"And isn't it time we recognize, that we all lead such broken lives"?
-The Be Good Tanyas
I’m working this semester as a TA for a poli sci statistics course, up on Burnaby Mountain. I haven’t had very many occasions to get up there since moving to Vancouver – my own campus is conveniently housed downtown, right in Harbour Centre, where students creep in and out of classes relatively unnoticed by all of the conference attendees our building is constantly being rented out to. I guess that’s what you get for going to university in a prime piece of real estate in the financial district of one of the world’s most expensive cities, but for today, that is beside the point.
It’s funny and strange and sad to be around so many undergraduate students, now that I’ve got close to ten years on a lot of them. Most of the people in my class are 19 years old and I remember so vividly, like a bad, bitter, sweet and sorrowful taste on the tongue what it meant to be that age, when you had no clue who you were but were in such blissful denial of that possibility. And so, when I look around the room and see the girl with the bleached blond hair and the standard grey hoodie over an overpriced American Eagle t-shirt, the girl with the jeans her mom hemmed for her and brought to her residence room, the girl who laughs too hard and too loudly in class when the 30-something prof accidentally on purpose uses the word virgin, instead of version, the girl who rolls her eyes and flips her hair, picks at her nails and sighs audibly, because the whole tedious business of living, of life, it’s just all such a terrible bother. The guy who plays interactive dungeons and dragons on his outdated Mac, a present from his ailing grandfather upon high school graduation, the 21-year old European guy who oozes sex appeal and a power he is only beginning to harness but knows will carry him far, the girl who lays out her gel pens and colour-coded folders at the start of every class, who scribbles furious notes and tries to write away the sinking realization that it’s all a little over her head and she just isn’t cut out for this…as I look around this huge auditorium I fight back tears and hold back the desire to cry out, ‘I was one of you, once. I thought I had it, whatever ‘it’ was. I thought I knew it, knew it all, knew who I was, where I was going. I thought it would all work out.’
Because now, just a few years later and a few too many, I’ve realized that being 19 means being alive in a way you can never get back again. For I too, flipped my hair and talked about politics I didn’t understand. I too, scribbled furious notes, and never read them. But somehow, that sense of self, of myself, has faded away. And so, while I talk to these students, these teens and twenties about z-scores and standard deviations, about linear regression and homework due dates, what I really want to tell them is to hold on. To hold on to that sense of self, of possession. Because one day, just a few years down the road and a few too many, you might find yourself in a different city that will never be yours, with different friends and different tastes. You might find yourself without a net, without a safe place to land. You might find that you cry into a glass of red wine that substitutes as supper, find yourself out on a daily run when you realize you aren’t really running anywhere, you might find yourself with a boyfriend, a man who looks into your face and tells you he will perish without your love, and this is the same man who hurts and betrays you in a way you could never have imagined, never even heard of, at 19, and really why should you have?
And so on Tuesday morning, when I file back into that auditorium, and look around at the hundreds of faces, some bored, some keen, some sleepy-eyed, some smiling, when I take a seat and pull out my own notebook and pen, it will be with the realization that while I sit among them for two and a half hours every week, I sit aside, I sit outside, with the wisdom, the pain, the sorrow and the joy that sense of knowing brings.