When A Memory Becomes A Stranger by Mayana Nell

Some people don’t visit their high schools until the reunion, which makes everyone fearful of if they changed for the better or for the worst. Some folks don’t visit until they are back home and just stop by to remember that that place doesn’t just exist in their dreams. For a moment in time, it was their whole world. Some never visit and stay away from the building by all means necessary. High school reunions happen to be something that is portrayed in many iconic films like in 10 years featuring Channing Tatum, or Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. It feeds into this thought we have of who’s going to be there? Are they still together?  How does it mirror where I should be or shouldn’t be? You cross paths again with a memory that makes you look back, and think twice before you take any more steps forward.

See I never actually left home. I’ve been in New York my whole life -from elementary to college I have been in the city that raised me. This leads me to have quick access to many memory lanes. But I don’t actually visit as much as one would expect. You create new routines, new train stops, new coffee spots and favorite songs that you play to death on train trips. In the words of John Mayer,  we’ll never stop this train. Life continues forward and it is only in the moments that we are in stillness that we might remember – met at these crossroads.

Going to a high school like LaGuardia has allowed me to be able to visit without actually making it a big thing. We are the Fame school for gosh sake. I can go to any annual choir performance, and it won’t be creepy that I don’t have peers on the stage, or my child to video tape, or my favorite niece/goddaughter to bring flowers for.  When we got on that stage we weren’t only performing for our little worlds and communities of love-  we were performing for all of New York. We were a demonstration of what  funding art education can produce.

But here I am at 10 am, on a Friday in June, sitting in the outside section of Lincoln Center, a block away from my school- and I feel like a stranger. It’s crazy how time works right? I took the one train just the way I did when I was younger, but this time without any backpack or with my eyes closed every few minutes due to complete exhaustion of the routine,  without trying to memorize any sheet music or finish the last question of a math assignment while subway surfing. I saw young girls with backpacks and headphones in their own world.  The coffee truck was still on the corner of 65th and Broadway. How beautiful that some things don’t change. The train is still filled with kids in vibrant colors and outfits that challenge conformity. The hallways were still filled with art and stories of youth that were experiencing this world with little protection of its cruelty.

I found myself going down the line of questions that maybe some do when they go to these reunions. Have I changed for the better or for the worst?  I have this clear memory of the last day of classes. We had a day of goodbyes, some I would see at graduation, some that I can only remember in passing dreams or yearbook revisits. I remember I was wearing this dress that I thrifted, these gold hoops, a tote bag, and these chunky blue/white/black sketchers. I didn’t want to go home yet. I didn’t want to be with my thoughts in a way that reminded me how much of what was next, how much unknown – how fearful I was that I was going to be alone. See, but none of the people I surrounded myself with wanted to hang after, none of them invited me to what was the beginning of their next chapter. I started what I called solo dates at the end of my junior year. It was the beginning of becoming my own friend. So what did I do? I took myself to my favorite places and enjoyed my own presence and I remember my nerves calming and the world opening.

So I come back to this question, have I changed for the better?  I don’t think I can truthfully look at Mayana in her 17 year old form and call the foundation of this change bad. She was surviving. The same way in some lenses,  we still are. We took a step forward. We took a step in the unknown because somewhere inside we knew there was more. A place where we can thrive, for not just who we would become but who we always were. I sit here and I feel a wave of memories, of pain and joy. Of deep worry about who I would become and who would be to my left and my right. This place feels like a stranger, it’s no longer mine as we passed it to the next generation of youth to call home- but those emotions and those memories are mine to keep. Mine to process, and mine to comfort with the presence of who I am today. I think we have for sure evolved, I think we are more settled on who we are and who we hope to be. Many of the tools I took a leap of faith trying out here, are now ingrained in the ways I show care for myself today. Her fears, I hold space for as I feel them in new ways as I graduate college and the world gets even a little more expansive and at the same time a little smaller and demanding.

I feel her presence, I feel her anxiousness and her worry. I feel the parts of her that are filled with so much boxed energy, but also so much drowning sadness.  For that, I take a deep deep breath and remind her that it was never her. That was her trying to stay whole in a society that never supported her wholeness. A reminder that I am here now and the strength she looked for was always within. To let those fears go because I have it from here. I will keep  her memories safe, I will continue to step forward for the both of us. 

You are free from this world that can be cruel to young girls trying to just be. You were doing your very best and for that I say thank you for believing that there could one day be a  form that allows me to be me.

Who would have known that a trip down a memory road that became a stranger could be as healing as it was.

Mayana is a born and raised Brooklyn gal with strong Black and Latina roots. Her roots serve as the basis for her commitment to nature, wellness, and community. A visual artist, writer in training, and intersectional climate justice activist using different avenues of creation to not only tell her story, but amplify the ones of her community. Mayana uses her voice and passions to spread light and joy while also creating content being a young woman of color. She is committed to actively promoting the knowledge and mindset that supports global awareness of environmental and racial injustices working with national and local climate organizations.

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