Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Yogurt Cups

     Some days I feel very put together and on top of my life, and on other days I am just absolutely bewildered by all that has happened over the past year. Around this time last year, I was on a trip to England with a small group of students from my high school. I have written about it on this blog before (see "English Sheep" or "Problem Child") - it was a phenomenal experience. Last summer was full of firsts and lasts. I was excitedly preparing for the next four years at Tulane, packing up the items that made the cut to come with me to New Orleans. My friends and teachers all knew how excited I was for the undergraduate public health program, Mardi Gras, new friends, and carefree days spent allowing the breeze of the streetcar to tangle my hair.
Photo Credit: Faith Jones
     What happened in between that trip to England and now is enough to write an entire book on. Between the countless strep throat diagnoses, a tonsillectomy, MRIs, X-rays, a CT scan, First Bite Syndrome, way too many rounds of steroids, Uber trips to the hospital, my dad driving down to New Orleans, flying home early for spring break, significantly diminished lung function, mornings spent vomiting and receiving albuterol in the Student Health Center, nurses who went through flashcards with me before I was cleared to leave after treatments, getting my own nebulizer, that night I bawled in my dorm room, severe seasonal allergies, laryngitis that lasted almost two weeks, and being asked by my professors if I was surviving, it was a tough year. Looking back, I am genuinely not sure how I made it. But then again, when I looked back at my senior year of high school I am genuinely not sure how I made it through AP BC calculus every single day from 7:30-9:00 in the morning, so I guess we all do things we might not think we are capable of.

     As much as I try to maintain a "moving forward" type of attitude these days, some moments just punch me in the gut and leave me gasping for my next breath. It seems as though New Orleans is everywhere. Seriously, it's in the name of a yogurt flavor at Target. I don't even eat supermarket yogurt since I am a vegan, and yet the Big Easy is still inescapable, appearing even when I am just trying to check for the hundredth time if Target has finally decided to stock cashew milk yogurt (I am convinced that the day is coming, but so far I have only been disappointed). My New Orleans-radar is at an all-time high since I am missing it so much, so when its frequent appearances and my hyper-awareness of these appearances combine, it feels a little bit like I am drowning in the Mississippi under the musical canopy of a jazz funeral and the dim shade of second line umbrellas.

      A year ago, seeing the name of such a magical city on a yogurt cup would have excited me to no end. Today, the very same city brings back deeply painful memories along with all of the fun ones. Memories of a Mardi Gras spent mostly in my bed, praying for the energy to eat lunch. Memories of sweet hugs from my favorite Tulane nurse that only made me cry harder as I wished for a sense of peace and stability with my health that was not as fleeting as someone wrapping their arms around me. Memories of sitting down on the landing of the staircase that led up to my history class because my body was too achy and my lungs were too weak to walk up all of the stairs at once.

     Of course, not all of my memories are so dramatic or heartbreaking, but if I went through all of the good ones or thanked everyone who made my time in New Orleans so wonderful I would never finish this post. There are definitely more good memories than bad ones. There are more that make me laugh than that make my cry.

     I wish that I could just let go of the year I had in New Orleans. I wish I could love all of my friends there without missing them, and that I could forget about the tears welled up in my eyes the last time I rode the streetcar, and that I could stop longing for the succinct and clear explanations of one of my professors every time a new health care bill is put forward. I wish I could be completely at peace with it. I wish I could stop thinking about it and stop writing about it and stop bringing it up. I do not consider myself to be a person who lives in the past, the present, or the future. I find myself always living in all three, unable to ever separate myself from any one component. Is this a healthy balance, or some sort of self-inflicted punishment?

     I want to experience New Orleans in more than a yogurt cup way. I want to live there, just like I did for the past year. The reality is that that is not going to happen, at least not for the rest of my undergraduate education. I am slowly getting used to that idea. Getting used to it is nothing impressive and is not symbolic of some type of emotional "coming to terms" that I feel slightly expected/pressured to have, but is rather a reflection of the power of time to stop the bleeding. It is not the end of the world, and I am not constantly thinking about it by any means, but it sort of sweeps me up and carries me away for brief periods of time before putting me back down on my feet again, safe from the storm yet rattled by the wind. I suppose we all have little things like that.

My sweet friend Michelle!
      Miley Cyrus recently released a song called "Malibu." You might feel any number of ways about Miley Cyrus, but the point of the song is that she is living her best life right now and is just generally in a good place, and I'm here for it. In one of the verses she sings, "I never would've believed you if three years ago you told me I'd be here writing this song," and the first time I heard it, the lyrics punched me in the gut the same way New Orleans yogurt cups do. It is hard to imagine graduating from UNC in three years, and it's even harder to imagine not missing the New Orleans-style ceremony the entire time. If asked to picture commencement, the first thing that pops into my head is second lining out of the Superdome in a black graduation gown with a green tassel. But perhaps in three years I will be thinking the same thing Miley is in that verse. Perhaps I will be even happier than I can even imagine. Perhaps the pain that I am feeling during this transitional period will seem distant or even unrecognizable. I will get back to you all in the summer of 2020 with an update. At the end of the day, "Malibu" is just another pop song, but I am on a constant quest for hope given my current circumstances and I will shamelessly admit that Miley offered me a big chunk of it by reminding me of how quickly life can change for the better.

Faith taking pictures in the rose garden
       At the UNC Transfer Orientation I attended, I met a friendly transfer student named Michelle. My friend Faith (from high school, who also goes to UNC) and I met up with her yesterday for lunch and for some well-spent time in a rose garden. Michelle is such a gorgeous person, inside and out, and is remarkably easy to talk to. I am so glad to have someone to navigate Carolina with next year when all of the other sophomores and juniors around us will already know the ropes. I am also enormously grateful for Faith, who is always down for any adventure and never hesitates to belt out songs in the car with me. I do feel like there is a part of me deep, deep down (we're talking Mariana Trench here) that knows that everything will be okay in the end. I cannot always see it, but I try to at least remember that it is there. Every time I meet people like Michelle, that part of me rises a few feet toward the surface. I don't know how it is all going to end up okay, but I do know that people like Michelle and Faith exist, and roses exist, and long car rides with the Wicked soundtrack exist, and these are all good things, even if they must coexist with things like New Orleans yogurt cups and polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

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