Survival. Sentiment. I look back on Smith and usually think, “I loved it – even though it was shitty.” That wistfulness, the glance ahead with the furrowed brow, came to me when I was too young. I pined when I was twelve, wishing for better days, messaging faraway friends until my fingertips were sore. I spent my nostalgia without realizing its currency under a heavy spell of trauma and want. I now know the danger of sentiment, the way it fills your lungs and memory cards. The way you time travel through archives of perfume and Google docs, the way you click endlessly in the saved texts of your mind. A senior in high school ripped away any hope for painless sentimentality when I was in seventh grade. But that’s his narrative to own.
It has been a time of coming and becoming. Out, in, and through that inappropriate way I’ve avoided discussing these past few days. Sometimes I invite myself to become, like my relentless evenings in retro Josten Library, crafting Valentines with multiple gel pens, or scrolling for hours on an oily screen in order to find a place to live. Or, I have become through others: sweaty handholds, a passed mug of whiskey and orange juice, the tender “Congratulations” after playing a less-than-perfect solo through a hand injury, leaking tears onto her teal pillowcase.
Sometimes the becoming flows through Smith and then to me. My mother’s advisor and mine the same, our drunk walks home on parallel spindly feet, thirty five years between our steps. It’s the easy way out to only let our stories enmesh. I become in remembering that I am not Sheila Nealon II. Although I once was a literal extension of her, that was 22 years ago. Our car trips under the guise of shopping let her sigh into the leather as she unfolds her anxieties, passes her worry onto me, gives me ownership of her relationship problems. We coexist but I must keep becoming. Daughter, and. Not just Daughter.
It’s like I’m holding out my hand only to see threads of my becoming in all directions, tying me to some and knotting me within others. I hope to cut away my feelings of too-much-ness. It’s not possible to confess, think, love, care, eat, in a way that is too much to others, and to live as I am. It’s why I cling into the lore Avery whispers to me at bars and why I can remember each mac and cheese infused sleepover with Natalie perfectly; why Georgia and Tati fill me with a loving weepiness as they tumble through their first years; why Deana cries and Jasmine laughs with me. That too much-ness saw the loss of Adriana and knows the steadfastness of Erika, surer than an electric blanket. It’s why I can’t convince myself to get a haircut.
Every so often I’ll have a pang in my chest at the Lasts. It’s my last reg code to access a website developed in the ‘90s that can’t handle 640 balls of anxiety that are Smith students! It’s the last Friday where I eat sweaty cheese next to a homophobic first year and stare at a girl I should have a crush on! And even as I try to highlight the absurdity in sentiment, there is that very real romantic work that Smith does to try and court you, to woo you into insecurity about everything except this place. I have done my best to fight it at its most harmful, when this artificial sentimentality threatens the existence of the people I truly love.
I will come into many more places and many more Graces. I will sob during most of Senior Week, but I won’t donate. I will organize – I won’t excuse the silences. I will love, but with that grain of salt asking if it’s real. Sentimentality is my survival, but I hope to exit survival mode soon.