I’ve never been fond of keeping track of the passing of time via the New Year. Each calendar year gives you these weird 365 day chunks that start with senseless optimism and end, frequently, with this cold, harsh disappointment. It’s akin to a night of drinking and partying with your friends. You’re not yourself in those moments, though you may temporarily be a more ideal version of yourself. You talk big talk, embellish the best stories you’ve got, and make promises you can’t keep. In the morning we wake up with fragmented memories gently meandering in the bubbling mess of our thoughts, slowly feeding in as the day goes on. So as the hangover cures the night, the calendar year treats our bigger promises, failures resolved with “Next year I’ll be better.” I generally segment and layer my time whenever major life events happen. It helps me track progress where I want to make it, and more importantly, when. In any given track, I know precisely how much focus I’ve given it between major landmarks. Instead of tangible, numerical goals, I can just subconsciously keep track of where I’m at compared to where I was at said landmark, so long as I’ve dedicated some of my time towards creating a separation between the two. For me, it creates less pressure to absolve past failures and transgressions, or set unachievable goals for your future self, albeit you can no longer fall back on that yearly reset.
Speaking of segments, I’m approaching a year being single, and I’m reflecting a lot on a younger version of myself. When I was 17, I broke up with my second girlfriend. We had a weird tiff and I stopped talking to her. We went to different high schools and a few days later she tried to track me down on my lunch break, but was unsuccessful. She let me know things were over. A few months later one of my best friends started dating her. He asked me if that was okay. I was naïve and didn’t want to cause any animosity between us, so I said yes. I remember the months that followed with clarity: it was bitter cold that winter; I would never take off this hideous blue-and-cream white letterman style jacket my dad had given me, and a sense of betrayal lurked behind me at all times — not from my friend or my ex, but deep within myself.
The next few months were a downward spiral for me: I dropped out of a hilarious Music Theory class my band director had created and opted for a study hall so I wouldn’t have to be near my friend; I took petty jabs over social media and text; I went to prom by myself, wore a top hat and ruined most of my photos with this goofy smile I felt like doing in the moment. As high school came to a close, I became more jaded with each passing day. I didn’t enjoy that summer like I could have, and didn’t prepare for college like I should have. The night before my first day of college classes started, I told this same friend, whom I hadn’t seen all summer, that I wasn’t familiar with campus and would like to walk around to go find the location of each building for the next day. I showed up to his dorm and he showed me around. He was living with another one of my best friends from high school, who happened to be dating a friend of my ex. I remember seeing my friend and my ex as his PC wallpaper, which he quickly closed and laughed. So did I. I knew in that moment that we were going to be alright. We walked around for an hour or two in the dead of night. It was hot and humid, our words were accompanied by the constant buzz of college nightlife, and my anxiety about the impending semester was, for a moment, lifted.
The next few months were very busy. I was quickly distracted from any hostility I had built up, but my friend and I didn’t see each other in this time. While eating lunch on campus one day, I saw another one of my best friends from high school. He informed me that my friend and my ex had split. Shortly after, I texted my friend and asked him to go get some coffee with me, playing clueless. I didn’t even drink coffee at this time, and neither did he. Regardless of what we drank, he informed me that he and my ex had split. I was expecting to feel this massive burden lifted from my chest, but instead I felt more conflicted than ever. The enmity that had compounded over the previous year was exhausting, and I felt that a significant amount of my time was lost to thinking about it. It would take me a few years to fully shake that feeling. Still, my friend and I worked to recapture our former friendship. He got me drunk for the first time, and two semesters later we were going to be living together in a downtrodden apartment across town. Things were good.
During this time, I got the urge to message my ex and ask if she wanted go grab lunch to catch up. She told me no. A few weeks later, she messaged me and said she had given it some thought and said it would be nice to catch up. We went to lunch at Zaxby’s and it was extraordinarily awkward. She told me she was sorry for dating my friend. I had spent so much time resenting my own actions, I had forgotten how others perceived the same situation. Still, if an apology was ever owed, it was years overdue. Over that same summer, I thought a lot about how angry I was over the whole situation, despite it being two years removed at that point. Eventually, I sort of just forgot why I was ever mad at all. Months later, my friend and I were hanging out and talking in his bedroom at our apartment. I don’t remember anything we talked about but it was the first real connection we had managed in several years. I remember worrying the whole night that one of us would bring it up, we’d cry a little bit, hug it out, then things would be alright. Thankfully, we didn’t. Before we knew it, the sun was rising in his East-facing window. Time had passed in more ways than one, and a sizable amount of the hefty burden I had been carrying was lifted that morning. We bought donuts at a nearby donut shop, came home, and passed out.
That entire experience was the first time I remember thinking about my life in “pre-” and “post-” terms. There was before and after that event, and not much else seemed to matter. In that brief two year period there were two landmarks, and I made substantial progress in between them. As I’m revisiting 9 years later on a meaningless Tuesday night, I’ve concluded that very little that happened when I was 17-19 mattered much. Still, I find it important to revisit these experiences and recall them with as much clarity as I can. It helps me keep track of the passage of time. And if a younger me can make such meaningful progress in seemingly hopeless situations, so can 27-year-old me, or any me, really.
My friend and I are still on good terms. He lives with his girlfriend and my best friend. We get some beers every other weekend to remind ourselves that life isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. I hope he reads this because I think he’ll get a kick out of it, and if you do, go ahead and throw on Frank Ocean’s Blonde while you’re at it.