The slimy tentacles of the country's K-12 system have gone limp and slipped from my body. I'm free of public education. And as I drive to the school to pick up my cap and gown for graduation, chilly memories from the past ripple down my spine on the hottest day of 2011. I normally deal with angst by turning up the stereo - the solo from Led Zeppelin's Heartbreaker is enough to destroy almost any grief, or at least cram it away into the shadows of my mind - but the volume's up as high as it goes and it isn't helping at all. These are heavy-duty 240-volt chills, memories of thoughts I haven't had or even thought about having in years, pushing my back into the seat and almost knocking the sunglasses off my face. They're strong and they're unwelcome, and I had thought them dead after doing my damndest to destroy them back in the spring. I pull over in a paraoxysm of some sort and look upon my childhood home in reluctant awe.
It's seventy degrees Fahrenheit and seventy days past the 2007 spring equinox. By all rights, this ought to be a great day to start a great summer. I've gotten my comrades to sign my yearbook, I've said whatever goodbyes I could remember wanting to say to the junior high, and I've parked myself apprehensively on the gray faux-leather seat of the bus upon which "IKE WAS HERE" had been deliberately carved several months ago. But there's something hot in my stomach. It's not a flame, though, just an ember that keeps smoldering and won't tell me why. I didn't recognize it for what it was the entire day, and while my classmates leaned back in their collective hard-backed chairs waiting for the bus bells to ring I wandered the classrooms thinking - knowing, really - that I had forgotten something important. But everything is in my backpack now, my files on the school network are all redundantly backed up, and confident in the completion of my checklist I await my bus stop with an uneasy silence.
But now, hanging my head out the window of a car safely anchored in 2011, I can see the porch and the windows and the deeply scratched light blue aluminum siding that always made an awful noise when the chrome-plated handlebars of my Schwinn scraped against it at the end of the day when I leaned it up against the house because it had no kickstand. But what I can't see, no matter how closely I look at the pale green undercoat, is why these memories are hitting me so hard today. I've passed this house on the way to school every day since last September. And the first few times I passed it, I wasn't quite familiar with waves of nostalgia, and they produced a reverent appreciation of the days I spent there. But the longer I spent looking at it, and the more I actually tried to remember what I did there instead of waxing nostalgic about the good old days, the less impressed I was with the memories themselves.
It's 2012 now. I remember writing all this horseshit and stuffing it into my Drafts, with a profound sense of incompleteness. I don't know what I was going to write next. I didn't know then, either, which is probably why I sat on it for so long. 2007 was really not that great of a year, looking objectively back. Even in 2007, it wasn't that great of a year. Certainly nothing to get chills from remembering, even if I did. I spent almost the whole time bored out of my skull, alone at home on the Internet. Or riding my bike through the neighborhood alone. But it was really the first time I had a lot of time to myself, and it must have left a pretty big impression because even now I can come across an old forum post I made and be flooded with everything I felt back then.
2011 is the past now, too, and it is bizarre to think about it that way. I think everyone would say I'm a better person after twelve months' time, and I've got no room to disagree. Even the first six months of 2012 are beginning to feel more like dusty old journal entries than things that I really did and saw and said. I sometimes catch myself feeling nostalgic for things I haven't even left behind.
With all that said, I'm still not sure if I am ever going to be able to escape the bittersweet sting of years past. Definitely not any time soon. But I've learned to worry about it a lot less, because eventually today will be bittersweet too.