Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opens with a chase sequence. In particular, the sequence stars a teenaged Indiana, already jumping train cars and braving danger in pursuit of keeping museum relics out of the hands of the greedy. The sequence results in failure, however; Indiana’s father forces him to return the artifact, and young Indiana bows his face, in dismay, to the floor. When he lifts his face, the scene has changed, and he is now Harrison Ford. All at once, the boy is a man, and he now has the power to right this wrong.
At the age of seven, while waiting to be let out of the school bus, I studied my sneakers and tried to bring this magic unto myself. Blink, I practiced, and you’ll glance up and won’t be a kid anymore. I tried and tried, but it was to no avail.
Except now here I am, wandering my adulthood, wondering where all the childhood years. My nieces are reading, my siblings becoming parents, family Thanksgivings have lost their center. I blinked, and now I’m not a kid anymore.
This weekend, a friend from home was in the city. She arrived Friday, but we made plans for Sunday coffee. I woke up, went for a run, and traveled to meet her. When I walked inside, I embraced her with a hug, nodding at her college friends. ‘You’re from Brazil?’ one of them asked. Small laughter.
We walked Broadway a bit, exchanging updates as we decided which way to meander. She freshly wrapped her first year in a new city, and I’m approaching my first winter in New York. What are you making of your job, here are my thoughts on mine so far. We settled on a Starbucks on Sixth. Cinnamon muffin and pumpkin bread. We exchanged updates, observations on a world unfolding before us. Dating, work, friendships. The role of love in our lives.
Time quietly melted away. What if our seventeen-year-old selves could have a glimpse of this moment –– this conversation between two twenty-nine year-olds? Time has a way of going blurry the second you look away from it, the same way our dreams begin shedding clarity the moment we drop back into our consciousness. But our friends, the people who populate those fuzzy chapters, are constants. Reminders of where we’ve been, who we were, where we’re headed.
Maybe the greatest anguish I’ve faced in growing up is learning, firsthand, that not everybody stays in our pages long enough to reach future chapters. To move ahead, we have to leave some people behind. Just what on earth, I’ve scribbled in the margins, am I to do with these furiously scribbled memories? His laugh. The face she makes when she wants to be angry but I’m winning her over. The language we built, inside jokes that make us laugh like children, and the way people look at each other when we use it. That song, the way he looked at me when I played it.
Look, I understand the ‘nice tidy meaning’ I can derive from memories; I know there’s a richness to my history that wouldn’t be here if I’d only filled my life with People Who Stay. Sometimes, to my surprise, the stories resurface and I find myself smiling, pain-free. Gratitude at the way our stories intersect, even if temporarily.
But, more often, diving into those stories is a kind of time travel. I let go of People-As-I-Know-Them-Now long enough to remember them with uninformed sincerity. What it was to see his eyes and feel like home, to laugh with her until we cried over too-long lunches, to be certain that, if nothing else, his and my future chapters would always include one another. I swim down, deep, into each of those feelings, let them run through me, and then surface back into reality. Each time, it takes me a while to acclimate to the world as is. Time travel is hard work on the human mind, in the human heart.
When I moved to New York, there was scaffolding down my entire street. At the corner, in both directions, scaffolding lined the entire city block. One day, a Saturday in September, I glanced up and realized some of the scaffolding had been taken down. My mouth fell agape, eyes wide at the sudden expanse of sky freed by its removal. Soon, the scaffolds a block away were pulled down. A statue was put back in place, ‘the Eye of Fashion,’ and everybody seemed relieved to have it back. I’m still getting used to squeezing by it on morning runs.
Life operates in much the same way. You might head to your twenty-fifth family Thanksgiving, shaking your head to your siblings at just why everybody tries to squeeze in one house each year, and then lose your grandmother the following August. Blink, and scaffolds get pulled down without your permission. Time is a train in motion, a conveyor belt underfoot. Like it or not, things aren’t meant to stay the same.
And so we are always grieving what came before on the same days we embark toward what’s next. Babies arrive, and we wonder who we were before our arms cradled them. Love blossoms into our lives, and we tearfully imagine who we’d have been without it. A month after we complain to our coworkers about ‘needing to get out of here,’ we choke back tears as we hug them goodbye. Memories trail like ribbons behind us as we go.
Every last one of us knows what it is to travel time, to blink and find that everything has changed. By degrees, we make our way into new terrain, into versions of ourselves braver and breaking, hopeful and learned. The people who came before, the us who navigated up to these chapters, are long gone, too. To know them again is to close our eyes, swimming back, back, back. Opening our eyes, studying blurry photographs for all we might have missed.