I don’t remove my dorm room decorations from my walls until my father arrives to pick me up after finals. Every year, this procrastination irks him to no end as he schleps bags out to the car while I longingly reminisce, glancing at the pictures and posters that reflect the year I’ve had. Packing my clothes, books, bedding, and memories, I choose to keep my photographs and posters hanging around me until the car is packed and there’s absolutely no excuse to keep my father waiting. So, mournfully, I take each keepsake off of the walls, pulling sticky tape and twinkly lights down from around my bed, carefully wrapping the yards of green wire into a tight bundle. Every year, despite the monologue I tell myself, “this isn’t a big deal. Just take down the crap on your walls and be done with it,” I resist this last task until it becomes completely unavoidable.
These thoughts began ruminating in my mind last week as the semester seemed to toss itself into my suitcases of their own accord. Noticing my unintended eagerness to leave this world for the summer to return in the fall refreshed, it became evident that this rumination process occurs every year. Trying to sift through this nebulous pattern, I asked myself, why do I do this every year? Why can’t I simply remove the memories with some thin level of sentimentality and be done with it?
However, as I dug through my drawers and my mind to answer these questions, I realized that the reason for this bizarre attachment is the following: My wall hangings–the fabric hearts strung above my desk like a baby mobile, my Stern Chanukah Chagigah photographs, the few letters I’ve received–are all mirrors. Of course, they are not literally mirrors; rather, the things I use to decorate my room are all reflections of me over the past eight months. They are the single most consistent timeline of my personal growth and change; they are intimate reflections of the highs and lows of the world around me, what I’ve chosen to remember, and what I’ve chosen to forget.
Surveying this time capsule, I see photographs with my newest friends and National Geographic cut-outs. The thing that triggers the most emotive memories is the translucent pink plastic on which I’ve documented some of my transformative moments. Purchased at Jack’s 99 Cent Store, this cheap wrapping paper helped me in a dark moment during the fall semester; it helped me add some color to my then-colorless mind.
Watching the memory of the trembling hand as it swiped a black Sharpie across the plastic, I am pulled back into the fragile state of months before, and the empowered moment of resilience. In this moment, I realize that there is a mournful feeling that accompanies my pride and nostalgic enjoyment of reviewing my year. While packing up my books and toiletries, I also pack up my memories, celebrations, and losses. Though it is not written in the form of an essay or a journal entry, it is not recorded or preserved in any traditional way, these memories survived the year because I allowed them to surround me. While some of these memories are sweet with the nectar of triumph, other are truly bittered with a sense of finality and defeat.
Distracted and pulled back to reality by my father’s text that tells me that he’s double-parked on 29th Street, I recall that this moment of leaving Stern for the summer will simultaneously provide the closure for and distance from the year as a whole. We are told that college is a time for exploration, adventure, challenge, stimulation, question, struggle, elation, empathy, and the beginning of selfhood. I don’t know if I can say that all these things are visible through my dorm room decorations, but I do think that, along with the twinge of pulling down moments that changed me, I find a sense of purification, calm, a sense of satisfactory blankness towards the empty canvas that is my next chapter. As I strip away the layers of this year, I am able to make room for what is to come, to offer myself to the future highs and lows, epiphones and confusions. Let’s begin.