Memory Lane Can Be a Tough Road to Walk Down

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 / 4:32 PM

When you're a nostalgic person like I am, it can often turn into becoming a bit of a pack rat. I used to savor movie ticket stubs as if they were snapshots of the film itself, every coffee stain on a page of a book reminded me of a place or time, and even worn out pens had a story to tell.

But since I left home for college, I've moved every year (in D.C., I moved every month), and in the process, some of those things went into storage boxes or got lost to the wind. Sometimes, I'd carry things from place to place, even if they were never unpacked, because having them was some sort of comfort that I could learn from the past: from the mistakes, from the stories, from the triumphs.

When I moved to New York in 2012, I had no sense of how long I would stay – let alone, how long I would stay in one apartment. 2016 is coming to an end, and I've been in the same room. Sure, there's now a bit more furniture (and a lot more books), but this one space has been mine for almost five years.

I'm in this process of throwing a lot of stuff out. The idea is to tackle the room in sections – corner by corner, drawer by drawer – and re-examine the importance of holding onto items that aren't exactly necessary to keep in my life. In doing so, it's also led me to a box filled with old bank statements and birthday cards and deeply personal letters exchanged with friends from the other side of the country and, occasionally, the other side of the world.

Looking back on these memories brings up all sorts of feelings. And while I won't dive into the content of some of the more personal things, there's a handful of items that I wanted to write about in order to sort through this journey:

  • Graduation photos. I thought I had misplaced these, but here they are as if the moment was just yesterday.
  • NPR postcards. They were free in the lobby and I grabbed a handful to send to people during my internship. I hope some of my postcards are still out there in the wild, though I know some of them belong to people I no longer speak to or who are no longer alive.
  • My expired California ID card :(
Letters (in no particular order):
  • My college roommate wrote me a four-page letter when I moved out of our apartment after graduation that made me cry and laugh and cry again for an hour, and then made me cry and laugh and cry again for another hour after I re-read it last week.
  • From a friend I've drifted a bit from, but who was there for some of the most formative memories of my college experience: "I got your letter! Did you write it on Moleskine, because I can imagine you writing in one..."
  • A one-page note that came in an envelope full of personal trinkets and delicious cookies (and, also, pioneer-themed stickers.
  • A thank you card from a friend who continues to inspire me that concludes, "Enough of this BS...I hope to get on your level one day and be a big timer."
  • Letters from Sept. 2010 to June 2011 with return addresses that transitioned from a person's name to an Army identifier – letters that contain despair, love, and pleas for more letters. "While money is great, it's fleeting. As long as we're doing what we love, even if it's for free, I think we'll be happy. Anyways, tell me what you think. Much love."
  • Letters from my oldest friend (as in, I've known her longer than any of my friends; not that she's the oldest person I know) with to/from addresses that range from Bethesda to Dublin.
  • Two letters that came in one box of presents from two friends I once considered my sisters. I received this at a particularly difficult time in my first months of living in New York, and I remember breaking down and crying for the rest of the night.
    • There are a few letters postmarked over the following months from one of the people, and I remember feeling like our relationship could one day return to what it was, even though the last time I had seen her was in 2008.
  • A series of yellow envelopes postmarked between Feb. 2012 and March 2013 (the 2013 envelopes have Disney-themed stamps on them) from someone who remains to this day a constant source of inspiration. The letters are full of musings about work and grad school and travels abroad. There are reflections on faith and friendship, and it's a reminder that some of the deepest conversations really can happen over pieces of notebook paper.
Looking back on these scattered points in time, particularly during periods of intense transition (graduation, moving, etc.), I feel sad because that person on the receiving end (aka me) seems like a stranger. I have these memories of people and places and conversations – and even reading old blog posts, those things come flooding back – but it feels like I'm reading a piece of fiction about somebody else's life.

I'm at this turning point, this point where it isn't just a chapter ending; it feels like I've filled up this journal I've been writing and doodling in the last five years, and now it's time to buy a new one. And as I look around my nearly-empty room, I'm trying to figure out why I've not yet been hit with the usual overwhelming sadness I normally feel when a big life change happens. Maybe it's because I'm all cried out from the year, and I think a large part of it is...

I'm not sad. I'm not sad about leaving New York and my life here, because even though there were so many things I loved about this part of my life, I'm ready to leave. I feel like I stopped really living a life here a year ago -- but this blog post is long enough, so more on that topic later.

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