When the TV commercial voices—all sickeningly enthusiastic—say that it’s that time of year again for “back to school” sales, I cringe. I can’t help it. Something about class icebreakers, the exorbitant cost of textbooks both new and used, and the passage of time wiped away so unbelievably and rapidly fast are too overwhelming at first. I zone out. I mourn the loss of the countless, long hazy days and the adventurous nights out with the people I care about. That chilly night at the county fair, eating tortas on Olvera Street, all those deep heart-to-hearts. Everything passes through my imagination like a train on a rampage…then, I have no choice but to accept the inevitable. It’s time to move forward. Lingering won’t do anything.
Fast-forward to my college campus. I move into my new dorm room and meet my roommates—they’re total strangers. The living situation always takes some getting used to. The abundant rainfall upon this town is discouraging since I have to catch the bus to Target to buy my cans of tuna fish, Best Foods mayo, carton of eggs, and jar of soy sauce to go with the sack of white rice I’ll get since it goes with everything, etc. I’m learning to be very economical. Mama would be proud. I powerwalk to class under my stormy gray hoodie and sit in the back row, trying as long as I can to avoid unnecessary communication. Summer needs to be longer, I think as syllabi are handed out and writing assignments are scribbled on the chalkboard with this due in hard copy by this date and that e-mailed by then. Late August to mid-September is a whirlwind. I call my mother on Sundays, text my dad good night, Snapchat my sister, and Facetime my far-away significant other. These technological days just make everything seem that much closer, yet farther away at once. I can’t help but feel slightly homesick.
Despite everything, my hope for the future is always something that gets me through. Grabbing my notebook, I write about my bedroom creature comforts, a more humane world, or my favorite coffee mug in the family cupboard I long to hold again in my hands. When my eyes ache from studying, I drift off into my mind and see the train again. Given time, it has slowed to a chugging pace on the tracks and I feel like I can enjoy life as it is. My days away from home turn into new, scenic adventures. I try local restaurants and soak up the sun with walks around town. I enjoy the banyan trees and the flower bushes planted outside nearly every home. They are such a sight for sore eyes; the pink hibiscus is my favorite. I think of returning home in four months, and suddenly I am not taken aback, but accepting. There’s a reason I am where I am.
By this time, I tend to think of the “back to school” season as a time for exertion and release. We are all guilty of mustering up gobs of courage to get from one place to the next, or cramming all the module’s notes into one night’s sitting before the first test, then the second, and third. The school experience is truly no easy task! In aid to this stress, I like to visualize such things transforming into air, filling up my imaginary balloon.
This balloon image might come off as rather strange, but what can I say? I have quirks. I’m human, just like everyone. We all have our little ways of dealing with stressful things. I think these are always fun to learn about. Such a topic makes for interesting party conversation. Here’s what I would say, given the circumstance: “The balloon analogy. Closing my eyes, I think about the annoyances I faced that day. A trail of ants approaching my coffee, the library being against bringing paper coffee containers inside, classroom gossip, slow walkers, anything that leads you astray of your mental plan. Little asteroids hurling towards you as you try to make it to the moon.” I would then examine people’s faces.
Continuing the concept I would state that, “I watch these bothersome things transform into squiggly cartoon-like puffs of air. I then take a deep breath, feeling them enter my body. I produce a lone balloon from my pocket and stretch it several times with my hands, like I did with silly putty back in my younger days. I put it to my lips and let out that same breath. The squiggly curls of air—my troubles—are transferred to the balloon. I blow and blow, watching it puff up with all my hard work and effort. I clamp it shut with my hands, creating a temporary end. It is a symbol of my personal growth in this moment. I get to the ending of the challenge in question and then let go of the balloon—watching it whiz around in the air. It dances like a drunken bumblebee, until it is back in its first, empty state and ready for the next temporary challenge to take place.” These parties vary in crowd, vary in place of calendar date, and vary in respect given, though partygoers normally lend their ear at listening. Who doesn’t like learning about other people?
I finish my little speech with, “my balloon color of choice would be blue, because I love the plain lines on notebook paper and filling them up with my penmanship. What color would yours be?” Different people give out different answers and I am further reminded of the beauty of the human experience.
Before we know it, we are surrounded by each other during graduation day, our caps shielding our faces, our black robes absorbing the warmth of the moment. It is a rite of passage, it is the result of passing time with productivity. I see my parents in the bleachers gripping a handful of gift bags and smiling. I think of all the issues I have powered past over the years. I hear a train whistle in the back of my mind and I am reminded that this is life. Though it is inconsistent and unpredictable at times, all our thoughts, minor failures, and small victories should be worth acknowledging to ourselves. We all have to move on to the next station, sometime. Don’t let anything burst your bubble.
Photo by Chestina Craig