Author: Erica

The Furious Five

by Erica.

When we were younger, the four of my siblings and I moved together as an amorphous, homogeneous blob: a sea of little round faces, five feet or less above the ground. It didn’t help that our names sounded vaguely similar, or that some of us could’ve passed as twins, or that we were all so small that any average-height person would have to squint to make out any defining features. This blob of children—all varying levels of introverted and timid—moved from one location to another, hopping out of the Honda minivan together to go to karate, to piano lessons, and back home, where we were all homeschooled. We were “that family with all those kids”—while each of us may not have been recognized on our own, people immediately knew who we were once we assembled as ducks in a line.

At some level, I also had a difficult time distinguishing my siblings in the homogeneous mix. Being the oldest of the five, I couldn’t help but think of my little siblings simply as iterations of my past self. In my head, Alexa was essentially me at age 17, Andrea me at 15, Elysia 13, Lorenzo 12. It seemed easier that way, being able to closer connect myself to their lives by just thinking about who I was a few years back.

The other day, someone told my dad that we were all getting so big (the typical comment everyone makes) and followed it by remarking that his kids were “so different from each other.” The second part of her sentence struck me, because that was the first time I had ever heard a relative stranger make a remark about us five that didn’t group us all together but separate us from one another.

But the more I thought about it, the more astute this woman’s observation seemed compared to my admittedly generalized view of my own little sisters and brother. Perhaps living a thousand miles away provided a clearer perspective than when I lived within that homogeneous sea: we weren’t all growing up into the same person.

Bit by bit, I’ve been able to watch my siblings grow into the different personalities they are. I saw it when Alexa came to visit me at school and she acted like more of a responsible, level-headed adult than even I did. I saw it when I was journaling at Starbucks with Andrea when realized her pencil sketches were at the skill level I could only dream of. I saw it when I was sitting across the dining table from Elysia as she wrote, realizing that if I had the level of zeal she has towards writing, this blog wouldn’t be so erratically maintained. And I saw it when I watched Lorenzo solve some Rubik’s cube-esque puzzle in less than minute, even though I had been working on it for twenty. I joked to my friend the other day that with my siblings getting older, it’s getting harder to maintain my status as the “alpha” sibling, but in all seriousness, I’m in constant awe of how much they’re growing up.

I said my seventh goodbye to them this morning, shaking their shoulders at 5am to say “see you in four months” before heading to the airport, their half-awake goodbyes a necessary last reminder of home.

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2017: Life’s Surprise Roundhouse Kick

by Erica.

2016 was life’s forecasted left hook, with the expected difficulties that came along with graduating high school, saying goodbye to home, and moving halfway across the country for college. But 2017 felt like a surprise roundhouse kick to the face—a surprise because I didn’t know life even knew how to kick—followed by a display of the phrase “kicking him while he’s down”, as if I needed an explanation of what that idiom meant.

After an uneventful start to my year, a number of unaddressed issues in my life decided to coalesce, dragging me to the ground, leaving me flailing on the floor (sometimes literally) from March to May. I had never really cried before college, but there I was, crying in front of a priest I had just met five minutes before, mopping up my tears and mascara with the box of tissues on his office desk.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I hit summer, where peace was promised, and where I could sit and reflect on the past few months of emotional Inferno in solace. But the quietness became crippling after day one and the emptiness only provided room for more stress and breakdowns in the void that school and tests typically filled.

So I breathed another sigh of relief when summer ended and school began again. But even then I was not content, reverting to a period of feeling depressed again, some days unable to get out of bed, some days refusing to function. Then, as if I wasn’t already miserable enough, the one thing I had managed to hold on to the entire year—my grades—faltered too, with a string of really bad test scores making me wonder if I was still the same human being that I was in high school.

People kept telling me that “GPA isn’t everything”, and while that is true, it became difficult to let that comfort me when these same people were excelling in their own classes and didn’t just fail two midterms and a final like I did. It felt like the one thing I had to cling on to while struggling to mitigate the damage in every other aspect of my life—emotional, spiritual, physical—was my ability to do well in school, but after my fifth bad grade and my sixth week of feeling mentally numb I could only shake my head and wonder what’s next, Lord? because I truly did not know what to do next.

