MARCH 21, 2020
STORY BY VERONICA KIM ’16
We wander at night, hand-in-hand. The campus is quiet, as are the seven of us, bleached pale in the streetlights, revisiting every important building, every frequented study spot. We drink, but not enough to forget. We do not want to forget anything.
I look up, though the stars are invisible. Inhale. I hold Sun’s hand tighter, as if that will anchor me to this place, to this moment in time — as if that will keep the minutes and hours from tumbling forward ever faster toward an ending I am not yet ready to face.
You’ve been my dream for years — a decade, maybe more. In fifth grade, I told my friends that I wanted to go to Stanford someday. When my family went to California, my dad and I would run the now-familiar campus loop, and he would always make me stop and take a picture in front of the little Escondido Village apartment where I was raised for the first 10 months of my life. Today, that tiny complex is the only one left standing, the rest torn down to make way for the new, shiny, high-rise residences now towering over east campus. My parents never fail to point it out when they visit me — how lucky they are, that they can still drive by and see the beige, brown-roofed building that they used to call home.
I remember getting in, four years and three months ago. I opened the acceptance letter from my car while parked in front of my house, too nervous to have an audience. I remember reading that fateful first line — stumbling over the words — it is with very great pleasure … I think I screamed, maybe, flung myself out of my car and ran up the front steps, pounded on the door — I was crying, and laughing — my whole family was in hysterics. I don’t think I stopped smiling that whole night. It was unreal. I couldn’t believe it. In some ways, I still can’t. It feels too good to be true.
Just over a week ago — two or three days before I left — I put in my headphones and went for a walk. It was a hot day, sunny. I wandered the sidewalks. I took pictures. I memorized. The proud red roofs, the yellow bricks and arches, the ardent green of spring around every corner. Looking at you then, as I have in every moment since I arrived, I couldn’t help but marvel. How was it that I deserved this? How was it that I deserved you?
You have been — at times, so difficult. You have torn down many of the things I believed about myself. Straight-A student. Academically excellent. Always happy. You have made me unbelievably sad — so depressed that I still have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, sometimes. You have challenged me in ways I did not believe I could overcome, the late nights and tears and hatred seeping their way into my skin.
You have taught me to fail, a hundred times over. Tests, projects, friendships. I have lost control over my own time; I have learned what it means to have only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week. I have reached my breaking point, fallen apart on benches and outside classrooms. I have forgotten about balance, forgotten that I am just one girl, two hands, one head, one heart. I have given myself wholly to people who dismantled me, who took everything away and still demanded more.
But that isn’t who you are, or who you have been, to me. I know I write a lot about the bad things. I know that I complain. But it’s easier, I think, than admitting all that has been overwhelmingly good. All that has changed me for the better. All that I lose, in losing you.
You are — how do I even begin to describe? You are springtime after the rains stop, when everyone moves outside at once, gathering in the sunniest places to revel in the new warmth. You are the late nights spent in library study rooms, work unfinished, sides hurting with laughter. You are snacks invented from leftovers and shredded cheese in the kitchen at two a.m.; eight-mile runs in the cold; a circle of friends on my bedroom floor. You are board games played atop a dresser-turned-table, you are impromptu dance parties and sleepovers. You are every beautiful memory that I have, carefully folded and tucked away, untarnished in the corners of my mind.
You have turned my world upside down, shaken me inside out. You have filled me with sadness, fear, anxiety — but you have also taught me what it means to be happy. And you have taken me halfway around the globe to remind me of that feeling — of joy, pure contentment — of peace. When I returned, it was as if you had lifted me into your arms and placed me gently, upright, back onto the earth. The missing parts of me restored. The broken bits whole once more.
With you, I become a person more deeply able to care for others. I become more fully capable of love, of kindness. I become, in some ways, the best version of myself.
I do not know what it means to say goodbye to you.
I keep crying, yet every time it surprises me. I’ll lie in my room at home, and it’ll hit me all at once — the crushing sense of loss, of something gone that I cannot get back. I hold a pillow to my chest to keep myself from spilling over.
I try to make sense of this insanity — of the events over the past three weeks that have led to this — to here, in my childhood bedroom, instead of there, with you. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand it. Just a month ago, I was sitting at my desk trying to motivate myself to work. I was making dinner for my friends on a Sunday evening. I was running around the lake, the sun rising in the sky.
I miss you. So much. I miss running into people between classes, eating meals outside. I miss the last-minute plans to go off campus, the familiarity of my morning routine, the surprisingly delicious dining hall breakfasts. I even miss my lectures.
What hurts the most, I think, is the finality of it all. I will never again live within a mile of my friends. Never again curl my fingers around a warm cup of tea at the writing center while talking to a student about the paper she’s finishing for tomorrow. Never again raid the snack shelf for dried mango and potato chips. It keeps repeating in my head, waiting to be absorbed, believed — this is the end, the end, the end.
Maybe the worst part — I held out hope. Even when they told us to leave, even when I boarded the plane, even when the news kept saying it was getting worse, everything was getting worse — I still hoped. I hoped that I would see you again — be a student again, walking those familiar streets to class and back home. I hoped that they’d tell us all to return, and the front lawns would overflow with joy, relief — I’d get in the taxi from the airport, impatient — I’d watch the hills blur by on the highway, each passing mile bringing me closer to normalcy, closer to you.
I hoped that I would throw my arms around you, one last time; drink it all in; tell you how much I had missed you.
Instead, we’re left with this: a goodbye on the tip of my tongue, three months ripped from my hands. My last memories with you are sad, stumbling — each one hasty, made before its time. I am lucky, yes, that they are full of love. That they will not be easily forgotten.
Thank you. There might not be anything else to say. Thank you for every single one of these memories, these moments. For this perfect, chaotic, unforgettable way of life.
You were my dream. Living you was beyond what I could have imagined. Thank you.