Going Back


Before my roommate reunion a few weeks ago, I pulled up a bunch of old files on an external hard drive, copies of letters I’d written to a missionary back in my college days. We roommates planned to share funny excerpts from journal entries we’d written while we lived together. Those letters were the only journal I had.

It’s weird to go back.

I was writing to a missionary, I remind myself, which had to have colored my thoughts. I wrote a lot about wanting to go on a mission myself. That was before the mission age change. I wasn’t yet 21. I hadn’t remembered feeling such longing to go and serve God like that, to share the gospel like that. But I wrote a lot about that longing.

I was writing to a boy whose approval I desperately wanted, I remind myself, which had to have altered my tone. My tone was insecure. I couldn’t stop reassuring him that I wasn’t the “closed-minded liberal” he thought I was. I did it jokingly most of the time, but the frequency made it real.

I want to be kind to myself, I think as I read, but my instincts go elsewhere. I reach into the letter and out again and shake my 20-year-old shoulders a good one. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING TO HIM. And what’s so wrong with being a little liberal? And who are you trying to convince here? Yourself?” But 20-year-old Sam shrugs me off and diverts her eyes. “Why would I listen to you?” she says. “You never went on that mission like you said you would.” And I shrink, because she’s right. And I shrink smaller, because I feel relieved by it.

Be kind to yourself, I think again.

My authenticity waned and waxed throughout. There were passages that felt honest, even reading them years later. I wrote about the rush I got making an eloquent argument in my current events class and a spiritual insight I discovered in my world lit class. I planned, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a study abroad to London and an internship at the Cincinnati Enquirer, neither of which came to pass. I gushed over the luggage I got for my birthday and fretted over getting my wisdom teeth out.

Of course I also wrote a lot about my roommates, those quirky, wonderful, kindred crazies. And although some of my stories didn’t check out when compared to my roommates’ versions at the reunion (I’m known to embellish here and there), the feelings were true. Mischievousness, cautiousness, loneliness, belonging, vulnerability, invincibility—that was us in those days, a beautiful mess of growing-ups all sharing a single bathroom.

Listening to: Kings of Convenience, “I’d Rather Dance With You”


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