Attempting to piece together my childhood through both my own memories and my mother’s journals should not have been a summer goal. It probably should not have been a goal at all.
My mother died a little over a year ago, during the fall of my junior year. She was an avid writer and I now own twenty-six of her journals. I started reading her journals towards the beginning of this past summer. Her journals start in 1994 and they span the second half of her life. In 1994, my mother was twenty-one years old and dating my father. She had aspirations of becoming a writer and qualms about being in a committed relationship at such a young age. A year later she detailed my birth and wrote about how much she loved me, her baby. She kept writing.
One of the nicest things about growing up into adulthood is rehashing the past with your parents or whoever raised you. I call this “coming into awareness with your parents.” I have been coming into awareness with my mother’s journals. What’s different about my situation is that there’s no filter on her end. She doesn’t get to decide what to reveal now and what to save for later on graduation or on my wedding day. I have been told to take my time reading her journals because what I read may catch me off guard. I didn’t do this.
So, over the summer, my days were spent reading her journals, readings from the big blue book, and articles on family psychology. I even attended a meeting. Soon each of my thoughts and resurfaced memories were being broken down and analyzed. There was an imaginary floating timeline of my life directly in front of me and all of my behavior had lines waiting to be connected to causal events in my childhood. My personal blog served as a way for me to figure out how to draw those lines. I passed a lot of time like this.
And then the anxiety came. Everything in my chest was racing and I couldn’t stop it. Walking couldn’t stop it. Curling into a ball and trying to sleep couldn’t stop it. Seeing two therapists couldn’t stop it. Meditation couldn’t stop it. Each passing day, the idea of being where my mother was seemed more and more enticing. One morning at 3am, when I was particularly restless and in actual physical pain, I called one of my closest friends from middle school, and perhaps my most empathetic friend. I cried and told her everything on my mind. She cooed me and told me frankly that I didn’t need to figure everything out all at once.
It was an obvious statement but something that I needed to hear, and from her especially. After our call, I put my books and journals, along with my mother’s blanket, away into a suitcase at the top of my closet. Calmness and eventually sleep washed over me. My journal has been left alone since then and I have not read more than a page or two from my mother’s journals either; I haven’t felt a need or an urgency to do either.
I’m self-aware enough to make certain that I’m not suppressing my curiosity or my pain. Of course, that does not mean that I understand myself completely or am perfectly self-aware. That is not something I would want simply because it is not possible. What I am aware of is that I at least, and perhaps at most at the same time, need to grieve and let myself feel how I feel. I don’t need to understand it. I still cry out of the blue. I still think about my mother everyday – so much of me is her that it’s hard not to; hopefully that will never change. I leave it at that. What I learned from obsessing over myself and spiraling into fits of anxiety is that it is okay to feel without studying. I have learned how to stop treating myself and the people around me like I treat my academic work. I have been taking myself less seriously. Just a little bit seriously.
Amherst has, without a doubt, taught me seriousness. It has taught me how to take in information, analyze it, and critique it. It has taught me how to recognize holes in reasoning. It has taught me how to think of possible causes for those holes. It has taught me how to imagine possible fillings for those holes. And it has most certainly taught me how to work towards filling those holes. But Amherst has not taught me which holes to aspire to fill, which to wait to fill, and which to notice and accept. It has not taught me at which speed to work to fill holes or how long to wait to fill them. Maybe it couldn’t have. Maybe I needed to grieve to learn that.
Somewhere along the way, probably at the beginning of the summer, I forgot this lesson I had just learned. I fell back into obsessing over what I could not understand and those detected flaws, until I had a conversation with one of my favorite professors. I was venting about someone whose behavior frustrated me. He formed an inch of space between his thumb and index finger and joked that that was how much life he had left. He said there were a million things that could upset him and that when he was younger, he let each of them bother him. It wasn’t until he grew older that he realized that he had to pick and choose what he’d allow to affect him and what he’d allow himself to respond to. How Mr. Feeny of him.
So far, senior year has been the year of working towards letting things bounce off of me, but still noticing what those things are. It has been the year of deciding when to use my critical thinking skills and when to let things slide. It has been the most relaxing year of my time at Amherst because of it. I feel less frustrated, less angry, and less negative overall. Of course, there have been many occasions in my classes where I’ve been frustrated by ignorant comments made or have felt jealous that my paintings are not as crisp as my classmates’ or have talked shit about someone. I have definitely wanted to get off the bench in tennis and I’d sometimes rather search forever for jobs than actually sit down and apply.
Of course, I think about my mother whenever I look up and see our photos on my mantelpiece or when I think about graduation and how she won’t be there or when I think about a funny joke that she would have loved or when I meet someone who reminds me of her or when I think of a memory or when I look in the mirror or when I write or when I dream of her and see her just as vividly as I saw her in real life. But what I’m learning is how to feel and let be.