— “For M” by Mikko Harvey
Of all the parting phrases, “see you around” has always been my least favorite. It’s bereft of intention, leaving things up to fate; “see you around” suggests that if or when you see someone again, it’ll be by accident. It’s a maybe. And from people I like, I’ve always wanted certainly. There doesn’t need to be a false promise of soon. Just eventually.
This is why I’ve always said “see you later” instead—there’s that promise nested in the middle of it, that singing note of certainty. Maybe soon, maybe not. But definitely, and eventually.
But graduation feels like running out of see you laters, watching what was once a bountiful reserve of years dwindle down to months, then weeks, then days. See you later, see you later, see you later, and then, suddenly—
For as long as I can remember, I’ve said goodbye to my bedroom at home before I leave it. It’s a silly ritual, formed some time before I left for a family vacation, but it feels necessary, like an act of respect. The kinships we have with places—be it bedrooms, kitchen tables, cities, lakes, yards, fire escapes—can be as dynamic and formative as the ones we have with people. I believe it’s important to honor that.
My childhood bedroom has housed sleepover dramatics, middle school sulks set to the soundtrack of Marina and the Diamonds, sluggish high school early mornings where I would literally groan out loud upon waking. I spent endless evenings as a teenager watching the sun lower into the sparse Michigan winter trees, hoping everything would turn out alright. My room watched me turn seven, turn sixteen, turn eighteen—like a family member. Thus, saying bye, room, before I head off back to school after yet another break just feels polite.
Walking through my neighborhood in Providence lately, I’ve begun to feel the impending goodbye like a shadow falling over me. Its cold shade is visceral: I remember taking turns down Transit Street as a first-year and thinking it was some great detour. The area was like a brand new pair of boots, and I laced them up four years ago and set out to break them in. Now, they’re familiar and worn, wrinkled with Four Seasons Market visits with my roommates and walks over the bridge, the gray cityscape to my right watching me grow older and happier. The blisters of first heartbreak, impending loss, and crushing disappointment have all become tough calluses, keeping me safe amid the coldest winter winds and the rockiest ground.
This week, my roommates and I started making a list of Providence favorites to hit for the last time before we leave. “This is going to make me depressed,” Sylvia said as we started. She was right. The thought of leaving Providence is usually a flame too hot to touch—I’ve tried to become practiced at hovering my hand just above it, feeling the abstract warmth of the idea without burning myself.
Talia threw out suggestions, and we picked and chose the crucial ones, as if every single one didn’t feel precious, as if we’re not a little terrified of the nameless territory stretched out in front of us. That’s what scares me the most about what comes next: how unlabeled it is. It’s become a point of pride to know all the street signs in my neighborhood, what turns to take, what spots are worth going to for good books or good coffee. I wasn’t ready for my world to become amorphous and encrypted by unfamiliarity again.
Seaweed’s, Xaco Taco, Hot Club, Ellie’s, Louis Family Restaurant. Each potential future visit summoned all the past ones in my head—celebrating Jane’s 22nd birthday on the back patio of Seaweed’s, a heart-shaped sparkler illuminating her laugh; sitting at Xaco Taco with Addie and her parents sophomore year, pleased to find that her parents are just as warm and giving as she is; eating fried pickles at Hot Club with Nat and my roommates, watching the city lights on the water.
On nights I’m feeling particularly sentimental, it feels cruel that the conventional life path is set up this way: carefully knitting ourselves into the fabric of a place, only to be asked after a set amount of time to extricate ourselves and start again.
The first time I ever wrote for this magazine, I was a first-year. I wrote a Narrative piece about feeling completely and utterly lost. This was in the geographical sense (I couldn’t get anywhere without Google Maps), the emotional sense, the intellectual sense, the fashion sense—you name it, I probably didn’t know what was going on.
This Thursday, I will squeeze into the little upstairs conference room at 88 Benevolent Street for the last time. I love the people who make this magazine, who were here before and who are here now and who will be here after I leave. I love our hodge-podge playlist of everyone’s combined music taste, the Rina Sawayama and the Hungarian songs. I love that post- used to be called Fresh Fruit and had a sex advice column. I love seeing what funky earrings Kyoko will wear each week. I love chatting with her and Alice and Joe and Aditi and Kimberly and the collection of people who gather to read and chat and sigh and scroll throughout the night. I love reading writers’ stories about Minnesota loons and ghosts and country music. It’s an uncomplicated, simple love.
How fitting, all those years after writing about feeling lost, to bring in a piece on feeling found. And I won’t even need Google Maps to get to the office.
This is the part of the piece where I start lingering uncomfortably near the door, resisting the bye, room.
In a way, that’s what taking this last extra semester was—my friends and I forgetting our proverbial scarves and coming back later for them. Laughing sheepishly as we found ourselves back here, in our beloved yellow house, like kids asking for one more bedtime story before sleep. And Providence is generous, so we got one.
When we retrace all our past steps these next few weeks, we’ll be telling it and retelling it to ourselves—here I was, here I was. Here I am.
I realize now that it took running low on see you laters for me to finally understand the value of see you around. It took meeting these people that I love, and then learning what it is to miss them, be it over an indefinite pandemic or a summer break.
The later is important, but turns out the around is just as crucial. Because I’ve been spoiled with it—the around. The domestic, the daily, the constant companionship. Being able to watch Sylvia sit on the floor with her growing pile of crochet, to sit with Mary on Wriston underneath our favorite tree, to listen to Maya and Talia’s singing voices weave into one another in the kitchen, to eat challah that Hannah just took out of the oven, to lose terribly to Peter at Wingspan. When the around we’ve always known is taken away, we’ll have to make it ourselves.
The night that first post- piece was published, I was told I could come to prod for 9-spot. At the time, the BDH office was on Angell Street (but the post- room was still just as cramped). It was hot inside, rolling office chairs jousting for space, greasy boxes of pizza laid open, the room full of chatter and joy. I was nervous, because there was nothing I did my first year with a resting heart rate. But everyone was kind and welcoming, telling me their name and asking for mine even though we knew we’d both forget. I instantly wanted to be a part of it, this easy rapport, this space of fluorescent light and clattering keyboards carved out in the middle of Thursday nights. I left a few hours later with a small smile on my face, excited for my very first piece to come out the next day.
An hour later, I got an email from my editor at the time. I had left my scarf at the office.