Seeking the Past



For a while, I couldn’t help but to think pessimistically about life. What if this phone call is my last? What if this joke is my last? What if this outfit is my last? After all, friends, family, and circumstance remain victims of life’s volatility. It felt rather odd to be working toward something; what if the future I’m hoping for isn’t realized? What if the future isn’t realized?



{shortcode-c6162d78731bdc79233daff00f1f1288d6520abb}

{shortcode-645f22b848d41868d488724a5618f6a73d6df0ff}hen I woke up to a series of missed calls and messages from my family and hometown friends last year, I had assumed they would tell me about a new advancement in our town — maybe that another Chipotle or Insomnia was opening up. I wasn’t ready when I was told my best friend had passed away in a rip current.

There’s really no protocol you can follow when this news hits. No amount of breathing exercises can come close to containing the streams of tears or those cries with the desperate gasps for air in between. I remember the abyss I continually found myself in for months to follow. I remember noticing myself finally genuinely smiling in a day, only for the slow progress to be countered by tears when I scrolled through old pictures of us later at night. I remember irrationally trying to compartmentalize emotion by scheduling in every minute of my calendar.

I remember trying to forget, and I remember trying to remember.

For a while, I couldn’t help but to think pessimistically about life. What if this phone call is my last? What if this joke is my last? What if this outfit is my last? After all, friends, family, and circumstance remain victims of life’s volatility. It felt rather odd to be working toward something; what if the future I’m hoping for isn’t realized? What if the future isn’t realized?

We go to bed expecting that we will wake up the next morning — that our loved ones wake up the next morning. Paranoid that this simple ask wouldn’t be granted had me regularly waking up at 3 a.m., wondering if I would again open my phone to a wave of calls, texts, or Facetimes to deliver some unfathomable bad news.

My fears were realized; earlier last year, I lost two more friends to a car accident. In the midst of the long process of grief, I was stuck with yet more life-altering news.

I like to think that I’m usually a glass half full person. Envisioning the worst, though, made me less present; I was zoning out of conversations, losing interest in the subjects I used to get excited about, and reverting to a stale and unconvincing answer of “I’m good!” in response to the typical “How are you?” And that absolutely sucked.

Finding my old self has proven to be a more difficult task than I could ever imagine. I keep trying to return to a self that wasn’t exposed to “reality,” the self that lived in bliss of believing that everyone and everything that exists as they do right now will forever remain. But the empirics of life’s volatility will always stand against me.

I’m not sure how to fix all of this. I can’t imagine a future in which I don’t think of what should be present. Loss is hard. And losing so many close friends in just one year ripped away the rose-tinted glasses through which I saw life.

{shortcode-71496f06dbcf4e7fd51a7303a24604fb32b6a0a2}n the beginning, I was sorrowful yet ever grateful for my hometown community — one that was put through the stages of grief nearly three times. But later I was filled with contempt at a reality so vastly different from what I imagined. I found myself playing “what-if” quite a bit, thinking about the chances that could’ve led to an outcome different from reality. Maybe, just maybe, we could’ve celebrated their 20th birthdays together. Maybe, just maybe, we could’ve entered junior year of college together. Maybe, just maybe, we could’ve shared a couple more laughs.

Negative thoughts would flood my mind with every glimmer of hope. I tried everything to dam these thoughts: running more, journaling, going on walks, working constantly, and making frequent trips to Insomnia Cookies. But no matter how hard I tried to keep busy, life crept up on me. Apparently, emotions can’t just be blocked out (who would’ve thought!).

Now, more than a year out from the onset of this grief and every dark thread of disillusionment it wove over me, I still lack an answer to how things can get better. The same emotions arise every time I enter Ria’s house, talk with her family, or look through pictures and our silly TikToks.

Talking with friends, writing, and reading about those who’ve gone through similar experiences seem to mitigate the magnitude of my immediate emotions, but, still, the loss never truly goes away. Only when I went home for winter break did I realize what reality meant: I could no longer celebrate the holidays with her, I could no longer visit our old teachers with her, I could no longer make the many thousands of inside jokes we had, I could no longer drive around the same roads we had driven together since high school. But going home was a necessary step, because moving forward was only possible once I accepted this reality. My habit of comparing the present to my past expectations reminds me to be more appreciative of the now, as cliche as that may sound.

While I’m still not sure about what the solution to reducing all the pent-up pain, I’ve learned to appreciate the little things around me: the coloring of the leaves, the rays of sun on red brick buildings, the dew on the grass, the conversations made in passing, the music in the Smith Center, even the shushes in Lamont. Permanence is scarce, if it exists at all; so the best I can do is cherish what’s around me while it lasts.

—Staff writer Srija Vem can be reached at srija.vem@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @srijavem.