I took my first Amtrak last Thursday. Or rather, not my first Amtrak — my second one, if we’re really counting — but the first one I ever took by myself. It was the first time I set an alarm extra early to make sure everything was packed, the first time I obsessively checked TransLoc as I hunched over my Bird in Hand breakfast, tracking the JHMI, triple checking that it stops outside Barnes & Noble.
But I’m not really here to talk about my Amtrak experience. I’ll save that for one of the automatic surveys they send me, don’t worry. I’m not even here to talk about the responsibility that comes with taking your first train or the anxiety that comes with an approaching stop, wondering if you should be getting up now or in another 10 minutes because you don’t know how to track how close you are.
I’d instead like to talk about what happens when you exit the sliding doors and step over the gap between the train and the station, after you’ve hugged your parents and stepped into the car and finally arrived back home.
It’s not shocking because it’s different. It’s shocking because it’s the same.
I had a friend back in high school who, when he first walked into my room, laughed apologetically as he ducked his head inside. “It’s so small,” he’d said. Everything probably reached up to his waist or lower, except maybe the dresser and the music stand, which reached his elbows and his chin, respectively. His comment instilled a little spark of indignation in me, something you might go so far as to call a grudge.
I never understood it, you see — never knew how someone could walk into my room (in its heyday, no less, with all the homework and books and everything piled everywhere) and call it small. It was many things, but it was never small. Not to me. It was a combination of a growing adult and a young child, with little butterflies and calculus homework, green flower patterns and prom outfits, everything mixed together in some strange combination I called home. It wasn’t small.
I thought I’d never understand his comment, but last Thursday, I walked in my room for the first time in two months and it made sense. I haven’t gotten any taller, that’s for sure, but at home I don’t have to stand on tiptoe to make my bed, pushing blankets and quilts into that little crevice between the mattress and the wall. I don’t have to stand on my chair to wipe down the upper surfaces of my closet. It surprised me because it hadn’t changed, but my perception of it had — it seemed small because I’d grown used to things that were taller.
There are changes, of course, small switches in family routine and maybe some new furniture here or there. But my bookshelf is still packed, my desk and Post-it notes still stuck to the walls, my clothes still thrown haphazardly in the closet — they’re all still there, waiting patiently for Thanksgiving break and winter break and spring break. And then there will come a time when they don’t wait any longer. There might come a time when that closet isn’t mine anymore, or when the wall isn’t filled with Post-it notes and pencil marks. Then, it might shine, blank and clean, next to the other things that have gradually switched allegiance, tired of waiting for someone who only remembers them on an occasional visit for a few days, a week at most.
The next time I visit my room, it might seem even smaller — the larger my world, the smaller my bedroom — but for now, it’s a place I return to, and it’s still the place I call home.
For now, it’s still waiting.
Lana Swindle is a freshman from Princeton, N.J. majoring in Writing Seminars. Her column views her everyday experiences from a different perspective. She is a Copy Editor for The News-Letter.