Gatsbys at Duke University

I unclip my hair from the roller and fasten gold hoops into my ears. My hair bounces in blow-dried waves on my shoulders, my loose waves cascading to the edges of “DUKE” emblazoned on my navy blue sweatshirt. My sloppy gait has turned into a confident cadence, and I grow sharply aware of my surroundings.

Like Gatsby, my transformation is complete, and I am ready to return to Duke.

My sister was the first to notice the gradual changes eroding my previous self after I arrived at college. In her sassy little sister’s way, she labeled me as “materialistic.” Even as I dismissed her quip, I knew deep within that there was truth to her statement — I had changed.

When I look back at my high school photographs, I cannot recognize myself.  My hands were perpetually tucked into the fleece jackets I wore, even on the hottest days. I have not worn my hair in its natural curly coil in nearly two years.

It’s my eyes that have most changed since I came to Duke. Frozen in those photos, I glimpse at their childlike glimmer. I see the yearning for adulthood, the naive belief that upon crossing the magical age of eighteen, everything would simply fall into place.

What changed?

Now, when I look in the mirror, I see an unsteadiness in my deep brown eyes, the crushing realization that life is only going to get more complicated from this point onwards.

I am still learning how to be an adult; I am still learning that life does not leap from exhilarating highs to debilitating lows. I am still learning that everyday life is an amalgam of ambivalence and that I must seek joy in the little things that I’ll forget one day, like jumping until my feet beg for mercy at the Diya Diwali party. I am still learning the things that make me feel good, like doing my hair and picking out a cute outfit. 

I don’t know why I have cared more about my physical appearance since coming here, but I do reckon it's something to do with the overall preppy, classy appearance of the Duke student body. Everybody always seems so put together, and in this new phase of my life, when I am on my own, responsible for myself, I want to be put together too. And when I look into the mirror and my hair is smooth, and the color of my shoes matches my shirt, I am relieved of my anxiety, firm in the belief that if I can look good, my life outcomes will be good too.

I do recognize the superficiality of my belief. And I do realize that looks mean little in the grand scheme of one’s success or failure. But I also know that when I look good, I feel good. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Because under these color-coordinated outfits and matching jewelry, I know that we are all falling apart. 

As young adults aged 18 to 22, our worlds are constantly shifting beneath our feet. As we make new friends throughout college, we watch our old friendships from high school and even our first semester fall apart — some painfully, others invisibly. We began to endure the stresses of real life — finding a job, battling financial burdens and navigating complicated relationships. We gaze at our future, uncertain and fearful of what lies ahead, only to find that seeking solace in our past is no antidote. All our lives, we wanted to grow up, and now that we finally have, and our tastes of adulthood are bitter, all we want is to go back.

I look back at photos of myself from what feels like long ago: younger versions of me who looked at growing up as a “happily ever after” where all one had to do was find love and a job for everything would be okay. 

But I am starting to realize that growing up from our past selves is not like erosion, erasing the old memories in favor of new ones. Instead, our past and present versions are like the rings of a tree, ever interlocked with one another, and rooted in the people who knew us in those forms. I still become a little girl when I return to my parents’ home, annoying my little sister by tugging her hair and lying down on the floor with my golden retriever. I still lurch back into middle school gossip with my childhood friends, giggling about the couple pairings in our seventh-grade dances. I still clap with delight when my grandmother sprawls old photo albums across my lap, asking her the same questions I did the year before and the year before that. 

These past versions of ourselves aren’t lost, only hidden until we are around the people who carved them.

Sometimes, I think about whether I would return to a previous me, a me who knows what’s coming and can easily navigate the familiar struggle. Nothing would be new. Nothing would be hard. 

But then I look at my roommate’s sleeping face and think about how I sleep better, knowing she’s in the bed next to mine. I look at my best friend and think about how I no longer fear loneliness because I know she carries a piece of my heart in hers. I look at my sister and think about how glad I am that we no longer hate each other, but instead, how we are growing to be each other’s confidantes. I look at my professors and think about how they challenge my mind to adopt new ways of thinking and marvel at how the world looks different than before I took their classes. 

Would I return to a previous iteration of myself?

I do not think I would.

Advikaa Anand is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternating Thursdays.

Advikaa Anand | Opinion Managing Editor

Advikaa Anand is a Trinity sophomore and an opinion managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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