Gardenia / If She Could See Me Now

There’s a new trend on Facebook, one where you post a picture of yourself from 2006, then one from 2016.

I’ve been meaning to do it. Especially since us godforsaken late Millenials — the ones who got Facebook in 2006 — have quick access to those pictures from 10 years ago. I’ve been meaning to take part in this exercise in seeing how different we look, how much we’ve changed.

And I have changed. It’s as clear as the pictures from 10 years ago. In 2006, I had dyed blonde hair and an uneasy smile. I spoke a half octave higher than my actual voice, speaking to the world as if I were afraid it would bite me.  I held my body as if I were ashamed of it. Always too tall, too clumsy, too oafish.  The younger version of me was filled to the brim with potential, but overflowing with self-doubt and self-loathing.  She avoided so much because of it.  She avoided sports because she thought she never would be good at them, because she wasn’t an athlete.

If only she could see me now.

A weekend snowfall cancels school and opens up my Saturday. Plans get shifted and I end up joining my husband into Boston, parting ways briefly as he goes about his original plans before we reconvene for a few get togethers. I do what I do best: I put on my headphones and I walk the streets and immerse myself in.

Walking the streets of Boston with music in my ears is a staple. It was how I explored the city when I first moved in for college. It was how I soothed myself during the tumults of the college experience. It was how I recentered myself when the real world was too chaotic, too monotonous, too anything.  Returning to it is like returning home.

I walk streets I know by heart with songs that are as old as this experience.  Mandy Moore’s “Gardenia” comes on and I might as well be in 2006 again. I decide to go straight to where the majority of my 2006 memories were made — back to my alma mater, back to Huntington Ave and the Huskies and college age me.

Where was I in 2006? Depending on the time of year, an unsure freshman or an unsure sophomore.  A member of the literary magazine committee, eager to see if my latest terrible poem will make it in, and always grateful that the submissions were anonymous and no one ever knew when they were tearing into my work.

I was freshly 20 and filled with pipe dreams. I wanted to publish a novel. I wanted to publish a collection of poems. A collection of short stories. I wanted to be part of anthologies. I wanted to be way more than an aspiring writer.  My fevered little mind wanted people to read what I wrote and tell me that it connected with them.

But how in the world was that even going to happen? About 75% of my work never made it into the literary magazine and I didn’t really have any good book ideas and I probably could never really write a novel, anyway.

Oh if only that younger version of me could see me now.

Walking down Saint Stephens Street to Northeastern University is like reuniting with an old friend. While the other end of campus is rapidly expanding, this side stays the same. Same white brick buildings, same red brick sidewalks.  Mandy Moore croons in my ear.

I’ve been seeing all my old friends in the city, walking alone in Central Park. Doing all the things that I neglected, traded them all in just to be in your arms.”

Huntington Ave still has the same feel. The green line trolleys still emerge from the tunnel like tardy companions.  The tracks still clack.  People still dart across the ways, avoiding trains and cars and gigantic slush puddles.  The world is alive and filled with all walks.  The college kids all look like babies, like they should be worrying about getting their learners permit, not finals.  And I laugh, knowing that I was once one of those babies.  So eager to turn to the world and proclaim adulthood, but no where near close to actually achieving it.  Twenty and naïve and assuming it was all already figured out.

If she could see me now, she’d know how off base she was.

I walk past an old white brick building, one with bay windows and iron railings. The one that used to house a boy I once knew. A boy I once devoted my heart to, and, because of that devotion, I never had the guts to stand firm, to say our arrangement was bullshit, to say that I deserve better. And, in being afraid of losing what little I was given, I was only wounded further.

The entire dynamic shattered my heart and cut me up.  It would continue to cut me up, to walk past that building, after everything was said and done and nothing more would be said or done, reminiscing with too much solemnity on what had happened in that building, rehashing and resurfacing the broken sides of my heart as if to reinspect them.  I used to morosely walk this side of the street, convinced I had lost my One, convinced I would forever feel this way, convinced that my one shot at love had misfired.

I walk by it now and can barely conjure up even the memory of that feeling.  I walk by it and the memory that pops up is one of a saying I saw online: “Remember that time you confused a life lesson for a soulmate?

If only that younger me could see me now.

“Gardenia” is on repeat now.  Mandy Moore sings lightly, sings to the me of 2006 and the me of now.

I hear my own voice. It sounds so silly. I keep telling my story all around. And everything I’ve lost ain’t so different — ’cause this is how everybody gets found.”

My therapist warns me not to spend too much time in the past. And she has a point — looking back too much will tweak your neck. But the last few years have forced nothing short of a constant revisit.  The events from the last 2 years have forced me to compare and contrast, find root causes and flawed motivations and unresolved emotions.  And it all has shown me that sometimes the only way you can let go of the past is to dive headfirst into it.

I’ve already proven to myself that, if you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. I’ve already found that the lessons you refuse to learn will come back around, again and again, until you’ve no choice but to learn them.  I’ve already learned that if you don’t confront your demons, you will always attract people who’ll confirm them.

I think of a poem I’ve written recently, about letting go, and how there really is no such thing as it. We can pretend to pry open our hands and drop what we’ve been carrying. But it will follow us, wondering when it can jump back into our arms. The only way through it is to recognize we can’t let it go, so much as let it be. That we have to blaze forward and forge on ahead and pray we make it out on the other side with some of it left behind.

My time at my old college is short. There is too much to see, too many streets I want to visit before reconvening with my husband. There are memories on every corner and I have no interest lingering at one of them for too long.  I loop around the Museum of Fine Art and around the Fens and toward Mass Ave again. I revisit familiar roads filled with strangers and forge on ahead, letting what needs to fall by the wayside linger behind me on the streets.

I don’t wanna hang up the phone yet. It’s been good, getting to know me more.”

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