The day I got my acceptance letter from Princeton, I spent the rest of the night making my way through “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”
In the days that followed, I reread the rest of the series. And then it was on to the Harry Potter series, then “Matilda,” and then all of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” By the time high school had let out, I’d revisited almost every single one of the books I’d loved when I was a kid.
At the time, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. Maybe it was just the increased free time, now that I was done with high school and had only one summer left. Maybe it was a way for me to procrastinate on packing for college. Maybe I just wanted to hold onto memories that I’d loved more than anything, ones that I still held close.
Once I’d exhausted my local library, though, I was forced to confront a totally different maybe. Maybe, I thought, as I sat in the same library I’d been going to my entire life, surrounded by people I’d known just as long, I wasn’t ready to let go just yet. My acceptance, as thrilled as I had been to get it, meant that the idea of college had solidified into something concrete, something real.
Although Princeton meant amazing new opportunities — a chance to learn more, to connect with other people, to grow — it also meant that there were things I’d have to let go of. It meant leaving behind classmates I’d gone to school with for the past 12 years. It meant leaving behind the sleepy town I’d once daydreamed about leaving, back before the reality of it all had truly set in. And maybe it would even mean leaving myself behind — abandoning the person I’d once been in an effort to keep up with everyone else as they grew and changed.
So I clung to my childhood books and obsessed over words I practically had memorized. I tried to pretend that time wasn’t moving steadily forwards.
Of course, there’s only so much flat-out denial can do to prevent the future from coming. The summer passed by much more quickly than I wanted it to. So, I was off, headed for a state I could barely pinpoint on a map and trying to ignore the sinking feeling of loss as I watched my home disappear from the rear window of our car.
Time kept moving on and on. Strangely enough, I found myself settling in at Princeton, despite how quickly everything moved.
When fall break finally came around, I was faced with a free weekend for the first time in what felt like years, with no deadlines hanging over my head. I had a chance to breathe after a stressful week of midterms, not to mention a stressful month and a half of orientation and applying to clubs and trying my best to not get lost on campus. For this moment, at least, I could take some time to relax.
So I checked out “The Mysterious Benedict Society” on my phone from my hometown’s library, and I spent the next few hours reading.
I loved it no less just because I’d somehow made it through my first round of college midterms. I loved it no less just because I’d submitted my first paper for my writing seminar with only a minor case of carpal tunnel to show for it. I loved it no less just because the world around me had changed dramatically — because in spite of everything I’d worried about, not everything about me had to change with it.
I spent the next day finishing the rest of the books in the series. And I decided that despite everything, I wanted to have both the person I was and the person I wanted to be with me.
I want to take my past with me. I want to carry it into whatever unknowns the future takes me to next. I can be capable of change and also capable of reminiscence — I can have both, no matter how irreconcilable the two once seemed to me.
I don’t know how my next semesters will play out at Princeton. But I do know that there are some things I don’t have to change, and that at the end of it all, there will be some things that I can come home to, always. Some things will always be there, no matter the years or the distance between us — and that’s enough for me.
Thia Bian is a Contributing Writer for The Prospect at the 'Prince.' She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Instagram at @cynthia.bian.