I started working at Paces my freshman fall. I was a server, and I spent my shift running back and forth across the room wrapped up in my own exciting life: on edge because my crush would come for his sandwich, on edge because my friends would bring me gossip, on edge because my professors were passing judgement on me.
I somehow, however, managed to refocus enough of my attention away from myself and onto the collection of seniors around me at the cafe. They seemed to be the opposite of my frenetic freshman self — calm, a little jaded, funny in a sophisticated way that meant, to me, that they “got it.” And I revered them, in a distant way that never aspired to friendship or even extended conversation. I very much saw them as the ideal future, as something I couldn’t yet understand but hopefully would someday be.
Recently, I discovered that next year, in my barn apartment, I will be living in the same room that one of those seniors lived in during my freshman year. This was shocking to me. Time and maturity seemed to be collapsing. Was I approaching the glorious adulthood that this older girl had seemed to possess? Or was she never quite as adult as she had seemed, never quite as distant, at least time-wise, from me as a freshman?
You may be wondering where I’m going with this and how it could possibly end up as a discussion of fashion, even with the theme of seniors and of leaving Swat. I’m wondering that too.
I think the problem of this final article for me is related to my experience writing last year’s final column. That one was a random jumble of suggestions for the ultimate spring wardrobe, for the fun of change with the seasons and of making your wardrobe new, even if you can’t change your situation — i.e. if you can’t get out of Swat yet.
The article was definitely a product of me wanting to leave Swarthmore and get home, to breathe for a bit after a long and emotionally challenging first year. But I remember sitting in the Phoenix office hearing a copy editor complain that the article made no sense, wasn’t getting to a point and actually saying something. So this time, I want to try to get somewhere, which requires looking back as well as forward, to the ways things change but also to the ways they repeat and recreate themselves year after year.
I have friends leaving for time off now, or to go abroad. By the time I see some of them here again, we will all be seniors, and I’ll be living in the once-room of the once-senior I so admired. There’s a closet in the room, where I’ll hang my clothes on the rack where she hung hers.
And I guess I’ll wonder, standing behind the barista counter, what the freshman server in the flippy skirt with the carefully applied mascara is thinking, what crush she is waiting to twirl towards and what comment on her paper thrilled her to a quickly pulsating heart.
I wonder what I’ll be wearing: just jeans, a flowy top that looks put together from the other side of the counter? I’ve stopped going home between dinner and work to fix my hair and makeup and outfit. I no longer wonder what garment will move well as I trip up and down the stairs.
With clothes, what does this ambiguous process of growing up look like? I wish I would look into my currently-empty closet for next year and see that once-senior’s wardrobe, because maybe looking at it now, older, I would understand it better than I did then. Still, I remember something, and what it meant for me at the time, if not an objective recollection of “things as they were”: her face, the way she talked and laughed, the jeans she wore as she leaned against the counter.
Maybe clothes aren’t the most important part of this story, and I have to concede to the copy editor who chastised me last year that I haven’t progressed much as far as points go in this column. But as seniors are leaving, and each class moves up a year, and maybe some of us want to forget what happened yesterday in anticipation of what will happen tomorrow, I want for myself to contemplate the translation between time and place and people. This kind of translation is marked by physicality: it is a bedroom, for me, a spot behind or in front of a counter, a flippy skirt or its absence, that mark both change and stasis. Clothes are a part of that.
Wardrobe is such an important part of our physical experience because it accrues and carries meaning across time but also because it is simply a part of the memories we form of events and habitudes and the things we used to desire. We remember bodies, in spaces, moving and surrounded by movement. As seniors leave, we will look at the spaces they once occupied, and we will wonder what they thought of us from that space, what they thought of at all, and we will remember what we thought of there, with them. Maybe, we will remember what they wore, or the kinds of things they wore, or what they didn’t wear.
So seniors, we — your friends and even the silent freshman who smiles at you sometimes — say goodbye to you, as symbols and perhaps distant awe-inspiring figures to those who don’t know you, and as individuals to those who do. Maybe, the girl wearing jeans behind the Paces barista counter five years from now will get that image, of leaning blue, from me, and maybe I got that from you.