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How Is an Onion Like Memories?

A blue sign next to a highway with "Welcome to Pennsylvania" in big white text and "Pursue your happiness" and "" underneath
Welcome or Welcome Back?

Well, they both have layers and can make you cry.

One evening, as my dad and I drove through Crystal City, he pointed out the hotels he had stayed in, the office buildings he had worked in, and the building his temporary apartment was in while he was on TDY. These landmarks accumulated from years of trips and meetings, representing layer upon layer of personal history. That idea stuck with me: the sidewalks and high-rises of Crystal City were like a giant onion of memories. I couldn’t compete with that. I had some memories of the D.C. area and had even visited my dad at that temporary apartment, but the only place I’d consistently returned to was my grandparents’ house.

That drive took place a few days after my family moved to Arlington from Carlisle. My dad and I took another drive down memory lane (or Spring Garden Street) the day we moved back to Carlisle. We had known we were moving back for months at that point and had been hoping to move back for even longer. I was excited about so many things – seeing my friends, rejoining the Quiz Bowl team, eating at my favorite restaurants – but I was also nervous. What if all the anticipation resulted in disappointment? What if I had changed too much after two years in Arlington?

Two dogs are in an empty room. One is black and laying further away, one is white with brown and black spots and is looking back towards the camera.
The dogs remembered their way around

The transition went smoothly from day one. I remembered my way around the grocery store, seeing my friends in person again was even better than I imagined, and sometimes it felt like we hadn’t moved at all. After previous moves, everything was totally new; however, this move involved less jumping into the unknown and more triangulation between my memories of Carlisle a few years ago and the Carlisle of today. I’d expected there to be some things that had changed or that I’d forgotten, but I hadn’t expected the little flashes of memory I’d get as I went about my day walking past an old classroom or driving downtown.

The move back to Carlisle intersected with some major personal changes as I became a high school senior. That change was inevitable regardless of where I lived, but being able to compare my freshman and senior years with the location being a constant was a novel experience. I rejoined the Quiz Bowl and Academic Decathlon teams. Most of my teammates from freshman year had graduated, so now I was playing as a captain who could provide advice to new players – even though I had been one myself just two years ago. My closest friends and I picked up right where we left off, although college became a major topic of discussion. We took pictures and ate dinner at the same spots before homecoming, this time as almost-adults. Having my first and last years of high school in the same place has made the comparison even starker, something I didn’t expect but am still thankful for.

It’s easy to wish that I hadn’t moved away from Carlisle in the first place. It may feel like I slipped back into my life here and no time passed, but I can’t magically make up for those two years. Reacclimating has been bittersweet. I know, however, that you can drive yourself crazy with all the what-ifs. Change is inevitable for people and places. What I choose to focus on is the fact that I’m here now, back at school and with my friends, able to add more layers of memory even if two years are missing. I’m going to keep on changing, and so is Carlisle, so is every place I’ve lived – but I’m also going to keep making memories, layer by layer.


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