Sitting at my desk at work, my speakers pump out words sung by the latest pop-music-child-prodigy . . . “honestly I thought that I would be dead by now.” I think: jeez, she’s only 17. Then I recall the article that told me that in 2019 there have been more mass shootings in the U.S. than at this same date last year. As a moody teenager, I never thought I’d live to see 2019. Those delusions consisted of imagined ideas about Armageddon, not anything real. Those nightmares never involved the possibility of real tragedies like what happened at Sandy Hook, or at the movie theater in Aurora, CO, or more recently and closer to home for me, the fatal rampage in Midland-Odessa. In school, we practiced fire drills and hiding under our desks as a safe place for tornadoes. “Active shooter” wasn’t part of our vocabulary.
When I think about the woman I was ten years ago, I question if the past ten have been transitional years. Does 2009 feel like a different world than 2019? You betcha.
In 2009, my eyes were still sealed closed, believing that this world, while not a utopia, was fairly kind and slightly aligned with my ideals. I wasn’t so naive to believe that there weren’t problems of gender inequality, racism, abuse, hate. Apparently, I lived in a silo, only seeing the curved walls I’d built around me. It was a place where I believed those closest to me weren’t engaged in these problems. Now, I just don’t know. Would the people I interact with daily, walk out of my life if I forced them to look at ourselves and confront these problems, admit to their ownership, and strive to change? No one is perfect, but I don’t want perfect, I want kind. In ten years, that desire for kindness hasn’t changed but the places where I find it has.
In May 2009, I moved from Houston to Austin. It was both an exciting and tumultuous time. That year, I learned not to let the past influence my present, so I applied to St. Edward's University to finish my “on-hold” bachelor’s degree. On October 2nd, 2009, a Friday, I was likely elbow deep writing my Argument Analysis assignment (if my carefully saved syllabus is to be believed). Spare time was school time in 2009. In the past ten, as a non-traditional adult student, working full time, I earned my BA and my MFA.
On October 2, 2019, my husband Ryan and I have been married for 23 years, 3 months, and 17 days. On October 2, 2009, I was afraid to think of where we would be ten years into the future. Our marriage didn’t coast in the past ten. It was worked at, analyzed, counseled, and healed.
What’s the point of looking back? In a journal entry from Fall 2009, I admonished my younger self, writing in earnest:
“I think I spend too much time on nostalgia.”
I go on to question why I think my past was so great. I heeded my journal voice’s advice, though, and stopped looking back, stopped trying to live the life that my adolescent self thought I should. Instead, I work every day to focus on my steps taken within the moment. Looking back makes me happy to notice change.
Our modern selves struggle to commit to the present. The next generation are forced to fight now to secure futures that don’t involve mass shootings and an uninhabitable Earth. 2009 only hinted at these struggles. We’re in the thick of it now.
Bridgid Bender is a graduate from St. Edward’s University and Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA Writing program. Currently, she is revising and sending out stories for publication before she forgets everything she’s learned. Bridgid has been married to her husband, Ryan, for 23 years; they live in southwest Austin with their two dogs.
Bridgid wants you to get to know the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Visit nami.org.