They asked me, “What brought you back?”
“Just to visit,” I said. “Just to see you.” (Did I need a better reason?)
This weekend, I had a few options for reunions: high school, college, or grad school. I nearly vomited at the Facebook invite for a ten-year high school reunion. Somehow reliving those years that pendulum swung from braces and a rolling backpack, to Varsity cheerleading captain and Homecoming Princess felt too radical to let my body endure again.
I traveled back to the grad school which I left almost a year ago. Everything had changed, and nothing had changed at exactly the same time.
When you move somewhere new, you have to start at the very beginning of your story, sometimes explaining pieces of your life that you thought you had worked hard to lose. I met a few new faces on my short visit, those who started after I finished, and I remembered the struggle to figure out where to start, what exactly matters to mold you into the figure who now stands today.
On the plane ride there and back, and some coffee shop moments in between, I read the new John Green book called Turtles All the Way Down. Green tells this young adult fiction novel through the voice of Aza Holmes, a teenage girl who struggles with severe OCD.
Aza lets us into her mind of spiraling thoughts that she wrestles to the ground, or not, every single day. “I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”
I think this is what happens when we go back to visit places of our past. We want to travel back carrying our stories of the faraway present that guarantee a victorious future.
But what happens when the story still goes on, hurdles ahead to both clear and trip over, and battles ahead to fight, some to win and some to lose? We experience a dose of Aza’s spiraling thoughts with the nervous tick of discomfort for a story that refuses to progress linearly like every good fairytale we grew up hearing the big people read.
So we show up to the beautiful hearts who prepared all of our favorite comforts, from Birthday Cake Oreos to carrot cake popsicles and laps around our favorite park. We go to the old food trucks and the new coffee shops with the people who know our name and what happened in that green chair to build the smile they see today.
We lean in and confess, “So much has happened, and so much is still in the middle of happening. And it hurts.”
We travel back to the places of the past, juggling more questions than answers, more rough drafts than final publications. We admit there’s nothing polished about this story, but, hey, you know, at least we thrive on the editorial process.
We promise to come back again soon, very soon, because, this, this is exactly what we needed for the strength to keep living and loving, even when someone keeps ripping out chapters of our story and demanding rewrites to properly showcase the beautiful mess.