My room is covered with photographs.
All taken within the past two or so years, each wall is dedicated to a different time in my life.
The pegboard to the right of my bed is jam-packed with scenes from abroad in London, Hallstatt, and Paris. The wall to the left above some storage space is covered in Prague, Salzburg and western England. The corner above my dresser is dedicated to my summer in Washington, D.C. And the wall I stare at when I wake up every morning is aligned with moments of my senior year – right now.
Before returning to Chapel Hill a week ago, I went to Walgreens to print out some more moments to put on that wall. Unintentionally, I’ve made sort of a timeline and have my year progressing from right to left near my turntable. I was hanging up my latest additions and taping the last photo I had to that timeline when I noticed I had run out of space.
Looking across at moments of football games, my trip to Los Angeles, trees on campus that changed with the seasons, my friends at concerts, and visits with my boyfriend, it hit me with all the dramatic irony in the world that this was the full picture of my senior year because of what’s happening right now.
This virus has taken things I thought I was entitled to away from me by the ring of a CNN notification.
I had my last physical day of class, ever, without my knowledge. Likely, I may not see some classmates again unless our professional lives cross paths in the future. I will not get to walk across a stage in my blue cap and gown and wave to my family, closing the book on my collegiate experience.
There are another a million tiny things that fall between the seams of those examples. They are all things that are about celebrating being together, reaching milestones, and attraversiamo (let’s cross over). It was last night when I was staring at this “finished” wall that I recalled some of the most common phrases pushed at me over the last seven months:
“Enjoy your senior year. Seriously.”
“It goes by before you know it.”
“Take this time.”
They all sounded like they were coming from a place of experience and wisdom. That one day I would be in on the secret of what it feels like to look back and see how everything unfolded and wish I had paused more to take it all in.
This sentiment has always annoyed me for some reason. It makes me scrutinize over whether or not I’m having “enough” fun or if I’m giving too much of my energy to the future before it arrives. It makes me paranoid thinking that those older than me assume I don’t quite get it –– what the weight of these last few months means.
In the times we are in now, it’s easy to look back and interpret these sayings as warning signs. I look around at my friends who are questioning how they’ve lived their senior year and are worried that they didn’t make it count. Worried that without participating in the remaining traditions and expectations, they have been shortchanged or cheated out of an experience every college graduate before was pretty much guaranteed.
But then I remembered a song I listened to for the first time at the beginning of fall last semester:
I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off my entire life, thanks to my dad, but I had never come across this song until a friend had shared it on an Instagram story back in the fall. It’s the only song I can recall ever crying during the first listen. It so effortlessly encapsulated the space I was in — and am still in. It was written for people in my shoes who are so close to … a lot of things.
Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, then tell me
Why are you still so afraid?
/ / /
Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You’d better cool it off before you burn it out
You’ve got so much to do
And only so many hours in a day
/ / /
But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even
Get halfway through
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you
/ / /
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?
/ / /
These are just a few excerpts, but any lyric from “Vienna” hits.
It’s a song about being a young dreamer. About being so excited for the next stage in life. About setting yourself to a different standard to achieve success. It’s a song about believing in yourself to a point where you think the “right now” can wait; what’s around the corner is what’s worth looking at.
But then there’s Vienna.
Now, I’ve had my own experiences in Vienna, Austria – it was fine – but I know the real Vienna is not waiting for me. Vienna, in these terms, is life beyond the dream. It’s the life that will happen regardless of what we hope and plan for – exciting or boring, what we asked for or what we didn’t.
We are constantly forgetting about Vienna when she’s tapping on our shoulder, telling us to chill the [expletive] out and embrace her for what she is.
Vienna right now is not just this period of unknowns with COVID-19. It’s also the life after it.
There are many things that this time has taught me, but the perspective I’ve gained combining the last two weeks with this song is that not only are we not entitled to so much we think we are owed but that we have failed to acknowledge the things that have always made a chapter of our lives complete; that will always remain.
I’ve had a good senior year because I learned something from a teacher. I’ve had a good senior year because I made new friends when I thought I had met everyone I needed to. I’ve had a good senior year because my surroundings feel comfortable, and comfort alone yields for change.
It’s been good because it is what’s true. Oddly, there is comfort in that.
So as I look at my wall of photographs now and I examine the full timeline I’ve created, I am happy with the image I see because it is the truth of my experience. There were photos I was waiting to paste up there – Chapel Hill in the spring, graduation, pictures of friends, teachers, and dance performances – but I am now thinking of Vienna and of where and when she waits for me.
This is all happening right now, and we don’t know for how long or how much worse it could get, but we know that something on the other end waits for us – good or bad, exciting or boring, what we asked for or what we didn’t.
Billy says we can “afford to lose a day or two,” but maybe we have to miss two months (or more).
I plan on being patient for once.