Park Daze

This piece appeared in the WEEKEND section of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.

My first Thanksgiving home from college was the very first Park Day. It was my sister and me and some of her friends and some of my friends, and the original idea was that we would ride our bikes to every park in town in one day. That first Park Day we made it to maybe six of them before we got lost in the woods and it started hailing.

We tried again on Christmas, starting from a different corner of town. We got distracted by a swing set in one of the parks we visited and had to go home before we reached any more. By now we’ve had four years of Park Days, more than a dozen altogether, in every season. We’ve traveled by bicycle, canoe, minivan, and on foot. We’ve come across caves, old bridges, a rotting house, an abandoned school bus, poisonous mushrooms and stinging nettles. We go out on holidays and on regular days. This year on Pi Day, we discovered a pond nestled between two dead ends. On Passover, I napped on a flat rock in the river.

We’re from a medium-sized town in New Jersey. I used to feel bored there. Now I get thrillingly lost, within the town line, several times a year. Every Park Day I think, “That was it. There can’t be anything else to discover.” I’m always wrong.

When I left for college, I expected to miss the familiar. I did, for a while. Now when I yearn for home I yearn for all the things I don’t yet know about it. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than ten years. I always have long enough to love a place — but never long enough to feel I really know it. Like now, for example. When I say I’ll miss this place, I mean everything I know and everything I don’t know. That sense of possibility, that nearness. That extrapolation.

The everyday things I’ll miss too. The luxury of loving something and being surrounded by it every time I go upstairs or outside. I was drying the dishes one night and my housemate kept shouting, “Your body is valid!”

“Your identities are valid!” I shouted back. He would burn incense with charcoal in a ceramic cup, and the smell would come through the cracks around the door between our rooms. He left in December, but I talked to him on the phone the other day. In the past few weeks he’s been an extra on a TV show and taken up watercoloring. In the past few weeks, I’ve written five seven-page papers, had a panic attack in the Calhoun basement and lost our cat.

But I’ve been trying to enjoy the mundaneness of it all, which is already starting to change. The moments started to shimmer like this a few weeks ago, as soon as I realized that many of my everyday joys were almost over. Coming a half-hour late to my last band practice. Studying in Sterling for the last time. There was no ceremony for that.

After I handed in my last assignment, I rode my bike to City Point. I didn’t spend any time wondering why I’d never gone there before. I just enjoyed the smell of the Sound and the drizzle. The surprises keep coming. Everything is incredibly special.

Just when you think it’s all ending, there are new things before you. Of course I know that. But there are new things in every direction. Behind me. Under my feet.

Contact Nathalie Levine at nathalie.levine@yale.edu.

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