life on pause

thoughts on having a double life

Ever since I started college, I’ve felt like I have two separate lives: one life at home and the other at Brown. When I leave one to go to the other, it’s as if I’m un-pausing the life that I had before leaving. I distinctly remember the first time I visited home after being away for four months. After an eleven-hour flight from Newark to Honolulu, I was in an exhausted daze. With a backpack full of the books that I never got to read for fun during the semester, I made my way out of the plane and was surprised to be hit by a gush of warm air.

A big sign that read “Aloha: Welcome to Hawaii” greeted me as I tried not to the think about the inevitable headache that was coming. As I made my way toward the carousels, I looked all around for my mom. My fellow travelers surrounded me in the baggage claim area, exhausted with post-flight hangovers and jackets tied sloppily around their waists. My eyes bounced from person to person until I found my mom. She was sitting on a bench, looking around for me too.

“Hi, Mom,” I said as I approached, and started to tear up when she went in to hug me. I recall thinking how weird it was to be so emotional to see my mom after spending literally my entire pre-college life with her. After I got my suitcase, she drove me home in our blue Honda CRV. While we talked in the car and downtown Honolulu rushed by my window, I felt, for a moment, like I never left.

That night, I decided to go to bed at the earliest time I have ever gone to sleep since I was a child – 8 p.m.  (Of course, the five hour time difference meant that I was technically going to bed at 1 a.m. eastern standard time.) Though I expected sleep to come easy, I ended up staring at my ceiling for half an hour thinking about how unfamiliar it felt to be back home. It was a bit of a paradox—being at home was weird to me because I never felt so much like a stranger there before. The whole idea of home relies on the comfort that it brings. While I definitely felt comfortable being in my own bed again, I felt strange without my roommate, or even the awkward encounters going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I especially felt lonely knowing that it was just me, my mom, and my brother around.

Of course, as the long winter break continued, I eventually adjusted to the feeling of being home. I spent that winter break seeing my friends and family, eating ono (which means delicious in Hawaiian) food, and learning how to drive. Everything was back to normal, except, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that I missed the life that I had put on pause. While I loved being home, I missed being able to knock on my friends’ door down the hall and then immediately go out to eat Indian food (shoutout to Kabob & Curry) without needing a car. Although the constant stream of homework, essays, and upcoming exams is never fun, I longed for the feeling of being productive instead of sitting on my bed watching videos of baby corgis and scrolling through Facebook. I was even starting to miss the cold (which I would regret by April, three snowstorms later). After a month of life at home, I knew that I was ready to un-pause my life at Brown.

As my life continues to pause and unpause whenever I go home and come back, I am reminded of a scene from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, when Holden Caulfield is in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. He looks at all the animals on the display and realizes that a person could go to the museum a thousand times and the displays would remain the same no matter what. What would be different he says, is you. Indeed, whenever I unpause my life, everything that I had once left behind seems to be the same—the thing that changes the most is myself.

Unfortunately, the process of pausing one life and going to another is emotionally harrowing. The transitions bring me immense sadness because I have to say goodbye to the people I care most about. Though technology makes communication easier, knowing that I won’t see my family or friends for months takes a long time to accept. Perhaps what I miss the most is a feeling of continuity—a feeling that I don’t have to separate home from college, to put one on pause and play the other. The differences between the locations and cultures of the two places exacerbate the problem. They are twelve hours and a world of lifestyle apart, and going back and forth between the two can be jarring because of the dissimilarity alone.

Though there is sadness and pain leaving home or Brown, I am so entirely grateful that I have both places in my life. Being able to have lives in two amazing cities—with people I care about, and who in return care for me—is something that makes the emotional strain and stress worthwhile. As time goes, perhaps life in Hawaii and at Brown can feel connected somehow. But for now, I’m just going to have to keep on pushing the pause button. At least I know that soon after, another part of my life will start playing once again.