“Open it,” my father says over his shoulder as he stands on a ladder applying a second layer of paint to our garage. This has been a year of renovations for my family. Gone is the tree with the birdfeeder, now reduced to a stump in the backyard. The single bathroom in the house has been transformed nearly beyond recognition and there’s talk of laying carpet in the living room to mask the battered wooden floor. It is late morning on the first of September as I stand next to my step-mother, who is repainting the deck a dusty red, holding a white envelope with “Do Not Bend” printed in bolded blue letters. Certain about what I will find inside, I slide my finger under the flap and pull out a photo. Black gown. White tassel now on the left side of the cap. Scarlet and gray cords around my neck. A wide smile as I accept the ultimate symbol of academic achievement. Graduation. Congratulations Class of 2007. Welcome to the world.
It is 6:26 pm on January 21, 2007. All is still and dark as I meander across campus with thick snow crunching softly underfoot. I reach the broad expanse of the Oval and instantly wish I brought my camera. I made a resolution at the beginning of the school year that I would take photographs this year, tiny snapshots of memories, before I ran out of time. I began taking pictures of everything that I found striking, peaceful, or memorable and soon discovered that the bulk of my photos were of nature. There’s a shot of my favorite tree on campus, its white bark contrasting neatly with the blue sky. Flowers are scattered liberally throughout my photo albums: the red, yellow, violet, white, and orange hues vibrant in their intensity. The Mirror Lake ducks make an appearance or two. But now I'm standing at the top of the Oval next to the Main Library and surveying the sight. The snow is an expansive unbroken layer and seems to twinkle in the lamplight of the lanterns that dot the main path. Tree branches sag under the weight of snow, and there is not a sound to be heard. "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep"; a line from one of my favorite poems echoes in my head despite the absence of woods. I am not a religious person, but at that very instant, I did not want to step into the pureness, the completeness, the goodness of what lay before me for fear that I would disturb the significance of the moment. Tarnish something sacred. Instead I groped in my pocket for my cell phone and snapped a picture. The magnificence of the scene reduced to 3370 bytes. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
“Charleston: a certified city of Illinois” proclaims a sign approximately two miles before Eastern Illinois University. “Wonder what makes it a certified city,” my aunt muses as we zip past the cornfields that line the highway. We have truly entered a different world known as Rural Illinois. A mile later we appear to be entering the heart of this proudly certified city. Cornfields give way to small buildings made of either brick or wood. On the left is a bank aptly named The Bank. To my right is the real estate office next to the florist. I marvel at the incredibly size differential between this school and my own. I comment on the excitement of freshman year as we unload boxes into the tiny room that seems to be a prerequisite for first years. Perhaps it’s an unwritten rule: if you can survive living in this cramped space, you can survive anything. I question the purpose of this building and remark on the quaintness of the Old Main. Mostly though I am silent, watching as my brother prepares to embark on the next chapter in his life and hoping that maybe here he will find his niche and feel comfortable in his skin. Here he will thrive, explore new possibilities, and feel a mixture of emotions about a myriad of things. Have I found my passion? Am I ready for this midterm? Am I falling in love? What does the future hold? I wonder if the cute girl in the third row even notices me. Why can’t I let go of the past? The answers will inform as to his true character, sense of self, desires, dreams, and wishes. He will begin to shape his adult life.
Months have passed since I wrote those words. The living room in my father’s house now is covered in a lovely shade of green carpet which blends nicely with the freshly painted light green and peach walls. I sadly watched the last of the tree burn in my father’s fireplace in late October. “There goes the tree,” my father said as he lit the match. Sigh. Sometimes when I’m in a fanciful mood I’ll wonder what the world looked like centuries ago before the booms in technology occurred. I romantically imagine forests of trees, jungles, and wildlife galore. Next I’ll muse about the world before the rise of humankind and afterwards skip forward into the future. What did the world look like? What will it look like after we’re gone?
“I miss sex,” my friend, S, laments via text. Reading those words I laugh aloud while nodding in sympathy because “…its been two long months. Surely I’ve forgotten how!” I reply, “I know. I don’t think you can forget how; its like riding a bike, and if it is not ooh am I in trouble. Since we’re sharing what we long for and crave… I miss physics. Impulse, momentum, classical Newtonian mechanics, angular motion, even the right hand rule.”
“Hahahaha. I miss sex; you miss physics.” I grin wryly. While at the library on Thursday, I checked out three books: “Angela’s Ashes,” a poetic novel about science, and an advanced physics book complete with problems to solve. I may have irrevocably sealed my status as a celibate geek with that reading selection, but at least I’m assuaging that particular desire or maybe I'm deflecting.
A few nights ago I spontaneously told J that I love her. “Thank you. You haven’t said those words first in a long time. What’s wrong?” I paused before responding, somewhat surprised that she noticed let alone commented on my reticence.
"I’m losing myself."