From: Riley Burke <>

To: J <>

Subject: So I Blacked Out.

Dear J, 

Some days it feels like I forget more things than I remember. 

As my to-do lists get longer and I begin to think about taxes and the price of gas more than I ever have, and my childhood becomes smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of my brain, things start to run together. Two days ago feels like two weeks ago. That one day last month feels like yesterday. The first day I arrived at UC Santa Barbara, under the eternal Southern California sun, feels like this morning. 

Since I graduated from high school, since COVID-19, time has felt different. In those ignorant days before the pandemic, my life spread before me like a gleaming river — always linear, never rushing. Now, though, things aren’t so clear. After two years of lockdown that seemingly fast tracked me from the beginning of my college career to its end, the way time feels as it moves past has started to change. Things are blurrier now. All of the things I need to do become slippery. I cannot grasp them. I forget to call my doctor. I forget to bring my headphones to the library, again. I forget to apply to an internship; its deadline brushes past me. 

I blacked out this weekend for the first time. I drank a bitch cup that was one bitch cup too many. I came to three hours later pressed up against my own vomit in someone else’s bed. I’ve had bad nights before. Nights when I only just remember walking home or brushing my teeth. Nights that feel misty and half-remembered through a thick haze that smells of raspberry Svedka. Haven’t we all? But I’ve never lost the evening entirely. When I search my mind for signs of something I said, something I did on Friday night, all I find is blackness. 

In the morning, as they told me what had happened, as they told me what I had said and did and thrown up all over, a friend laughed and said, “Welcome to UCSB!” 

I washed the sheets and tried to understand this blackness — a void where there should have been a Friday night. It’s a blackness that previously I had come to know only from the stories told by my friends between bursts of laughter. I always assumed it would be fun. I never assumed that I would wake up the next morning feeling as though I had lost something I can never get back. 

Lingering over that morning was a strange sense of fear. One I wasn’t expecting, one I was embarrassed of, really. I was afraid. The night I couldn’t remember threw me out of orbit, away from corporeal reality, spinning out of control. 

I didn’t understand my fear that morning. Nothing bad had happened. I was fine apart from the nausea and a bruise on my left thigh. Still, it gripped me. Hours lost forever, a memory I can never hold. Welcome to UCSB. 

In all my forgetfulness, the loss of these hours felt significant somehow, I think. It compounded the slipperiness, made time even more blurry. 

I couldn’t help but blame myself. After all, this was meant to be fun. 

This part of life, this strange purgatory between adolescence and adulthood, was supposed to be perfect. This is what we are told. This is the standard I feel myself failing at day in and day out. It was meant to be a perpetual party. Instead, I got COVID-19 twice and transferred twice, and now as I spend hours a day on TikTok and Twitter and Instagram, I feel the hours slip and I feel myself grow more distant from who I once was, from the child I used to be. 

That is the loss of the blackout, maybe. The hours and the innocence. This is what college is for — the loss of the way things used to be. I don’t really know what to do with that. 

I could fill a book with all of the things I don’t know. My dad always used to say that. The book seems to get longer every day. 

I don’t have an answer. I just have questions. I hope one day I will learn to not fear something like blackness. For now, I will stop drinking bitch cups and I will keep writing my to-do lists and I will watch passively as time forgets me and as I forget time. 

Yours always (or until I forget),


A version of this article appeared on p. 16 of the May 4, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.