thoughts from the week

You start writing this post on your middle school best friend’s birthday. You haven’t spoken in years, but you still remember the smell of her house, of the fresh salsa and corn tortillas her mother would whip up for you guys each afternoon when you overstayed your welcome to avoid going back to your own, scentless home. You like to tell people that Rosa’s cooking forever raised your standards for Mexican food. You’ve told fewer people that she was the one who first taught you how to make carrot cake, whipping the cream cheese to the right consistency and adding canned pineapple for that extra sweetness. You’ve made countless since, modifying her recipe just a little each time until you yourself have forgotten what she had meticulously demonstrated all those years ago.

You don’t know why you’re suddenly thinking about these things now, but you have a tendency to forget the kindness in others, so perhaps this is a good reminder of where some things began.


Kindness. That was one of the first things you noticed when you arrived. You were surprised that people could drop everything they were doing to help you with a problem set. Or simply to talk to you. You didn’t grow up with this. Generosity back home had strings attached, and you learned to attach strings to every act of human interaction. Yet, somehow, there were people here with kindness that flowed so freely and naturally – an extension of their being rather than a hastily-constructed outer shell. You’re grateful to French House for introducing you to kind people. Since then, you’ve met many more. And you’ve spent five years trying to snip away those strings. You hope you’ve at least somewhat succeeded.


You remember the scavenger hunt during orientation, when you bonded with Cindy and Sophia over poor-quality selfies and the prefrosh urge to obtain a free Mass Tech shirt. One question asked you guys to submit a photo outside your future department. You didn’t know where Course 20 was, but you happened to be in Building 5 so you snap one by the nearest lounge – Department of Mechanical Engineering.

You think about that photo a lot because you sometimes look to arbitrary coincidences as assurance that you’re on the right path. Like a nod from the universe. Or just another thing for you to overanalyze.

It wasn’t until meeting Josh that you were convinced that all those stumbles had guided you in the right direction. And now you walk with a little less hesitation. Follow your bliss. Even if they set you on a road that would stray further and further from everyone else’s.  


Fast forward to two years ago. You sit in the Royal Sonesta with a pile of luggage and N95s, watching the morning fog bloom over the Charles as you gave instructions on how to bake the hundredth variation of Rosa’s carrot cake over WeChat video, feeling like laughing and crying at the same time. You tell Li Bo that the cold brew here is cheaper. You wave at Yang Yue and the cats. You like to joke that you’d come back and open a café with them after you save the world.

That afternoon, you move into WILG. You unearth your belongings from pre-pandemic and tape your new family onto your wall.

You returned with much more clarity than before. But also jadedness. Disillusionment. You tell people your experiences outside the bubble better informed your path within, but they also distanced you from others. You returned, but only part of you did.


Fast forward to today. You’ve only baked one carrot cake since. You’re about to leave again, counting down sunsets from that same place across the river, clanking tote bag muffled by the honking geese. Everyone asks you how you feel. You don’t know. You feel things differently – starting off numb, then, slowly, the fragments seep into you, cutting you up from the inside. Will you start bleeding in Paris, Beijing, or Freetown?

You’ve started packing. The last time you packed like this was after Reif’s email in March 2020, taking an entirely different set of photos off your wall. Pack as if you will not be returning until the fall. Your Polaroids comes down with a lot more ease this time, ready for the next wall, and the next one after that. Home is wherever you stick them onto.

You take time to shop for gifts this week. You promised Will you’d get him an MIT shirt to replace his Harvard one. You finally get Edith those RBG socks on display at Porter Square Books. You get something for Tia, Walter, and Kaia, who livestreamed your 2.009 showcase all the way from Hawaii. You remind yourself that you’re lucky to have people to get gifts for, even if your universes only intersect once in a blue moon.

And you talk to a lot of people, trying to absorb some more insights before you fly off into another unknown. You ask people for advice but instead seek assurance. You’re still friends with Professor Deng from 2.005, whose quote left such a deep impression on you when you first started blogging during the pandemic. Nobody wins and everyone dies, because energy is conserved and the entropy of the universe always increases, an inevitability akin to death. She alludes to the First Law and tells you that certain choices come with certain sacrifices. You don’t know what you’re sacrificing yet, but less-entropic realities just seem so much less vibrant.

The evening before commencement, you find a group of strangers on the steps of Lobby 7. You all sit and chat until the middle of the night, about lost silver bracelets and the rise of polyamory and whether the emotional rewards of vulnerability trump the pain of getting hurt. You realize how much you missed these kinds of interactions, of simply conversing without regard for past identities or future expectations.

A guy from China attempts to explain the definition of yuan fen. Like destiny, he says. You’re always curious about how others interpret that phrase because you feel that some meanings in your native tongue are only clear once you internalize them. The other example you can think of is xing fu. You have yet to grasp xing fu, but perhaps that night is proof that you’re doing okay on the yuan fen part.


You inherited your regalia from Cindy. The tassel still says 2022. It doesn’t matter; the cap is too small for your head anyways. You sit in the heat and listen to Diane Greene speak in her old-white-woman drawl. You remember her mispronouncing the speaker’s name multiple times last year. (She shouldn’t have a problem this time). Then the chaplain starts her ever-so-vague invocation in that smooth calming voice and you look at the dome above and you feel it for just a split second. A shard. A flashback to taking a photo here during orientation on a similarly sunny day a lifetime ago when you were a different person. And you wonder exactly how everything happened that made you into what you are.

They serve carrot cake at the reception. You look at the Cambridge skyline on your finger. The black hole over Mass Ave looks like a shooting star. You only wish for things you can’t have.


Fast forward to right now. The rain simmers. Then storms. You sit in your room and type to blank walls. You feel like laughing and crying at the same time.

Your diploma sits on your desk. You got it this morning, in heat even more blistering than the afternoon before. They called your other name by mistake and you remember flinching before approaching Sally Kornbluth. Both hands. You held on to the red envelope and posed with your Crocs. You finally wore the earrings Hui got for you.

The last time you wore those earrings was also the last day you saw Yang Yue. She read your last post and told you that you can be your own light. You’re still processing how you feel, but you know you’ll eventually be okay. You have a way of making things okay. You just wonder how long you will burn. You wonder how bright.