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When Were the Days?
What a diary reveals. By Holly Love
Anticipating my 15th Reunion, I took out my
college diaries to search for anecdotes to share with classmates and to
relive that carefree eraand was astounded to find that it wasnt so carefree,
had idealized those years as unmarred by worries about money or my appearance,
free of time pressures and career uncertainties. I paid a mere fifth of
my current household expenses to share a house across from the old Urban
Outfitters at 41st and Locust; the $35 a week left after that was adequate
spending cash. When we had parties, no one ever asked, What do you do
for a living? Career satisfaction didnt consume me as it does now, because
I wasnt expected to have a career yet. My clerical job at the financial-aid
officethen in Logan Hallsuited me fine.
life was also a breeze. Nearby produce stands made eating well effortless,
and youth was on my (fast-metabolizing) side. Fairmount Park was a short
bike ride from my intermittent academics, so exercise was an easily scheduled
joy. Smooth skin, clear eyes, white teeth and bouncy hair with no gray
dissenters were givens.
got up early only upon deeming the 9 a.m. physics lecture at DRL a must-hear.
Even then, my alarm didnt ring until 8:15, and, if I were late, there
was no danger of getting fired from anything. I never fretted over the
speed of my modem connection to some global computer system called the
Internet, or whether Id ever been exposed to HIV. And if the world ended
in that remote year of 2000, my years on Earth would have doubled by then,
giving me plenty of time to make my mark.
rememberedimaginedcontentment of those four years made the much-hyped
comfort of a mothers womb pale in comparison to the utopia that was Penn.
Like birth, graduation suddenly seemed a cruel introduction to the outside
soon after I cracked the red bindings of my treasured diaries, the tint
faded from my rose-colored glasses. With every page, it became clearer
that my problems and anxieties were as plentiful and powerful then as
they are todayand the natures of my past and present woes were not nearly
so dissimilar as I would have sworn on my engineering diploma that they
(lack of) greenbacks never got me down? Mike and I went to see Terms
of Endearment tonight, I wrote in 1983. I cried my eyes out, not
only because it was sad but because I cant seem to stop spending too
much money on going out. I also wrote abundantly about my eternal efforts
to reach my maximum allowed work-study hours.
career worries? I reported more tears in 1982 while finalizing my choice
of major. I didnt know then that people with technical degrees can still
flourish as artists. When I ultimately chose lucrative computer science
over my preferred (but ostensibly too competitive) field of music, I apparently
thought I was sealing my fate as a mainframe geek. The severe grief of
that sacrifice leaked constantly from my felt-tip pen.
no, I did not think I was the perfect Ivory Snow girl. My diaries show
that, just as often as I do now, I inspected myself in the mirror and
bemoaned my imperfections (though the focus then was breakouts rather
than wrinkles). Moving south to my waistline, I bought a scale last year
to help me regain the flatter
abdomen I recalled possessing in college. Wonder of wonders, I complained
of its convex terrain 16 years ago. Which made me unhappy when dressing
for dates: October 1984, I hope Scott didnt notice that my stomach was
bursting through my skirt.
surprising was the true age of my obsession with time. I had thought that
it wasnt until I started working full-time at age 21 that I understood
and subscribed to my mothers lament, heard frequently when I was growing
up, that she never had enough time. Not so, according to my trusted source:
This semester leaves me absolutely no time for cleaning, so filth and
I are good buddies was just one of countless references I made to feeling
common angst, some other parallels between my then and my now particularly
interested me. Playing Pacman at Carneys near 36th and Chestnut alleviated
collegiate stress; now I sometimes end a taxing workday with a round of
PC Tetris. I was as thrilled when the February 1983 snowstorm caused the
cancellation of chemistry class as I was this past winter when snow kept
me home from work. Pitching the perfect independent study to the Moore
Schools Dr. Eisenberg was paramount, as is proposing the perfect method
of data management to my current part-time boss.
perceived time deficit keeps me from journaling daily these days. Pity,
because, in 20 years, when summing up the flavor of my thirties, Ill
clearly need a reality check. That would be a check, incidentally, not
just on mindsets but also on specific events. One set of diary entries
indicated that another sophomore and I were a couple for three months.
Until I read them, I thought wed been on two dates.
diaries also reminded me of my escapes to the stacks of Van Pelt Library
for solitary study time. That habit corresponds to my searches now for
at least a little bit of renewing solitude every day. Whether I find it
at twilight on my Havertown houses deck, or in my bed with old diaries
late at night, I use it for the same purpose as I did at Pennto gain
a greater understanding of something. The understanding that my life now
is really no more strife-filled, nor issue-saturated, than it was when
I was younger, has firmly replaced my old those were the days comparison
of my past and present.
I think, bodes pretty well for my future.
Holly Love EAS85 is a writer and editor of creative
nonfiction and a regular columnist for two newspapers. She lives in Havertown,
Pa., and can be reached at email@example.com.
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