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Three Minutes

September 9th, 2023


It recently occurred to me that I’ve attended four schools within the past four years, and five schools within the past six. Like most technical hardships of my life, I didn’t give this idea much thought at first, as the weight of it is usually in the subtext of my emotion. In other words, I think stressors of the like affect me in ways that are more akin to an auto-immune disease. They weaken me to make other negative aspects of life hit me harder. Loneliness, I guess.

The whole idea is paradoxical to me. I think I’ve seen more of the world in my childhood than a majority of people do in their entire lifetime. I’ve experienced more than most kids my age, so I think I’m able to deal with problems using a larger perspective. It’s never that deep. I’m proud of that skill. Because I’ve lived all over, I’ve also accumulated more close connections than I would’ve otherwise. But the thing is, I still don't know what to call my home town.

It’s all quantity over quality, I guess. As close as I am to my best friends, I didn’t grow up with them. I’ll never have that.

Still, my understanding of “close” is limited to my experience and my perception of other people’s experience. Grass is always greener-type thing. Maybe that’s all coming out of my ass, but I guess I can’t help but wonder.

I always feel like I’m falling behind, somehow. But maybe that’s just the fact that each of the last four years have started with me introducing myself to a new cast of friends. Unlike most, I haven’t had that second year to settle down since I was sixteen years old. I’m almost twenty now.

God, twenty. The actual number doesn’t scare me as much as the distance from sixteen does. My growth since then -- it’s terrifying to imagine that I knew even less than I do now. When I think about how my twenties are gonna be, I can only reference the past nine years, only seven of which I had anything even resembling self-awareness. How, when I’m twenty-two, nineteen will be just as far off. I’ll probably still be in New York. That’s weird.

This challenge I have to live in New York for at least five years -- more than I have lived anywhere in my two decades -- seems almost mythical. I actually cannot imagine what year four will feel like. What having a friend in proximity for that amount of time could feel like. Comfort, I guess.

Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing. And the closest I can get to it is with people I can only call on the phone. The device I always dread putting in my pocket has consistently served as my salvation. It’s sad, because I can only “check in” with those people. Their lives expand beyond me and mine beyond them. That version of friendships where we didn’t need to try is gone. If it ever returns, we’ll be different people. To quote a letter I wrote to my then-best friend at the end of my senior year,

“I recognize that this isn’t goodbye, but it certainly feels like it. Though we can repeat a million times and so forth how we’ll see each other after our current separation, I think we can both acknowledge that it won’t be the same. More specifically, as college life expectedly hits us with the unexpected, we may mature and grow in separate directions that will lead us to some conclusion upon our reunion that can be summarized as a more simplistic version of ‘we changed over time.’”

Although I think the statement is overly cynical (as most statements I made at the time were), it’s not entirely wrong. We’re still friends and we keep good enough contact. But we’re not in the same world anymore. There’s just no avoiding that.

I should probably cut myself some slack; the way I feel about things and people don’t necessarily equate to how they are. I’m gonna get comfortable soon. I know. I also know that it’s okay that I’m not now. This is the final stretch. The final school. Then I can get done learning all these trial-by-error life lessons and actually start applying them to my connections with people.

I have three years at NYU. Even though that’s not the traditional four that most college students get, that’s the most time I’ve spent in a school since I was twelve. That's followed closely by the two-and-a-half years I spent in California. Oddly enough, because of that, I look back at my freshman year of high school as my favorite year of school. The first half, at least.

Weird to think about that move from MAGA California to the political opposite, but intellectual equal in Northern Virginia. You’d think that a coast swap within one country wouldn’t be as hard as international nomadizing, but a combination of the contrasting cultures (no one said “that’s cap” in Visalia) and my teenage hormones led to it being the hardest move of my life. I’ve looked back at some pieces I wrote to cope and I’m not really sure how to feel about them. In an essay I creatively titled “Existentialism,” I wrote, “There’s a nice way of looking at it, though. I wouldn't say that I want to spend an eternity anywhere... like maybe an ending isn't a bad thing.”

Because of the fact that this quote’s positive outlook directly contrasts the thesis of this blog post, I feel inclined to argue against my feeble fifteen-year-old self. But I don’t think he’s wrong, either.

I’ll defend his point with a later lesson: in my senior year of high school, my only year in Hong Kong, I (temporarily) shed my sexual nomadizing to speed-run romantic entanglements. I had three “girlfriends” over the course of that one year with the full knowledge that each was destined for failure by both circumstance and my own immaturity. The third, although the most unofficial, was probably the most impactful. One of those end-of-the-year flings where you say “screw it” and ask out your crush. Except it was the end of high school and the likelihood of our romance continuing through college was nil. A fact that we both knew and, thus, didn’t bother to kid ourselves with testing. We had a little over a month together. I know this because half the time I was worried about how short it was. When I wasn’t worrying about that, I was worried about how much time I wasted being worried. Like I wasn’t able to accept what comfort I could get.

Then, in a moment about as high school as it gets, my perspective shifted with a film. King of Hearts was one of those throw-away pretentious French anti-war movies of the 1960s that proved a trite point with excessive satire. There’s a scene at the climax of the film where Alan Bates’s character, having been exhausted by the French shenanigans that encompassed the plot, wakes up to find out that the bomb he was sent to diffuse is to go off in three minutes and kill him along with everyone in the cast. He turns to his whimsical love interest, played by Geneviève Bujold, in sadness, “In three minutes, everything will be over. I don’t want to die. We only have three minutes left to live.” She pauses, smiles at him, and says, “three minutes is great.”

Three minutes was great.

But that three minutes has been over for a long time. So has high school. Soon, so will my teens. The friends I have now may be gone too. Just because I’m no longer moving geographically doesn’t mean that my life won’t completely shift into another direction. I have had and am going to have more three-minute futile joys. I’ll laugh with people that I know I’ll never see again. I’ll love people I know I have no future with. But in those three minutes I get real joy. In those three minutes, I feel comfort. Happy, I guess.

So maybe I should take that lesson as an opportunity to stop sweating the big stuff. To live from one three-minutes to the next. To stop worrying about my near-certain failure and to, instead, focus on joy. Matthew 6:27, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” In other words, what has worrying brought you other than wasted time? The pain of love’s loss will be no less if I dwell on it, and it’ll always be there for me to relive in those late, lonesome nights. But the joy of it is only in the present. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Something sad I realized while writing this is that I don’t think anyone has noticed that I’ve dressed up as Charlie Brown for Halloween every year since my junior year of high school. I think this year will be the first time that’s happened. I wanna let that gag get old. I want people to roll their eyes when I pull up in that over-sized, poorly customized yellow polo. I want people to be surprised when I inevitably end up dressing as a Ninja Turtle one year.

I’m almost there. Now may be the last time I’ll ever be in this social limbo, unsure what friends will stick past September. I could not be more excited to live through it. To take my twenties three minutes at a time. To find that joy again. To be comfortable, I guess.

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