Time: it might be the most difficult thing for me to fully comprehend.
Time is, by essence, logical. It can be measured. It can be graphed and charted.
It can be traced.
But time is also complicated by other swirling elements that are as central to the truth as time. The emotion you feel at a time can make the empirical nature of what really is or was shift. You no longer see purely the moment of the time; you feel yourself while you're in it -- and afterward.
This I know for sure: time, though linear, can feel cyclical, and it also -- no matter how many seconds were in the actual minute -- can feel ultra-quick or terribly plodding.
Time moves differently during the summer than in the winter, regardless of how many hours were in the day of each season, no matter that it's the same amount of hours.
Time moves differently when you're content than when you're not.
Time moves differently when you feel the stirrings of love.
Time doesn't move at all when you feel the sting of loss.
I've never been someone who was afraid of time passing, but I think I might be developing that fear. And as the minutes pass and I'm aware of the fear that's brewing, I keep trying to fight the emotion. See, you can't fight time; the knowing parts of me understand that. In many ways, you get to control how your own time passes by and there is something liberating about that knowledge that I can and do embrace. But it's perhaps that I now see my life in terms of mini-eras and I see that the reign of some of those eras almost melting, slipping into the winds of memory, and in undertaking the process of writing, I keep revisiting times that have passed, and there's a sense of loss to that -- something which has always elicited a deep dread deep inside of me.
Looking back to a series of years, like those spent in high school, I'm fascinated by that which I remember. I know so many of those thoughts I have now of who I was then are accurate; I have journal upon journal of proof, reminding me in the same scrawled handwriting I have today of what the moment of the memory was really like. I can almost cross-reference a memory with those journals making that time is incredibly vivid. I certainly don't wish I could go back and relive all those years, but I'd pay to pick and choose from the time and I'd take the choice for a re-do here and there. Still -- there's very little I'd ultimately change.
The first year of high school was spent in Manhattan in a school I went to in Chelsea. I'm glad I was able to have that experience, but I'll go on official record that a suburban high school experience is better by far. In the suburbs you get to drink on lawns and throw up into somebody's hedge and you smell autumn in the trees and bundle up for a football game of whose outcome you could care less. You're there to wear your new sweater and to walk up the bleachers trying to look unfazed by the presence of the boy you like. New Year's is spent in somebody's basement. When someone starts driving, you realize you can pile eight people into a car that should hold only five by sprawling across your friends in the back seat, and everyone know where everyone lives
That's the stuff I miss. That's the time that's over.
I don't miss crying in English class after I had written something about my father who had died just weeks prior. I don't miss losing my friend the following year in a car accident, or learning too early that grief manifests differently in different people. I don't miss seeing the guy I liked walk into a separate room with a girl at a party and not come out for a while. I don't miss telling him on a beach one night that I wasn't the kind of girl you treat like shit and that he could go fuck himself.
I don't miss Math class or SAT prep or coming home with hickeys from a party and trying to convince my mother that we'd all given each other hickeys, knowing she didn't believe a word I said.
I don't miss wanting those years to end so the next part could just start already. I wished away time; it's a foolish thing to have done, but it's a lesson you only learn with certainty through the process of retrospect.
In college, the journaling turned to videotaping. That time, especially the last year, is even more vivid because it was all recorded and then rewatched constantly. I was a reincarnated version of a still-living Laura Mulvey. I stared at myself and my smile and the pores on my friends' faces as they went flitting across my TV constantly, especially in the immediate year following graduation because I just missed that time so damn much.
There becomes something very natural about being a part of a defined group, one you defined for yourself. There was something inherently wonderful, even to a person like me who has always enjoyed her alone-time, to live in a house with eleven other people. You know -- always -- that someone is there. I guess to a person who has experienced genuine loss, that factor was far more comforting than I realized at the time.
I miss the times of my legs dangling off the porch swing and seeing one of my friends walk up the street. I miss crawling into someone's bed on Sunday mornings, leaving my own room so that I could snuggle with people I loved and that there was no actual time that our day had to begin. I even miss writing papers, because I was so good at it -- and I knew it. I miss walking to class and smiling at the same people and talking to my friend as she got ready for a Finance seminar. I miss walking into a bar in a group of twelve.