But this past year has been filled with realizations of the ways in which I need to grow, not despite these lows but because of them. There were many slow nights this summer that I sat on the Liberal Arts building patio, sometimes journaling, sometimes praying, sometimes crying, sometimes all three, relinquishing any idea that I ever had total control over my life. It admittedly has been a long, slow struggle to understand that God’s intentions for my life and the ways in which He works are something that I may never fully grasp, but no matter how painfully slow life seems, He is still moving me.

And while there were some lows, this past year had the highest of highs in the smallest of moments—eating at that beachside seafood market in California, dancing at that Jon Bellion concert, sitting outside with Allison at 1am—whenever I was hit with an overwhelming gratitude for the moments and people I have been given.

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.

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.

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.

An Open Letter to My Freshman-Year Roommate

By Erica.

To my roommate, who, as of two weeks ago, technically no longer holds that title,

I remember almost exactly a year ago, just after graduation, when my best friends were swarming you, badgering you with “make sure she eats three meals a day”, “make sure she stays hydrated”, “make sure she doesn’t do anything too stupid” comments. I laughed at the time—I was too used to Allison and Veronica’s motherly worrying—but little did I know that in the next twelve months, you’d go above that and beyond.

Deciding to room with you seemed like such a minute decision in the flurry of other important life changes last May. I was scared of moving away from home to a school where a measly 8% of students were out-of-state, and clinging on to the single person I knew at this fifty-thousand-student university seemed like the obvious move. Granted, even though we went to the same high school we were still acquaintances at best, and even the littlest things, like having the same Fiction Writing teacher senior year, made feeling at home in Austin a little bit easier.

Thank you for cultivating the immense amount of patience it took to live with me, from dealing with my nonstop morning alarms to my obnoxious household questions (from “do I need to refrigerate this avocado?” to “how do I boil water?”). You are undoubtedly the sole reason I never got food poisoning and could make tea whenever I felt under the weather.

Thank you for your unending selflessness—when everything in my life seemed to be crashing down on me and all I could do was sit on the floor and cry, you stopped studying to come back to our dorm and take me to get cream puffs, where you sat and listened to the same broken spiel of mine for the seventeenth time in the past week. When life knocked me down and I didn’t want to get up, you sat next to me, making sure I ate a reasonable amount, slept for a healthy number of hours, and told me everything was going to be alright—until I brushed myself off and stood up again.

Thank you for pushing your way into my friend groups, befriending my college best friends, getting to know my high school friends, and even entertaining my cousin when she came to visit. Thank you for always checking up on me, for making sure someone walked me home from parties, and for getting coffee for me when I needed it most.

Thank you for always being more than willing to help my friends and I with chemistry homework—suppressing the urge to strangle us when we didn’t understand orbital hybridization or dative bonding until the third time you explained it. And even though you weren’t even in physics, you still tried to help me with my problem sets and affirmed my complaints and frustrated yelling just to make me feel like I wasn’t the only one struggling.

Even when I reneged on our “we should go to the gym together on a regular basis” pact by the third week of college, you continued to go while I took naps instead. Even when I’d give up on being productive by 10pm, you’d stay up studying till far past midnight, and still wake up earlier than me the next day. I don’t know how you did it all, but you are and were the functioning young adult that I strive to one day become. Deciding to room with you may have seemed like a minute decision at the time, but it turned out to be one of the biggest things that shaped the beginning of my college career.

I’m going to miss that hour between turning off the lights and falling asleep, when we’d talk about everything and everyone that ever crossed our minds. I’m going to miss the consistent level of messiness we both had, and the always slightly-cluttered but homey dorm we came home to every night. It was a good nine months of you being my roommate, mom friend, and biggest support, and I would probably be a flaming pile of ashes without you.

My freshman year regrets are far and few, but the one that is always on the forefront of my mind is the fact that that I’m not living with you next year. And while our apartments will only be seven blocks apart, that’s seven blocks farther than we are now.

I’m now in a new dorm for the summer, waiting for a roommate to move in that isn’t you—referring to my room as ‘my room’ and not ‘our room’ is something I’m going to have to learn to get used to. But as we close out our first year of college, know that I am forever thankful for everything you’ve done for me since the day we checked in.

Your (former) roommate,
Erica