This is my belated thank you letter, the one that extends hundreds of miles and
oceans wide, the one that I should have written to so many people for so many things, the one that never came in the mail or still lies unwritten on my desk. For the things big and small, heroic or ordinary, important or inconsequential. For the people, moments, and places that have swept me off my feet and shaken my small corner of the world. As the Dictionary of Obsolete Sorrows so aptly describes, a memory, a lifetime, “are not just the moments, not the grand gestures or the catered ceremonies, not the poised person smiling in photos, they’re the invisible things. The minutes, the cheap raw material of ordinary time.”
Four years ago, my family – both parents and all three brothers in tow – dropped me off at Goucher in the sweltering Baltimore heat for my first cross-country pre-season, my first real Goucher memory. After four hours of unpacking, sweating, and bickering, I waved them off with a factitiously haughty, “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving – maybe.” Five minutes later, I was lying on my bed staring at the cracks in the ceiling and wishing with all my heart that my family would hear my silent thoughts and come back for me and take me home. I came to the conclusion that if this was what college would be like – silent, lonely, sweaty – then these next four years were going to suck.
But Freshman year ended up blossoming into something better than I could have ever imagined: there were a lot of rowdy Stimson Sits and renegade missions to shove apples into my pockets to make apple pie, gossip sessions outside my door with the other Wagner 1 girls before 8:30 classes and after midnight snacks, cross-country and track practices where I ran (and fell) in the Goucher Woods. It was also the year that I first really learned about social justice, posted quotes from “Mean Girls” and “Glee” on my door, traveled to New Orleans on a 27-hour train ride, and started to understand how to summarize myself in one sentence when talking to absolute strangers. Of course there were also pangs of homesickness, thoughts about transferring to a different school, rough Sunday mornings. But while stumbling, smiling, and skipping through those first two semesters, I slowly came to call Goucher my home.
I finally realized three years ago, during the second part of my Goucher memories, I had fallen in love with this place. Goucher had become my home. “Home” became the place where I could walk down Van Meter and see at least one friend, where I could wear my pajamas and no shoes to the library, where I could step outside and feel instantly comforted. But it was also the year I ran through an earthquake, a hurricane, and a blizzard. The year that I decided to do everything at once and had constant furrows of stress in my forehead. The year that I sprained my ankle so badly that I wasn’t allowed to skip or run or bike for a little over a month.
Somewhere along the line, I decided to become a French major, go to France for all of Junior year, and live out my dream of meandering endlessly through tiny winding rues. A lot of people told me I was crazy. A lot of people told me that it was the best idea I would ever have. At the time, I just wanted to escape for a little while, to breath in the air of a culture and a country that I had been studying for years. Despite being surrounded by tremendously supportive and awesome people, despite being involved in groups and organizations that expanded my mind, there was something missing, something slightly off.
One night in the midst of project planning and essay writing, I called my dad in a panic from the depths of the laundry room.
“Dad, I’m stuck! Nothing’s working out, everything is falling to pieces, I don’t know what to do!”
“Go abroad!” my dad told me.
And so a year later, I did.
Two years ago, the third and “transcendent” Goucher memory, I was about to go through airport security and fly to France when my grandma rushed up to me with a package, saying, “Here, Khak. Take this.”
I opened up the wrapping paper and ribbons to a 900 page boulder-of-a book about the culinary figurehead, Julia Child. On the inside cover, my grandma had written in her swirling cursive handwriting:
“Dear ‘Khaki,’ For all your adventures, culinary or otherwise. Bon appétit! Love, ‘Gram’”
I chuckled to myself, placed the book in my bag, and flew to Paris.
Over the course of that year, I really did transcend boundaries and learn so many, many things: about Paris, about people, about life, about myself. I learned to appreciate the scent of crepes sizzling on the stove, the luster of the local apples stacked in pyramids, the warmth of a baguette cradled in my arms. I learned how to sprint-walk through crowds of people, “surf” on the metro, negotiate and haggle with merchants, how to bask in the sun for hours during pique-nique saison, how to sit in a café and nurse a black espresso without cringing from its bitterness. There were moments though when I ate so much Nutella that my teeth hurt, when I looked at pictures of friends from home and wanted to fly back to them immediately, when I was so lost that all I could do was sit on a curb and hope something better would happen. But along the way I ran into some of my closest friends from Goucher – in Belgium, in Amsterdam, in Copenhagen, in London, even in Paris. They reminded me that though Goucher was a whole ocean away, my friends, the ones who really made Goucher feel like home, were all over the world. So although I may not have come home with a French boyfriend or a fancy bottle of wine, I did come back to the U.S. with a sense of myself that I had never had before, a sense of belonging. I came back feeling contente, joyeuse.
And now here I am at the bittersweet spectacular end, my fourth and final Goucher memory, about to walk across a stage, receive a piece of paper, shake a couple of hands, and move onto the world outside “the bubble,” outside the woods. My friends and I have started saying “this is the last” – this is the last class! the last Tuesday sprint workout! the last time I will ever have to smell those obnoxious trees outside of Pearlstone! But amidst these “lasts,” we’ve become anxious, sad, nervous. We don’t know what’s happening next, we can’t predict the future. We have absolutely no idea where we are going in this world and are clinging to everything that could help us stay here, now. I’ve begun to understand that these are the secrets of traveling and growing up that no one tells you about: nostalgia will run rampant in your heart, you will see double visions of people and places everywhere, scents and sounds and sights will make you crazy with memories. And your stomach, ever the traitor, will betray you and make you long for a good and proper baguette. When you have no idea what to do with these grumblings, let alone what to do with your life, things can become a little crazy. To say the very least.
Four years ago, if you had presented me with a box full of the memories, people, and places that I hold in my heart now, I would have never accepted them as my own. They are too weird, too astonishing, too magnificently strange. Yet here I am, four years later, with such a motley and wonderful assortment of people, places, memories stashed away – people, places, and memories that I wouldn’t ever change, ever. They are “the invisible things,” the things that have come together to form these past four years of indescribable happenings. So for all of this, thank you. Bon appétit et à la prochaine.