for the day and see that its “only 87”?
  14. How many times can I say “y’all” before it stops being ironic?
  15. I need to stop spending money.
  16. I’m bad at maintaining old friendships.
  17. I should probably read more books but also I just want to sleep constantly.

The Quiet of Summer

Erica.

The last time I was on this yellow-brick road, I was dodging my way through crowds, swimming through the rush of students that poured out of every building at ten before the hour. But now it was barren—a single biker sped past me—and I could zig and zag all I wanted without a human obstacle in my way.

Here I was, back on campus for the summer, and everything was silent.

The most-coveted study spots on campus were devoid of human presence, and even the highly-populated stir fry line at the dining hall was only two people long. Compared to the bustling city within a city UT was between the months of August and May, summer here was a ghost town, and here I was, one of the ghosts.

If last semester was a mathematical function, it’d be a polynomial to the seventeenth degree—its haphazardly-fluctuating slope dependent on the number of lab reports and differential equations and chemistry problem sets due that week. It was sixteen weeks of half-finished to-do lists, running to and from academics, social obligations, emotions, and what have you, but it came and went, and like even the biggest of waves, after crashing, receded back into the sea.

I had spent the entire semester hoping for a break from the suffocating plethora of responsibilities and stress school had brought about. Summer, with my lack of concrete plans, was bound to bring it about, I was sure. And it did—my life did a complete one-eighty in the span of a month, but I soon realized that ironically, the complete stillness seemed even more suffocating than the busyness before.

The first several days were filled with sheer panic. My only class was at 3pm, and nearly everyone I knew had gone home for the summer—those who stayed were either working forty hours a week or slaving away in multiple summer classes. My once-filled schedule was now wide open, and my daily to-do list contained only a couple low-intensity items—a concept I was unfamiliar with. Where was the homework? The student orgs? The friends? The perpetual state of stress?

But here I am, halfway into summer, slowly adjusting to the slower pace of life that has been brought about. Every morning, every night, is a lesson in being content in the quiet, in finding a sense of fulfillment in every day without having written a lab report or slaving away in the library until three am. While the lack of constant human interaction is still often draining, my open days have provided more room for dredging up old hobbies and attempting new ambitions that during the semester I had pushed off, filing them under “things to do when I actually have time.”

For the next couple of months, being unable to hide behind the all-too-convenient excuse of “I’m too busy” means cracking open the C.S. Lewis book I bought months ago, filling out empty journals, and going to the gym more than once every two months. It means spending my mornings building the perfect Spotify playlist, and walking to the music building to play the piano for the first time since middle school. It means sitting outside in the warm night air, listening to the cicadas and hoping the raccoons wandering around the patio don’t carry rabies.

After a semester of running, literally and figuratively, from one commitment to the next, this summer I am learning how to be still.

Coming Home.

By Allison, your local frequent flyer.

So, back to Texas again.

I am beginning to measure my life in airports and delayed flights and taxiing on a tarmac. There is energy in the crowds of people passing through an airport, all traveling somewhere new or returning somewhere familiar, moving with purpose yet dragging with a familiar weariness. I have flown a lot in the past year, between New York and Texas; I have learned the inside of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, I know where to find the Starbucks with the shortest line in Newark.

The greatest moments of reflection in my life seem to find me precisely when an airplane picks up speed and its wheels leave the runway, pulling me away from a city that I love. At that very movement, in waves of excitement and fear, I realize how much I am always leaving behind, how much I am always coming home to. Because Texas has become home now, in a way. It houses eighteen year old me, and my nineteen year old self, containing all of the memories that I have formed in this past year, cradling my growth and maturity. It doesn’t know my childhood, it doesn’t store the endless memories that Staten Island always will. It is not New York, it is not the fullness of eighteen years of identity, but still, my life has taken root here and I have given away parts of me that New York can never claim as its own.

So, I fly between New York and Texas, Texas and New York, traveling ceaselessly and dividing my existence between such different places. Weeks and months pass but I find myself seated on another plane, spanning the two thousand miles in a few hours, and, yet no matter what direction I find myself traveling, I am always coming home, I am always leaving home.