February 25th, 2011 - Mariah Eppes
On February 25th, 2011, my journal—kept diligently in composition books for six years—was no longer a comfort to me. The notebook had morphed from a treasured place where I told every story of my little life to half-blank pages of various lists. Scribbled notes of things I wanted to remember to write later, and never did.
She was so sure of everything. That’s what I remember about the seventeen-year-old girl I was on that day. But when I revisit the journal ten years later, I can read between her attempts at certainty and notice her fear. After a disappointment with a friend, she writes: “If that wasn’t meant to be, maybe something else is?”
I had four months left in high school. I described the feeling as a rotating trick wall in my head. On one side of the wall were the things I knew and had known: school days, those rules, those expectations. On the other side was everything new, the pressure of what I wanted to become. The two sides were utterly incompatible and in constant conflict. When one side was locked in place, the other was inaccessible.
To Do says the list at the top of one of these pages. The entries are:
Accompanied by frustrations:
“I WANT TO BE LITERATE”
Written in all caps next to a list of books to tackle once I was free of these adolescent concerns. Don't be so hard on yourself! I want to urge her, through time. Take a break!
She never would have listened. In her mind, people who took breaks did not get what they wanted. And she was determined to get what she wanted (preferably before the age of 25).
Few people ever questioned her. She was persuasive, ambitious, and sometimes unflinchingly stubborn. It probably seemed like she knew what she was doing. Despite an appearance of groundedness, she was infatuated with her fantasies—with rising up and out of here, out of anything ordinary, clear out of the world.
By February 25th, she had solidified her plans.
I didn’t tell a lot of people that I applied to just one college. Many of my peers had applied to at least three; sometimes six, sometimes sixteen. I made these decisions quickly, but it did not feel reckless. I had simply decided it was inevitable. New York City. I took a dream of countless before me and made it my own. The school I’d chosen would get me close enough. (Los Angeles was the first place I intended to belong, but the college in New Jersey was cheaper than comparable schools in California, so I revised my meant-to-be’s accordingly.)
A touch of magical thinking. I imagined that I could bend reality to my will if I worked hard enough. I turned the path into fate, disguising what it really was: a choice. Just a choice that my mother was willing to support. The only fateful thing was that everything would change.
I was prepared to leave my home forever with immense nonchalance (or naiveté, depending on your perspective). Planting myself among strangers at a huge university I had only visited once? No big deal. I couldn’t conceive of people and places I loved—in their illusion of permanence—becoming distant memories of another lifetime. If I’d truly understood the magnitude of the choice, I might have been too afraid to go.
But on February 25th, 2011, I was not afraid to go.
When the new life began in earnest, I dismissed the girl who had brought me there. She believed many fallacies and delusions. She believed it was her job to make life fulfilling in some objective way; to make things ultimately, finally, good. And if “life” didn’t turn out, she would only have herself to blame. Foolish, I thought. So unnecessarily punishing. For a time I felt she had given me nothing but bad habits to unlearn.
But ten years later, I look for her in unexpected moments. I want to reclaim some of her fire. Ten years later, I’m proud of her. Her fear and naiveté, her courage and her dreams-by-25—almost none of which came true. (Almost, I have to add, writing from my apartment in Brooklyn.)
And her most constant belief, her pursuit of what she couldn’t see and had no evidence for: a different kind of life. The particulars of her desires never really mattered. The important thing was the wanting.
Mariah Eppes is a writer in New York City. More of her work can be found at birdbyrocket.com and on Instagram at @bird.by.rocket.
She encourages you to check out the resources for digital well-being available at The Center for Humane Technology.