I got to know my bedroom ceiling pretty well after finding out about the Divorce.
Every day when I got home from school, I would lie on my bed and stare up at the large crack imprinted onto my ceiling’s off-white paint for hours. A long, jagged line that ran angrily between two walls, the crack was, to me, the demarcation of my life into Before and After, a symbolic eviction notice addressed to my concept of family, a too-perfect visual representation of the something inside me that splintered the moment I read, “I stopped loving your mom 10 years ago.”
That was when I was a senior in high school. It’s been a year and half. I don’t stare at ceiling cracks anymore; I do my best to avoid them. Which is easy to do in this place, where sunshine abounds even in January, and p-sets and internship applications are due in the next 24 hours, and elegant palm trees tower so high above you they make you feel simultaneously small and uplifted.
In that sense, Stanford feels like summer camp to me. It’s as if I’m perpetually on a – stressful yet inspiring, elitist, computer science-obsessed – vacation away from the realities of home, tucked into my lofted bed with a mountain of work and freshman adventures always serving to distract me from dwelling on heavier memories and emotions.
To be fair, I think I willfully impose some of that distraction onto myself. I distance myself from late-night conversations in the dorm that have the potential to get serious very quickly, going to sleep right after the inevitable, “Is the same red you see the same red I see?” and the heated discussion over the intricacies of the Mandela Effect, and right before anyone brings up guilt. I’ve been successful so far.
For the last quarter and half, surrounded by friends who are more familiar with my humor than my metaphorical ceiling cracks, and by strangers who honestly don’t know anything about me other than that I love super high-waisted pants and that I’m a funny drunk who enjoys shouting the status of my virginity at the top of my lungs, I have almost forgotten an important fact, a mental burden that has seemed to weigh less the more time I spend on this campus: I haven’t seen or spoken to my dad in over a year.
But my hometown doesn’t forget. When I visited for break, I was shaken by how strongly place is linked to past. Reminders of my fragmented family were strewn everywhere. While I was picking up groceries, I almost dropped the carton of milk I was carrying to my car when I saw the basketball court where my dad taught me to ride a bike for the first time – 7-year-old me had been so giddy that she rode in circles around the game of keep-away my mom and brother were playing for what felt like forever.
When I was catching up with a friend at a local restaurant, I suddenly recalled how, in a booth much like the one in which we were sitting, my dad pulled out a clock he had dislodged from our living room wall just so he could document 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2011 and force us – all of us, that is, Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter – to take pictures at the buffet.
The influx of memories that bombarded me was ruthless. I was unprepared for the psychological backlash that awaited me after a months-long emotional hibernation – yet as someone who has moved homes more than 10 times in her life, I should have known that it was unreasonable of me to ever think upping and leaving could solve anything. To assume that just because I barely dedicated any energy to thinking about the state of my family in college – unless it was 3 a.m. and there was no one else in the computer cluster of my dorm and I suddenly felt really, really alone, as does everyone – that I was getting better.
I didn’t understand that even though my environment was so wholly new and unfamiliar with me and my history, my pain was still relevant. It sucks that it is, yes, but there’s nothing I can do about it except take it in, address it, talk to someone about it (or not) and keep moving.
The day before my flight back to Stanford, I took a wrong exit off of the highway just so I could drive by the picket-fenced, flawlessly suburban house in which my (pre-divorce) parents and my (pre-military) brother and my (pre-college) self used to live. Pre-depression. Pre-my-dad-leaving-for-Mississippi. Pre-the-one-bedroom-apartment-my-mom-now-comes-home-to-every-night-after-work. Pre– a lot of things.
But I was struck when I remembered one thing: The crack on my bedroom ceiling had always been there, even when we moved in all those years ago. I had just forgotten. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Contact Yanichka Ariunbold at yanichka ‘at’ stanford.edu.