(Lilia Paz)– Apocalypse Now was played by my English teacher, in the dying days of senior year. The film, a glorious disaster, is based loosely on Heart of Darkness set in the Vietnam War but closely set enough that my high school English teacher screened it for us. It stars a peaked Marlon Brando, Michael Sheen. The film is great, my friend calls it Apocalypse Wow (we love puns). Then while flipping channels, I came across it again. I wasn’t a high school senior, I was a rising sophomore. I loved using “rising” to describe my sophomore status but Michael Sheen sent me back to high school. We saw the movie after a lot of hoops had been passed. Prom was done, we had sent our SIRs and were safely ensconced in our schools. The rival camps of USC and UCLA were cheerfully brought up by their future students. After all the exams and preparations, we were finished. Twelve years and now this? I was supposed to hate some school called Williams that I knew nothing about. I was one of the few who had only a foggy idea of where I was going.
I applied to one liberal arts college. Even though I had leafed through dozens of invitations and college brochures, I couldn’t really explain what a liberal arts education entailed. So I added Amherst College to my CommonApp. Didn’t expect to get in, told no one I was applying, told even less people I was going. I opened up my yearbook and a lot of friends had wished me well at Berkeley. It made me laugh but I felt a bit like a liar. I didn’t own one piece of collegiate attire. I had never been someone who clung to high school like they were my glory days but now I was suddenly passive. I made my big choice and I had hidden it from everyone.
So I went to school and high school slowly unwound. We were all going insane. The teachers, the students, the administrators. Our teachers had no idea what to tell us or how to motivate us. When I looked around my classroom, most of my classmates looked eagerly beyond our campus while the rest clung to high school and our friends and I was caught in the middle. This set up a pattern we’d only see a year later.
When I got back, everyone asked me how Boston was. It’s good. How’s the northeast? Cold! Polite laughter. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to suddenly broach this huge space with my family and friends. It was easy enough to drunk Skype them, to text them Happy Birthday! I miss you soo much xoxoxoxo. Those easy formalities came off fine; I said it because they were my old, dear friends. I had known them for years; they knew me well enough they could decode the gaps. But now the tacit understandings had become true distance. Silence wasn’t companionable; it was awkward. Here I was, nervous and shuffling and not sure what to tell them. I couldn’t joke about my first-year seminar; I had to revive the bond with my friends; I had to share their fears about apartment life, and all of a sudden we didn’t have any common ground to tread on.
It wasn’t easy. I don’t want my friendships to simply become “remember whens?” I didn’t want to be the angsty, pretentious college student who pulled out philosophy at breakfast. Luckily, I had warm parents to welcome me back and to quash any bullshit I might have intended. My friends were harder. My friends had gone through cutthroat courses and apartment hunts. When we went shopping, they had an eye out for furnishings, pots, furniture. I’m certain they felt more mature than me. And kudos to them, I’m happy I get to postpone on calling the electric company and setting up an account. I was proud of them, for forgiving themselves when they screwed up a midterm, for apartment hunting. I figured out how to celebrate their victories, that I had to dig for detail to make their separate lives less abstract. I had to try to paint Amherst. (Yeah it’s only 2000 students. No, it’s a college so no grad students.)
We all changed. It was painful when our changes made us incompatible; when my friends had changed away from the people I cared about. It was a sobering experience to realize I couldn’t keep all the friends I had because I simply did not like them anymore. The friends I did care about suddenly became harder to reconnect to. One of my friends predicted how hard it would be to say goodbye to high school. He was afraid of the effort to keep in touch. I said goodbye to a friend who headed off to summer school. I had no idea when I would see her next. That was the painful part, not having any sure deadline of when you could see this person and not knowing who they or you would be. So I wait as the summers and holidays offer surprises in others and, most surprisingly, in myself.