“Do you think we’ve changed?”
I don’t remember which one of us asked this, reclining on the balcony and watching the ocean which seemed all too familiar and yet unfamiliar.
It’s not actually an ocean, the Strait of Malacca, but it connects two oceans and about half a dozen nations.
It may sound strange, but it was living here beside this strait where I started to become myself. Seventh and Eighth grade might sound late, but it was then that I began to claim some autonomy in who I was, what I liked. I actually cared about the music I listened to, the scent of the shampoo I picked out. Maybe it’s because these years were spent in boarding school, which would automatically encourage my own independence, or maybe it just has to do with being that age.
It has been five years since then, and the ocean looks the same. The school is different, has undergone a lot of construction and development, but my friends all seem the same too.
One said: “Grace! It’s like going back in time! You’re the same!” And the uncle who cared for our dorm all those years ago said when he saw me side by side with my old roommate: “it’s like you two are in seventh grade again!”
But I feel so different from that little girl in seventh grade. That child with pale, unmarked arms who listened to Justin Bieber and got so confused at the first physical stirring she felt, watching that senior across the library. The girl who was caught in a blind faith, who giggled during Pitch Perfect even though honestly most of the jokes went over her head.
I get that I look very similar to how I looked in middle school. I’m not going to dispute that. But I feel like so much of me is different – my writing is different, my music is different, a huge portion of my moral compass is different. When I met with those friends who I had not seen in five years, who I did not even know if I wanted to see again, I felt parasitic and filthy. Like, here this one girl has been dating the same boy for five years and they haven’t slept together, and here this other girl has totally embraced her faith and wants to become a missionary, and then this girl is still just as totally flighty and silly as she ever was. Am I dense in thinking I’ve changed?
Or am I the same, as they claim?
When we sit in the new library and the word shit leaves my lips and I mention someone at university I am considering sleeping with, I see their eyes widen and lips twitch. Well, not everyone meets the perfect guy in eighth grade. I want to snap, not everyone spends their whole adolescence in this sheltered, supportive, beautiful community.
The biggest piece of gossip they have is from three years ago, and students still talk about it. A girl got pregnant, she and the boy got married. They’re still together.
What a strange world this is.
I still love them, of course. I enjoy their company, and seeing my old roommate and those from my old dorm was a real pleasure.
But when I go home with one of these old friends, and we open the floor-to-ceiling balcony door and sit down and I stare at the ocean which is fundamentally the same but different in its details – one of us asks:
“Do you think we’ve changed?”
-Grace T, January 2018
-Never look back as you’re walking away / Carry the music, the memories and keep them inside – Stand in the Light, Jordan Smith