Keyi Cui

I have woken up nearly every morning this week with the same image seared in my mind. It is me, walking tirelessly up the four flights of stairs that abate on the fourth floor of my high school. When I finally reach that upper floor, the tan and green tile extending endlessly, I see my best friend from Yale perched in the spot where I spent so many of my high school hours. He is atop a row of wooden cubbies, across from the maroon lockers once inhabited by me and my high school friends. He gets up and wanders into the classroom next door — the most important place from my first 18 years of life, save my childhood bedroom — and sits down at a desk where I sat every day my senior year. He talks to the teacher who changed my life most.

It’s not a dream, this image I’m describing. Not a vision, either. Rather, it’s a plan. A prescriptive future that isn’t so far off. That sequence of events will not happen in some vague, unknown future, but next week.

There are other images, too: my best friend wedged between my brothers on the couch in our living room watching basketball, my best friend ordering ice cream at the shop where I worked in high school, my best friend walking around the park where I spent so many late Friday nights with friends I had known since I was five. Our closest spot to freedom.

These places, the settings for these images, are not just places from my early adolescent years, but the entire content of my life then. They comprise a version of who I was, untouched by Yale. More importantly, though, that is where they have stayed. I’ve been reluctant to recreate those scenes from high school too closely, as to not overlay my gained maturity and perspective onto places and memories perfect purely because they were immature and sheltered. They comprised a life of mine before I could know better.

I haven’t visited those places, since they were meaningful to me, and that was at a time when I could not begin to conceptualize that the closest friend I would have at Yale was growing up on another continent, living a life so parallel, yet thus far disconnected. Regardless, it is impossible to paint any sort of real, accurate picture of my life before college without these scenes at its center. I want to share that, and it’s time to. These memories speak for themselves about who I was and where I come from.

And, isn’t that the whole point of bringing a college friend home? To grant them the unique access of knowing where you came from in a way that is definitionally impossible to do at Yale? By way of the trip home, I want to be telling my best friend that I want him to know me better by immersing him in my life before we knew each other.

So here lies the dilemma: Do I continue to preserve my sacred memories from high school so not to taint that chapter of my life? Or do I allow my best friend access to those memories in a way that will mean my having to relive them as this new, more grown-up version of myself?

It would be selfish to lock up that past from someone spending a week of spring break precisely for the purpose of seeing it. I’m going to take him to my high school, and the ice cream store where I used to work, and the park where I spent so many nights. It’s important for him to see it, to see me as I was, because it is the opportunity to transcend the traditional structure and trap of friendships in college. At Yale, we are able to be selective, and often facetious, about our past and the people and places from it. This can be subconscious, sparing ourselves judgement over the ways we filled our time in high school. It can also be easier, for sometimes having to preface and qualify anecdotes with long, clarifying explanations of references from the past is simply not worth the time. But that fear and that laziness leads us to present an incomplete identity, even to those we care about most at Yale.

This is one of the last times — at least, until I am married or close to it — that I will be able to share this part of myself with someone I love who comes from outside of that first chapter. I likely won’t bring friends from my first job back to my childhood home. My parents’ best friends have not been to the places they grew up. I want to do it while I have the chance.

The images that have dominated my consciousness this week indicate that I’m nervous. I’m not nervous to have my best friend in these places from my beloved past, but I’m nervous for the part of myself that I will disclose there. Who I was will gush and gurgle out of the smallest holes and crevasses that make up my life at home. The floodgates will open, whether I want them all to or not, and what pours out of them will be every part of me.

What if he doesn’t like that person? What if he’s disappointed? Of course, I have more faith in my nearly two-year-long friendship than to really wonder that. Lots of what he will experience in my home will bring to life stories that I’ve spent months telling him. But this trip home will also access and build upon stories and memories which are, so far, wholly unknown to him. It will forever change and deepen our friendship. I know it will be for the better. I can’t wait.

Shayna Elliot | shayna.elliot@yale.edu .