The Plight of Paper People

Have you ever seen the future crashing down before you?

Notice I have not said crashing down around you. That would imply an imminent end is becoming, slips of predictions passing into the permanence of the present moment. Instead I am speaking of the future itself, that which we can dream of and look toward but can never touch, can never taste, can never truly understand.

Have you ever seen that come crashing down?

Lately, I’ve seen that a lot. All my youth I had vague ideas and many of them passed beyond me, out of memory, but of those that remained, many now I am unraveling, and the sensation of these thoughts of the future falling out are quite odd indeed.

For many, many long years I held the belief I would go to school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. That’s where my sister went. That’s where I did my homework for many years while she went there. That’s where I met her friends and attended community events and put down roots and believe I would be headed.

Then: Finances. The bane and bloodshed of modern society. It was much more affordable to start at community college, so that’s where I went, suspending my dreams of what I would achieve when her campus was mine.

By my second semester, I did not regret my decision. By now, I would change it for nothing.

Still, though, for quite a few semesters I held onto the belief that after I transferred, I would end up at UNCG. Now that I’m seriously looking into transferring, UNCG is barely on the list–and what low place it holds often speaks to me only as a last resort, a must-do-something if everything else fails.

I don’t regret this. I’m eager and excited to see what bold new adventures await me. The inspiration of seeing new sights, the encouragement of feeling a total shift not only inside me, but in the earth around me. The prospects of joining great minds in doing great things. My aspirations have leapt high, and I have yet to see where they will land.

But at the same time, these thoughts of going to UNCG have been held firmly in place for many years, and small things can conjure images of the sky falling and the earth splitting apart in my mind as I realize these once-solid dreams are as fluid as the wind, and they’re not blowing toward me any longer, but blowing quite clearly away.

On Tuesday my sister bought some ice cream for her and my niece from a small restaurant on campus called Yum Yum. They have the best hot dogs, and their ice cream is delicious. I’ve spent days in the past fantasizing the possibilities, of deciding I would taste one flavor of ice cream every day until I’d tried them all. And then it struck me Tuesday: There is no Yum Yum at any other college. That firm foundation was softened and sunk, leaving a small hole that I’ve yet to fill in, if ever I’ll be able to.

It’s these small things that turn life to Swiss cheese. It’s these small things we remember after we die, that we remember after someone else’s death.

I also finished reading the Lovely Bones Tuesday. It was the most saddest book I have ever read, but I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad the end was not as heartbreaking as the beginning. When I got home, there was no place left on the shelf for me to return it to. It’s a book I’m getting rid of. It was a lovely read, but I will never read it again. It is time for this one to pass on into the hands of another. So then I pulled the next book from the shelf, filled in its spot in seconds. When I finish this one, another one will pass past my hands and the process will begin again.

I stood then and looked around my room. I stood then and told myself, This house is more than a house, it is a home, but these possessions–a grave number of them–are only possessions.

And that realization haunts me. Soon, too soon, I will be past this point, this place in my life. I want to be ready for that time to come, I want to be ready to pack my things and leave. I love being home, but sometimes what we call home must itself change. It’s progression. It cannot be stopped, nor avoided, nor changed.

There’s a crude sense of satisfaction in cleaning and purging and making room, not for the sake of making room for the new, but making room to expand visually, and emotionally, and psychologically. Each bit of my history that has been drained of meaning, of significance, of recollection, all these pieces I pass unto others, every bit that leaves severs a bit of the strings that tie me down. Like Gulliver on his travels, all these threads hold us in place, but they are each so small, alone they are nothing. And should enough strands be broken, we can stand again.

This crude satisfaction carries with it a small sense of regret and longing. All these pieces I hold onto, those I can’t yet part with. Someday I know I will, and until then, it pains me to think of all the things I’ve had growing up without realizing it, when there are so many more who have had even less. What set me apart from them? What determined that I should have and not need when they’ve been forced to need and not have?

These questions plague me if I let them, and having no answers, I deny asking when I can. I put myself into other things, happier distractions, knowing that my optimism is only skin-deep, that it is only a pill for the pessimism that runs rampant in these veins.

I’ll live another day, cleaning and starting the long process of moving on, of progressing to the next era of my life. I can only hope that they’ll also live another day, all these faceless souls I’ll never know, that soon they may discover what they’ve never had, or find that they’ve had it all along.

In the end, we’re paper people. We can be written upon and ripped and torn and shredded, but we can be glued back together, if never quite the same. We can be stained and wrinkled, wet and dried out but slightly discolored and changed; we can be folded into wondrous shapes or crumpled up and tossed away.

My story lies upon my page, and it’s a piece of parchment still growing as life does with me as it will. Someday I’ll face the same fate as all others in this world, great or grim, large or small, and I’ll find myself set eternally on a reference shelf, tucked away in the back of a library, collecting dust and forgotten.

But until then, may my words be read and my life outspoken.

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One thought on “The Plight of Paper People

  1. For a long time, I never could have imagined getting a smartphone, or finding love, or at even earlier times ever finding a home or starting a study at a university.

    In retrospect, it seems we are all a lot worse at predicti g outcomes than our confirmation and attention biased minds would want to believe.

    Surprises sometimes are among the greater pleasures of life.

    P.S.: Typing on smartphones is not one of those pleasures. Reading is, however.

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