I don't miss the fear of those last days caused by the "what's-next?" of it all. I don't miss knowing with a clear certainty that only particular friendships would really survive the passage of time. I don't miss setting my alarm to cram for a Science final that was made up of questions, none of which I would understand. I don't miss regretting that I should have broken up with my long-distance boyfriend sometime around sophomore year, even though I loved him with my entire heart, but that being bound to someone kept me bound to playing it safe. I don't miss the final moments of packing up my bedroom senior year and trying to rip the Sesame Street border I had put up in August off the wall and ripping my nails, every one of them, into broken shards.
I really don't miss the final moment of leaving, knowing that, visiting aside, the time was truly over.
I miss the summer following college when I lived in the city and dared myself to do anything that would have been considered by the safe portion of my brain to be something dangerous. I careened around those filthy streets that summer, getting myself into all kinds of strange situations, and I remember them all. I learned how to separate "dangerous" from "wrong." I learned how to edit on film stock and to find my way home from anywhere at any time of dawn or dusk.
I learned who to trust and who just had a good line. I learned a night that was somewhat intimate didn't mean there would be lasting intimacy. I learned what to do when the N or the R subway screeches to a halt and then breaks down completely.
I learned that the summer goes quickly when you're afraid of the upcoming autumn.
I learned a lot of lessons, and I came out perhaps too unscathed by them and that's become something I'm acutely aware of as I move into a new time. See, time changes everyone, not just you. Who you were to someone and who you are after a certain period of time may not be the same thing anymore, but when you're someone like me who records every memory and every moment to file into a journal or a piece of mental footage, it's hard to reconcile that that's something that makes you different.
And different isn't always better.
I don't miss the earliest days of teaching, especially the first day where my knees literally knocked together in nervous energy, and thank goodness I had worn a long skirt so only I knew it was happening. I don't miss one of my boyfriends I was with for many years and I never regret that we didn't work out, though I loved celebrating Christmas with his family. I don't miss my earliest apartments and fighting to figure out how to pay rent or having to teach summer school or thinking, You know: I'm going to write a book one day.
I miss, in some relationships I had, the moments of pure hope, ones I thought were also bracketed with the logic that it could work. I miss the times of someone laying his head on me and me wanting to give that person a massage instead of getting one myself. I miss the moments of discovering that someone snores and when he doesn't have to ask anymore and just knows that you take your coffee black.
I don't miss the internal sense of dread, the sick sixth sense, that makes you understand that someone is being evasive with you. I don't miss running an entire night and all of the sentences spoken through my mind to come to a conclusion that makes any sort of sense. And I don't anymore relish that I have the ability to remember moments like actors learn to remember lines, because remembering them doesn't change things.
Memory makes things hurt more.
As time passes, every moment becomes an action and each, in turn, transforms into a memory. As time passes, I find there are more things I simply don't want to remember, but this is who I am now, someone who catalogues moments, and I don't think I can change that part of myself anymore.
Time turns you into more of who you already are but it challenges all of that which you know. Time makes you realize that time itself is precious -- and fleeting. Time makes you hold on to things you know you should, but as the time passes by, the grip becomes weaker somehow, even as your resolve remains strong.
Time passing makes me understand that timing is everything. It makes me want to embrace the ticking minutes and scrub my brain of the times when I was hurt to make more room for trust.
But time is a funny thing. I can't forget certain times, and even if I could, Eternal-Sunshine style, I wouldn't want to. I know, of course, that I can learn from the passage of time, and I have learned a lot. I know, for instance, that there comes a time when I stop thinking about certain time periods. I know how long it takes to not associate hearing a song with just one moment in your life when it's a song you had heard so many times before and after the moment occurred.
I know that time is a thing I cannot control, and that lack of control is both terrifying and liberating to me.
I don't like seeing the people I love get older.
I don't like that I feel less of a pull towards my job than I did ten years ago, though I love it still.
I don't love knowing that it's already mid-August.
I really don't love not being sure of whether to bestow trust upon somebody new.
But I also like that a few years ago I wasn't writing much and that in this time of my life I am. And I like knowing that I've figured out, in so many ways, what I want. And I genuinely have appreciation that what used to hurt no longer does, and for that I entirely credit the passage of time, and it makes me realize that that which is scary can also be the most beautiful in its purity -- and the knowledge of that allows me to move forward, knowing that the very nature of time kind of gives me no other choice.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Also be sure to check out her website at nellkalter.com Her Twitter is @nell_kalter