In Cambria, California, we are sitting in your car and looking out at the ocean. A Lorde song plays from the radio: ‘cause all the music you loved at sixteen, you grew out of…’ In my memory, her voice is as warm as fabric, clutching at my heartbeat. In my memory, we are attempting to eat salad wraps that spill out of our fingers; the ocean beyond us laps, reflective and blue as glass, and a seagull is perched atop a rock. This moment was still, yellow like a daffodil. You tell me, “You’re so different from when you’re in college. You’re so much more calm, more in the moment.” These moments between us rarely exist at a place like Yale, so fraught with tension and speed. Shifting between Yale and our home selves creates a discrepancy between ourselves dictated by our levels of comfort. I want so badly to transplant the confidence and assertiveness I have at home into Yale; I’m impatient for myself to grow. 

It takes us two, three months to see under the taut plastic of one another’s words. Driving through the highways curtained with pale green fields, we arrive at your house, playing the electric piano, leafing through the photography book of Obama’s most intimate portraits –– caught dancing with Michelle at a gala, their twin silhouettes like hooks filling one another’s negative space. I wonder if this is how we appear to others, our breaths spineless and intertwined. Here, under the pink stucco eaves, you are more quiet than at Yale, less effusive, less direct, less of the rhetorician that we all perform.  I can see why all these people love you in your most vulnerable yet assertive state, melting into your hometown’s people. I, too, can feel myself relaxing, away from the pace of college. It is why Cambria was so lovely.  Our long, slow walks through the chilled beaches, nights spent curled up by your sleek black bulldog, afternoon taco lunches rich and musical in my memory like smoke from a speakeasy. Those are my favorite memories of the year.

When we are at home, we carry ourselves with the surety, slowness, and confidence that all of us play-act in every Zoom call and club meeting here. The world can wait for me, we think. At Yale, however, we wait for the world. Enmeshed with the individuality we grew up with, we relax into interactions that no longer feel critical for our future. At home, we don’t need to worry about an upcoming seminar where we must elbow our way past overly articulate students and our own panicked insecurity in order to regain a fraction of the intellectual stimulation we felt in high school. We don’t have to worry about the three separate color blocks on our calendar later that night. As a result, things matter—because we give ourselves the time to settle into the slow stretches of nothingness, the early mornings where we wake up and everything is light-blue and misty outside, and we take our time getting ready for the day. I remember those moments, too.

I used to be so anxious in high school, constantly trying to control what people thought of me. Interactions would leave me with scenes to re-analyze in my head to see what I said wrong, caging me in a shell of shyness. Yet returning over winter break, all the tension would leave my body: my academic social groups no longer defined my happiness. Knowing that I had a life at Yale beyond California, home was retroactively one chapter in my narrative rather than the complete arc. I let myself say ‘no’ far more easily, and rather than pushing myself to join every event I was invited to, I only took on a few commitments each day so I could take walks, paint my nails, bake cookies with my mom, and stare at my ceiling while listening to old Chinese music. I did less — however, I remember more. 

My memories of my life in California were calm in a way that is directly contradictory to Yale. They are my past, and it makes sense that I no longer feel anxious when their expectations no longer define me. This calmness requires the courage to slow down, to trust yourself, and to truly live independently of the current of your classmates. I doubt any first-years can do that when we are so distraught with the possibility of falling behind, our self-worth overly contingent on our productivity. I’m so desperate for Yale memories that shine like gems that my effort to induce them overshadows the joy of existing in the moment and being alright with the calmness of the day. Yet, I can’t make myself stop. It’s the hunger to make the most of my time here. When things flash by so fast and dizzyingly, however, I stop to reflect on my last week: what I deemed as a pleasingly packed sequence of events—an ‘enough’ week during my planning— I now realize is lost in my memory except for the taut sensation of stress running through my body while sprinting from place to place. When we try to string together memory after memory, they disintegrate rather than shine. 

I got sick last weekend and canceled all my plans, laid in bed all day and did nothing except spend  my time talking on the phone with my friends or watching Monsters Inc. I realized how much I had undervalued simply being and remembering, rather than doing. That weekend is a reset I’ll remember; it is the negative space in which I was able to mature. Now, I spend my hours laughing over nothing in a friend’s cream-colored room, the curtains blown by wind slowly and tenderly. 

While driving through California at night, a hundred miles from my home, I don’t remember what we were saying.  I remember the feeling. The moon effuses fog over us. The antique shop that skims by is dim after dark, its china plates quiet in their holsters. Even if I met their owners, I doubt I would really comprehend what those pieces meant to them. Language, just on its own, is hardly enough — it’s the time hollowed out for the sub-glacial rises, falls, and dips in the valleys of emotion you feel buzzing all over your skin, inking themselves slowly and permanently. It’s why those songs we listened to as teenagers first made us cry, but now they make us smile with nostalgia — because in order to grow past them, we first had to spend time with them, leaving past versions of ourselves like ghosts in those notes. 

SARAH FENG  is a Sophomore in Trumbull college. Contact her at 

Sarah Feng is an associate editor for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a first-year in Trumbull College majoring in English and Cognitive Science.