Past and Pending
Reflections on endings.
By Kelsey Kitzke
I’ve been thinking about endings lately. I understand that Valentine’s Day is usually a time for celebrating love as neverending and forevermore—love that lasts, love that persists, love that never dies. But that kind of love hasn’t been prominent in my life lately. Instead, I’ve been seeing the end of things. I’ve watched friends’ long-term relationships wither. Often, I find myself confounded by the cessation of an important friendship in my life.
For now, I chalk it up to something between natural slippage and the implosion of our (individual and collective) tragic flaws: sometimes people simply flow out of our lives and sometimes important incompatibilities help spur the dissolution. I spent winter break wondering if we had spoken to each other for the last time—if it was truly the end—and came to accept that it probably was. When I graduate in May, I will say goodbye to a place that has carved out a corner in my soul.
Endings seem to be in the air, or at least on the horizon: endings that are forced, endings that are chosen, endings that have built inevitably, and endings that are sudden and shocking. I am told that I am in a time of transition. I am told change is natural, that it implies the beginning of something even as it necessitates the end of something else. But all I see are endings. Where is the love in that?
I spend a few days over fall break alone in my house. The walls are newly white and beige (my parents have recently repainted; the more boring the house, the greater the market value). Everything feels different in the most important ways: the appliances are brand new, all the photos are down. Yet for the first hour of my arrival, I wander around the house experiencing the most vivid sensory flashbacks I have ever had: the wiggle of my childhood dog’s body, the feeling of being dragged on a blanket down the hallway by my dad as a toddler, the beeping of salt trucks on a snow day, the trail of powdered snow at the front door after playing outside. Everything is rushing in to announce its imminent hollowing out. I must have loved growing up in this house growing up in this house. Or perhaps, I must love this house becuase I grew up. Sifting through storage boxes, I encounter the third-grade face of my childhood best friend, to whom I no longer speak (all slippage, no implosion). I remember the best moments of my recently ended friendship: I must have loved my friend; or, I still do.
In the wee hours of a balmy New Year’s Day in my DC suburb, my friend tells me she doesn’t think she and her boyfriend of two years will stay together past graduation. “Friends?” I ask. “I don’t think so,” she says. “It’s hard to be around someone and not be able to have the same intimacy you once did.”
Exactly a year prior, on the last night of 2021, two of my closest friends got in a cataclysmic fight (an explosion more than anything else). In high school, they blended into each other in the way only teenage girls can manage, which is to say in the best way: at once silly and childish as well as passionate and profound. I loved being a part of it. I loved watching them love. I loved learning how to love from them. In one of my warmest memories of the three of us, we try to smoke weed from a bong made out of a plastic water bottle in the woods behind my house. We are blanketed by snow; the bong fails; we go sledding instead.
That was my last snow day. A natural end in terms of both aging and ecological disaster. All slippage, all implosion. It is strange to be a young person preparing to enter a world that seems to be on the brink of collapse. Things are ending as they’re beginning. What makes youth bearable is that we are told we have time. In the face of heartbreak, uncertainty, insecurity, loss, and personal failings, there’s always the next day or the next year to do it right, to get what you want. But right now, I find myself paralyzed by fear. In the little time I have left, I might love wrong. Or, that I already have.
On Christmas, my mom and I got into a uniquely mother-daughter fight, a small stress-induced cooking tiff blew up into a question about my fundamental commitment to the family. Why couldn’t I be more present? was my mom’s question. Why would I be when it will be over soon? was my (curt) reply.
I am friends with my old Girl Scout leader, a woman some thirty years older than me. Sometimes I believe she understands me better than anyone my age (the perils of being called “mature” too many times before the age of twelve and taking it as a compliment). She’s an expert on local flora, fauna, and easing nervous young hearts and heads, making for excellent hikes. On one such outing over winter break, I was telling her about the end of my friendship when a young deer sprang across the trail, pursued by a dog going for its neck. After the attack, the dog relented and the deer remained still, dying. It was brief and brutal, yet unexpectedly bloodless: a demonstration of a clean, bewildering ending. Momentary implosion. My old troop leader pressed her hand over its body. Should we call somebody to put it down? But it died on its own. We suspect it was a heart attack.
Later, she pointed to the clippings on the brush where deer had eaten saplings, prevented the growth of trees and, therefore, a habitat for birds—birds which were crucial to the local ecosystem. While she traced the brush, I told her how the absence of my old friendship allowed me to grow the kind of love in other relationships that I was missing in ours.
A couple weeks into the semester, I go on a walk through Inwood Hill Park with my uncle. The park has a kind of natural richness that is hard to find in the rest of Manhattan, he tells me. We walk through the terrain, up and down hills and over fallen leaves, as I tell him I feel old. He says he didn’t feel that way until he was 54. I ask him when he will leave New York, and he says that there are a couple things keeping him here: work and a friend whose illness is progressing. He wants to stick around for the end, he supposes.
It’s disconcerting to come home and notice how old your parents look for the first time. (I was a later-in-life baby for mine so it’s an earlier-in-life experience for me.) When did they age like this? Where was I?
Since coming to college, I have left home countless times. Each time, I feel a little less like I am leaving my home and a little more like I am returning. And, for that, I feel guilty (in the generalized Catholic way). Maybe guilt is the wrong word; it’s more like a pervasive anxiety that I didn’t take advantage of the time I had at home and with my parents; that I didn’t love it enough. Each time, my train arrives at Penn Station, and I feel it move around in my gut as the 1 train juts back uptown. Did I spend enough time in the snow? Did I rub my face in it when I had the chance? Did I appreciate my friendship when things were light and bright and easy enough? Should I have sled down the hill behind my house one more time?
I suppose on Christmas my mom wanted me to love the end more. Love it. Not like it, or want it, or enjoy it. But love it: tend to it, care for it, give it attention, give it its due, don’t hold it, don’t rush it. To sit with something and watch for its heart to stop.
I have a bad habit of discussing graduation and post-grad life in terms of dying and being dead, which I suspect is horrifying for those around me. But it’s easier to imagine that I will simply stop existing than it is to conceive of the future. The older I get, the less certain I am that it exists. What I do know exists is sitting on Low Steps when it is a terrifyingly beautiful winter day and splitting open an orange to share with my friends as we joke around in the sun. My jacket rests on the stone and I know that this will end.
For the next couple of months, the city will oscillate between winter and spring before it will warm rapidly. I will spend my last afternoons, with a book or a friend, in the 111th street community garden. And in the sun, I will feel all the ways that everything is ending and has already ended. I will watch the gardeners toil, pull weeds, plant flowers, like a prayer to the passage of time. And I will leave. But first, while it is still cold, I will sit here and watch the snow melt.