Dear Sophomore Year,
I don’t know where to begin or how to commit you to the page.
I almost have to admire your sheer magnitude. You’ve created the perfect storm — drama, rejection, loss. All I’ve been able to say is, “This is too big.” But big things need to be written about. And hard years deserve letters, too.
To your credit, you haven’t been all bad. Your first month held wonder in the air. This campus welcomed me home. I celebrated the return of friends to school, met bubbly freshmen, and daydreamed about what the year would look like. Sundresses and iced coffee in the summer. Trips to Boston and apple picking in the fall. A winter of snowmen on the sidewalk and cozy movie nights, and a spring that left me begging to stay.
Life moved fast. A good summer turned into a difficult fall, but it was the usual kind of difficult, of things not going the way you’d hoped they would. A kind of difficult that makes you realize why people write songs about heartbreak, and makes you listen to them, and makes you move on. I went to class, I declared a major, I made new friends. Life didn’t slow down — until it did. Until it crashed.
No one quite tells you what to do when you get the news you’ve lost a friend. No one tells you who to call, or where to go, or how to write about it. There’s nothing to cushion the blow, and there’s nothing you can tell yourself that will make it better. It just is.
You just are. I can’t blame you for being the year my friend was taken, even if I want to. Still, after all of that, you weren’t easy to trust.
I hesitated to approach you again in January. I focused on what I could control. Classes, calendars, routines. I counted one good thing every day. The soundlessness of falling snow. A beautiful walk down Brattle Street. Colorful nails. Cups of tea. Friend dates. Themed parties. It worked as well as I guess it could.
I’m finding it hard to write about you. I can’t sum you up into distinctive parts as I could in freshman year, and I’m having trouble remembering which moments of you happened when. You’re a blur to me. A tangled mess of experiences that seem small and unexceptional in the grand scheme of things. It’s not your fault — you’ve been stained by grief, and I can’t clean you up into something presentable in one letter.
I guess what I should admit is that you’ve disappointed me. You lack the newness of last year — the “magic” I once wrote about — and you lack the constancy that was supposed to make up for that. The reality is that I’m still nostalgic for freshman year. But I also gravitate toward that nostalgia; it’s what keeps me close to the memories of the person I’ve lost.
At each step, this campus reminds me of him — each time I pass by the Inn, each time I eat Krave cereal in the dining hall, each time I find a penny on the ground. I try to embrace that. I try to linger in the ambiguity of how I feel.
Grief is full of hopelessness and full of hope. Somehow, the two manage to coexist. Hopelessness is the biting truth that goodness does not always prevail — a truth I’ve learned the hard way. Hope is the quiet resilience that gets me up in the morning despite that. Life after loss seems to be about blindly choosing hope. Even when I don’t believe in it, even when the truth is staring me in the face. I choose hope because deep down, I know some part of me isn’t ready to give it up.
In my letter to my freshman year, I wrote, “You weren’t flawless. But you showed up.” It’s funny reading that now, knowing that my problems then were so trivial in comparison. But it’s true for you, too.
You’ve shown up. No one can argue with that. You’ve woken me up for 7:15 a.m. spin class (surprisingly euphoric), you’ve walked by me through reflective strolls by the Quad, you’ve spent fun, delirious nights with me at The Crimson. You’ve even shown me there’s a bright side to hardship, the way shared grief makes room for new friendships that quickly turn into family.
What’s left after loss is not nothing. What’s left after loss is love. I know I have a lot of it to give.
I wasn’t ready for you, but I’m steadier now. Steady enough to end this letter with the gratitude I’ve worked hard to find. For friends who make me laugh and let me cry. For intellectual work that ignites my brain and reminds me what I care about. For this campus — it holds so much. For the privilege of this fragile life. For the growing confidence that it’s worth believing in.
I don’t know what next year will hold, and I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. But even if the perfect junior year isn’t around the corner, I know what is: the same safety in the people I know, the same desire to try, the same love I can’t and won’t let go of. And for now, that’s enough for me.
— Magazine Editor-at-Large Michal Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bymgoldstein.