Personal Essay: Explanation of a habit

Personal Essay: Explanation of a habit

SIANA EMERY

Staff Writer

seemery@goshen.edu

 

At the age of 9 and finishing up the fourth grade, I was already thinking about legacies. My grandmother had crossed the starting line on her race toward Alzheimer’s and my brothers were passing their own milestones into the strange worlds of high school and college. I could see the frailness of the world around me in the smallest of ways, like the first time my grandma called me “Lauren.” Lauren is my cousin. Already my brain was beginning its obsession with capturing single moments forever by attempting to preserve even the most trivial memories.

I developed a habit of jotting down anything and everything. In time, the words on the backs of my hands resembled complex road maps of ink paved streets. I also had loose paper scraps in every corner of my room filled with the most random notes to myself. They were snippets of memories, reminders of old TV shows I’d watch with my brothers, card games from camp, and books I enjoyed. I always carried a pen, pencil or marker and a slip of paper in case I had something to jot down, such as “acorn contest.” That was a reference to a competition during which the neighborhood kids competed to see who could collect the most acorns over two weeks’ time. My brothers and I won, of course, making it one of the crowning achievements of my young life.

Rylee, my next door neighbor, was my childhood best friend. The summer of 2008 held endless possibilities, and an odd pair – this lanky, knotted-hair girl and the perfect-postured dancer – was looking for adventure. At the time, Rylee’s favorite show was “Zoey 101.” I pretended to love the show as well, despite the fact that my mother wouldn’t let me watch it at our house after the leading actress found herself pregnant at age 16. In one of the pivotal episodes, a time capsule was created. I recall watching this, and turning to Rylee with a grin and a twinkle in my eye, knowing exactly what our first order of business that summer would be. We immediately left to scout out a hiding spot down by our complex of forts in the woods, beyond the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, where the new “For Sale” sign had been put up. When we found the perfect location, we split up to gather supplies. My rather selfish objective in creating this time capsule was similar to why I made notes. I either hoped someone would discover it in the future and become enthralled with our lives, or that I would be the one to find it and be able to transport myself into a memory.

The sun shone hot and golden that afternoon when we met at the overgrown entrance of our fort village. My sweaty arms overflowed with an array of rag-tag items, including my most recent school photo and a notebook and pencil. Rylee held a Christmas cookie tin – the round kind from Royal Dansk – in one arm. In the other, she loosely grasped her own photo and a Ziploc bag, among other things. The orchestra of buzzing insects filled my ears as we marched side-by-side beyond the tree line, down the narrow path on the edge of a steep hill. Thorn bushes and leafy trees soon blocked our view of the street, wrapping us completely in the muted green light of the forest. To this day the stale yet sweet smell of the woods on a steamy summer day brings me back to this place where the loudest sound was water trickling down the stream.

We knelt on the ground, our bug bite-ridden knees softly digging into the cool soil. I set to work writing a letter to the lucky person who would someday discover our capsule while Rylee dictated to me what should be said.

“Dear future person,” she began, “welcome to our time capsule; we hope you enjoy. Our names are Rylee and Siana, and we grew up here.”

We filled the wide-ruled notebook page with information regarding who we were. I distinctly recall including an excerpt I was particularly proud of from a story I’d written about a girl who turned into a toy. Once finished, I sealed our items into the Ziploc bag, topped it off with the note, and stuffed the package into the tin can. It wasn’t well sealed by any means, but we were optimistic as children generally are. Using small gardening shovels we had stolen from my garage, we dug a small hole into the side of the hill and buried our time capsule. As was the case most days back then, I returned to my house smelling of the earth, with dirt smudges on my skin and a smile on my face.

By the end of the summer, the time capsule was nothing more than a dim memory. By the time the ground froze, I’d forgotten about it all together. As Rylee and I grew apart with age, the memories of our friendship faded to the point where they almost felt like a dream. It wasn’t until 2015 when a special was released in which the cast of “Zoey 101” revealed certain contents of their time capsule that I remembered our once seemingly monumental, though in reality feeble, endeavor to make our mark. Though I have never made an attempt to locate the rusted cookie tin, I recall the event with fondness. While it would be fascinating to see what remains of the capsule, I’m also content with the simple reclaiming of the memory, and in a way, that fulfills my original purpose. My goal back then was to immortalize myself and my memory, forcing a legacy to be created where there was none, and I’ve done that by remembering details I otherwise wouldn’t have.

As a young adult, I still find myself tackling the anxiety of possibly forgetting vital aspects of what make me me. While I rarely formally journal, I use my phone, or spare ink and scrap paper, to record anything that I want to remember, however mundane it may seem at the time. Words like “Nash’s Lake” and “Garfunkel and Oates” fill my notepads and act as references to inside jokes or gateways to memories. I write down notable quotes in the moment to make sure they’re as authentic and close to actuality as possible. When people ask about my scribbled notes, I shy away with awkwardly worded and generally incoherent answers, unsure how to explain the habit I myself don’t fully understand. Perhaps it’s a bi-product of my anxiety, or a subconscious way to find inspiration for pieces of writing, but I like to think of it as foresight. Just as it was ten years ago, I’m looking out for future me, anticipating the appreciation that may occur over the smallest details of present day. While the likelihood of anyone ever caring about the time I broke my brother’s lamp with a lightsaber, or about the Nickelodeon shows I watched as a kid, is little to none, I can’t help but continue to jot down my life in tiny snippets. It’s as if this habit creates a time capsule of all the things that make up “Siana,” for my future self to open should my memory ever be compromised.

 

Record
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