At a high school graduation I attended, one of the graduates sang “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins, and I wanted to die. His out-of-tune crooning, faux-Southern accent, and misguided attempts to bring out the emotion by clenching his fist and closing his eyes were enough to make even the kindliest of columnists pray for a lightning bolt from above.
“You’re gonna miss this / You’re gonna want this back / You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast,” he “sang.”
I’m sure as hell not gonna miss listening to this crap. Dear God, who let this happen? This is an abomination only made acceptable by the fact that I can later mock it in a column. I quickly dismissed the entire thing as a goofy bit of sentimental garbage that would hopefully fade into the backlog of my memories along with the Lenore Psych Experiments of ’82 and my Great Uncle Jerry.
Now I realize that performance of “You’re Gonna Miss This” was exactly like a bulbous, hair-covered European man sprinting toward you across a Moroccan beach wearing nothing but a G-string and a smile.
You’ll never be able to burn the memory out of your mind. Trust me.
I learned that lesson this past week while I was working with some of my fellow editors on The Heights. As I normally do, I held forth on the crucial topics of discussion that day—geothermal politics, transubstantiation, bike repair, etc.—and allowed my wisdom to enter the young ones’ minds like a fungal infection enters the nether regions.
“Would you rather have constant diarrhea or be constipated every day?” I posited.
I let the masterfully crafted Socratic wisdom of my query sink in. The scene unfolded around me. The office, the people, the feel of the uncomfortable chairs with the missing wheels, even the rancid fish stench from whoever threw an entire bowl of clam chowder in the trash.
Just like that, my brain was brutally assaulted by the memory of a tone deaf 17-year-old trying to imitate Trace Adkins.
“You’re gonna miss this,” he nasal-screamed into my frontal lobe.
“Oh God,” my gray matter said. “Get this saccharine crap out of here.”
“Saccharine?” my hippocampus said. “Wow, Mr. Smartypants with the vocabulary words. God, you’re the worst.”
“Shut your fat ass up, hippo,” my amygdala said. “I’ll come over there and shove my fist down your throat.”
Despite the vicious lobe infighting, I couldn’t get the song out of my head. It wouldn’t let go. Nostalgia had gotten hold of me again.
The only reasonable way to deal with it was to stand up, announce that I simply must visit my proctologist, and gallop away. I did just that, the song still echoing across my synapses as I escaped.
The next day, I was running by the Res. The Pru and the Hancock were lit up in the setting sun, the water glistening, my shoes digging into the dirt. I could feel the last warmth of summers gone by, and my mind glowed with sentimental prose. Someone I knew ran by in the opposite direction, and I smiled.
“You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back.”
Day after that—grilling some brats. Trying to enjoy some packaged pig guts and sunshine in peace.
“You’re gonna miss this—”
Sitting in class.
“You’re gonna miss—”
OH GOD IT’S EVERYWHERE.
There is not a moment of senior year that is not absolutely infested with living nostalgia. I wake up every morning and think, “less than 250 mornings left. You’re gonna miss this,” and it gets worse with every passing day. I can’t have a conversation without remembering that in less than a year I’ll probably never see this person again, and happy memories I have of them will bring nothing but pain and longing.
This state of perpetual nostalgia for something that isn’t over yet can’t possibly be healthy.
The night after my middle school graduation I sat at my kitchen table in the dark—tie loose and shirt sleeves rolled up—drinking Cran-Grape juice and a shot of ginger ale on the rocks while contemplating how grown up and serious my 13-year-old self was. After every football game during my senior year of high school, I drove around my city for an hour listening to Beck sing “The Golden Age.” Even then I knew that big changes were on the way. Now they’ve happened. Everything from my morning routine to my greatest ambition has transformed. Friends that I used to see every day, I see once a year. I’ve left behind one part of my life after another in order to move on to the next, as we all have.
That leaves us at a point where we’ve experienced plenty of goodbyes, and we’re primed to experience them again. Awareness of the next goodbye bogs everything down in soap opera bullcrap. The pressure to appreciate passing moments causes you to ruin passing moments. Nostalgia for your present is only useful so far as it occasionally reminds you to take the time to look around. Otherwise, it’s a persistent blinding force that screws your ability to see the world as it is and do what needs to be done. You can’t live life in a permanent state of emotional reflection.
Tuesday night—I sit in the dark trying to turn vague ideas and dumb phrases like “persistent blinding force” into a column filled with my patented wacky humor, illogical connections, and insufferable, overwrought, multi-adjective sentences. I’m sweaty, have a headache, want to go to sleep, hate how hard it’s been to write this column, wonder if I’m losing whatever marginal skill I had, and can’t stop thinking about the extremely vivid blood cancer diagnosis dream I had last night.
In this burst of feverish, unhappy column-writing, I break out of nostalgia for a second and get a clear look at my life. I’ve escaped the clutches of Trace Adkins. I’m finally free. The situation is clear. Now I see the way forward—how to take advantage of every moment, not get mired down in nostalgia, and achieve the fulfilled life. A life of clear-eyed apprehension, realism, and truth. This is it, the final piece of wisdom that my devoted readers need—
Then one of my roommates comes back from the library and says good night.
“Mm,” I say, then quietly burp.
He heads upstairs, headlights pass through the window, the bright white light moves across the room, someone outside laughs, a nearly complete column waits at my fingertips.
“You’re gonna miss this.”