Letter from my childhood bedroom

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Photo courtesy of Kristine White

As part of The Occidental’s COVID-19 coverage, we are running a series titled “Letters from” written by staff writers, editors and Occidental students. These letters aim to document the experience and insights of Occidental students as they adjust to new circumstances.

Since I left Oxy and I moved back home to Everett, Washington, I’ve regressed back to my 16-year-old self. She spent most of her days alone in her room dreaming of what the future would hold. The only difference is now, I have a desk.

In high school, I dreamed of being an artist with pieces in museums across the world. At 16, I was on track to go to art school. Under my desk are boxes of my old oil paintings and drawings. A tin box of 132 Prismacolor colored pencils, once my prized possession, is covered with dust. I hide my handful of Scholastic Gold Key awards in my jewelry box. My drawing board sits beside my bed with another unfinished piece clipped to it. It’s difficult to see the brown board under layers of scribbles, doodles, paint splotches and my then-favorite word, “No.” Art teachers used to scold me for spending more time painting the word “No” onto the wooden stools than touching my canvases. My mom took down the framed copy of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hanging on my wall that I made when I was 13. The only reminder of my art career is the carpal tunnel in my hands from gripping pencils too hard. 

On the wall next to my bed, I taped up posters, all crooked and askew, from all of the theater shows I was in. My birth certificate hangs right there in the mix. At 17, I filled my bookshelf with Shakespeare and other plays, dreaming that I’d be a great playwright one day. I never took playwriting in college. I prioritized academics over auditioning for mainstage productions.

There’s a framed “Les Misérables” quote on my bookshelf from when I worked on a local production: “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Every afternoon, I wake up to sunshine and a warm breeze rustling the evergreens behind my house. But the sun gives me no comfort. Nature, especially the frogs screaming from my backyard, doesn’t care that the world is falling apart. I haven’t gone outside in days — from inside my room, day and night are almost the same.

Shakespeare may have written “King Lear” while in quarantine from the plague, but all I can do is sit at my desk with my laptop open to a blank Google Doc. I stare at the wall for hours, absentmindedly twirling my hair, as anxiety about the future paralyzes me. The daylight fades until only the glow of my screen illuminates my face.

Behind my desk, postcards from all over the world stretch across the wall — from the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, to the rice terraces in the Philippines, to my beloved Eagle Rock. It’s more of a map of my world than the globe on my dresser is. Each postcard is from somewhere I, or one of my friends, once loved, like a map of good memories. In between postcards are theater tickets, a photo of Princess Diana, a Canadian flag, an Oxy First Gen pin and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. (At 15, I carried a pocket Constitution around and thought I’d go into politics.) I kept my name tag from my first Oxy meetup with other incoming first-years in Seattle. That was the first and last time I spoke to many of them. 

I started this wall collage in 2012 with a hand-printed quote from the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack.” “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing,” it reads in patchy ink letters. I wrote one of my college essays on that quote; 18-year-old Kristine dreamed of being a writer, traveling the world telling stories. Maybe I’d write a story about each one of the 40-something postcards, I thought back then. When I finished high school, this wall was my version of the classic graduation book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Now it taunts me with “Oh, the Places You Can’t Go!”

I turned 22 in my childhood bedroom. I laid on my lumpy twin bed — staring at the picture of Benedict Cumberbatch on the ceiling that my friend stuck there on my 16th birthday — listening to One Direction until the clock hit 9:07 p.m. I’ll spend what would have been my graduation day, May 17, the same way. All I dream about now is the day that I can leave this room and start my life. More than all of my previous dreams, this one somehow seems the least plausible.

A rainbow of sticky notes covers the wall behind my headboard with midnight thoughts, future goals and ideas for my long-forgotten YouTube channel. There’s a small pink sticky note right beside my dresser with a star-shaped note stuck to the corner.

Jan. 18, 2020: “Next time you read this, please tell me you’re happy.”

April 20, 2020: “No.”