Growing Up, Getting Lost


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Nothing says nostalgia like a '50s diner. The regularity of the tiled floor, the sheen of the sparkling counter and the low hum of the defunct jukebox all speak of a bygone era. It was, in all probability, a time that never really existed outside the movies - a mystical golden age that we both mock and ache for. A nostalgia both real and imagined.

Our local diner is also the inevitable reunion spot for my friends whenever we head back into town. No matter how far we travel in the interim, whatever affectations or pretensions we have gained (accents, facial hair, flirtations with veganism) we always end up back at Peninsula Creamery, sipping on milkshakes, eating fries and talking too loudly about sex, drugs and politics, to the consternation of families around us.

Under the fluorescent lighting, with the sounds of oldies coming through the speakers, it feels like a place outside of time. Yet as I get further and further into college, the passage of time gets harder and harder to deny.

Most media depicts going off to college, that big celebration of youthful independence: The closing shot of the '80s teen movie as the station wagon pulls away, crammed to bursting with clothes, books and IKEA bedsheets.

Fewer films focus on what it feels like to come back. The first time you make the slip between "home and home." The first argument with your parents: "I'm in college! Jeez!" The first time you text your new friends with exciting news before you call your high school friends. That first creeping realization that the town that raised you may no longer be large enough to contain you.

In general, by the time the holidays are done, I'm excited to come back to Berkeley - back to what is increasingly feeling like my "real" life. Not this time. I clung to my bed like a drowning sailor to a floating timber. I reveled in the familiarity of it all. The sofa that, over the years, I have slowly beaten into perfect TV-watching form. My bed. The patch of two o'clock sunlight that hovers in my living room, warming the carpet and casting shadows on the ceiling.

I clung to the familiarity because what had once seemed monotonous, boring, suburban - bike rides, the library, packed lunches and Friday night movies - is becoming increasingly rare. My friends are spread out across the country, across the world, even. The city I grew up in is still growing, apartment complexes springing from mansions, old haunts razed to the ground. Which all sounds morbid, but probably explains why one of my best memories of the holidays is ending up at Happy Donuts at 3 a.m. Hapdo, as the natives call it, is the only place in the city open 24 hours a day, home to the drug-addled and insomnia plagued - the place you go when you have nowhere better to be.

We ran into some old friends and chatted for several hours as our coffees grew cold. The conversation revealed, not necessarily how much we had changed, but how divergent our paths were becoming.

Sonya was doing costumes for a major Chicago theatre. Rahul was applying to Pixar for an animation internship. Jeremy was working at an autoshop in Texas. Chloe was looking into I-banking opportunities. Someone was woofing, another kicking their heels at home. Three people had dropped out, five were looking to transfer, and the last anyone had heard from Alex, he was working the Ohio governor's campaign. Reports had surfaced that he might be studying abroad in New Mexico. Could you even study abroad in another state?

It was so different than I had imagined years before, standing up at our graduation - looking out at the row of uniform black caps and gowns filled with identical grins of joy. We knew who we were then, recent graduates of Henry M. Gunn High School, ready to take the world by storm. Nearly invincible.

Two years later ... life is happening to us, life with all its successes and secret failures. Sitting at that table, I suddenly had a premonition of who might be sitting there 20 years in the future: a lawyer, a costume designer, a failed politician and a bioengineer. Those people felt a lot more alien than Chloe, Sonya, Alex and Jeremy. Those people had nothing to say to each other.

Life tends to isolate us in our own little communities with "like-minded" people; the kinds of people who talk like us and walk like us, people with similar politics and identical cars. What I'm getting at is that once life places us in a certain socio-economic class, it tends to stick. The United States likes to think of itself as an egalitarian, classless society. I disagree. The judgement is inherent in the phrase: socio-economic class.

Earlier this semester, I was joking with a friend, when he suddenly turned to me. "You know," he said, "in the future, we are going to run in two very different crowds." I paused. It was a tacit admission of the very different futures we imagine for ourselves, and it broke my heart just a little.

I could swear that I'll never let our different career choices, life paths, successes or failures come between me and the people I care about. But that would be naive in the extreme. I know as well as anyone, that the real killer to a relationship isn't necessarily difference or distance. It's the slow creeping sensation of awkwardness, of not quite knowing how to relate.

That is why I cherish moments like that long night we spent at Happy Donuts, sitting, joking, re-introducing ourselves. No matter where life may take us in the end, in that moment, just for a moment - we had nowhere better to be.


Enjoy a milkshake and memories with Meghna at [email protected]

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