To: S <email@example.com>
From: Min Seo Riu <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: When We Grow Old
I’ve been thinking a lot about an email you sent me last summer, when we first began our long-distance correspondence. You wrote to me:
I’ve been thinking a lot about age lately. When will I cross that invisible line from young to old? What will my life have looked like? I’ve been sold an idyllic portrait of youth that I think no one ever really lives. That’s part of what I referred to earlier as that nostalgia one gets from American movies and shows. Will we live our whole youth thinking the best of youthhood is yet to come, until one day we wake up and realize we’re no longer young? Wouldn’t that be a sour morning …
Spring in Isla Vista always brings about waves of nostalgia for me. When the sun starts to set later and later in the day, I know it means summer is just around the corner and the school year is slowly coming to an end. I feel sort of like a cat, sprawled out on hot concrete — it feels good, but just a smidgen too warm to feel comfortable. I’m beginning to feel like my time in I.V. is slowly coming to a close — that the sun will get too hot and I’ll be forced to move from my little concrete bed. No doubt I’ll pitter-patter around and find a comfortable patch of grass — maybe grad school? Maybe a big girl job? — to take a nap, until inevitably I grow old and domesticated by some cat lady down the street.
Cat metaphor aside, I think the reason I’ve been thinking about aging — and what you said about aging in particular — is because last week, a group of elementary school students came in to eat at Carrillo Dining Commons. I don’t really know what they were doing there, just that they were beelining toward the pizza station (which, as a dishroom supervisor, is my second-least-favorite plate to put through the machine — pasta boats take the No. 1 spot). They looked so little and excited compared to me.
I have a lot of memories as a kid walking around my cousin’s college campus (he went to a minor, not very well-known state school — ever heard of UC Berkeley?), admiring how cool and busy all the college students looked. I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like them and live in a studio apartment with my best friend and read under big oak trees. I must have been the same age as those little kids in Carrillo.
I think when you’re eight years old, every college student looks interesting. It’s a shame that I can’t remember what they looked like because I bet the 2010 fashion scene in Berkeley would be great inspiration for my 2023 wardrobe. But isn’t that strange to think about? It’s been bouncing around in my mind ever since I saw those tiny kids buzz around Carrillo. It’s so weird how I can’t remember a single face from those many days on Berkeley’s campus, but those same college kids I looked up to are still out there, in the world. They don’t remember me, and I hardly remember them, but we’re both living in the same world, in the same country, in the same state.
By now, they’re much older. Hopefully they’ve got loving families supported by well-paying jobs. Maybe I’ve just seen one of their children running through UC Santa Barbara’s dining commons, continuing that cycle of little kids looking up at big kids and feeling very young. It was endearing, but it also made me wonder when I stopped being one of those little kids on a big campus. When did I become one of the big kids? When did I get so old? Twenty years seems so little in comparison to the entire history of the world, but it’s too big of a number to call your dad crying when you miss him or hold someone’s hand when you’re scared. Twenty is too old to want your mom when you’re sick, or to play Super Mario Bros with your older brother or to play with chalk on the sidewalk of your old neighborhood.
Or maybe not. Maybe I have a couple more years … maybe a few more years.
It’s been a while since we last emailed. I just wanted you to know that I miss you a lot and that I hope I never forget what you look like — I hope you always occupy a well-illuminated spot in my mind, even when I’m 100 years old. Do you think 100 is too old to be writing pensive emails to your friends?
A version of this article appeared on p. 16 of the May 4, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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