"I believe in you."
It was late August, the day before I was due to leave home for college. My mom watched me pack my bags. I wavered over one item before placing it back into my closet.
"It will be hard sometimes, but you have to believe in yourself too."
I packed my bags with articles of clothing, yes, but also with hopes and dreams and with beliefs—about what my future held in store for me, about who I was and who I wanted to be.
My parents packed their bags too. But, while I was embarking upon a trail to adulthood, to college and the years beyond, they were heading for a family outing—for the first time ever, without me.
I packed my bags with expectations. They packed theirs with memories, tracing my first few words to the present moment, in which I declared my independence by deciding to make the trip on my own.
I would be leaving the city alone; I felt it was fitting. But as I reached for articles of clothing, I couldn't help but recount all the memories I was taking with me. I packed the shirt I wore when I had my first kiss, the dress I wore on my first date, the pants that will forever remind me of a summer afternoon when I strolled through my neighborhood shortly before I moved. I went through countless sweaters tied to family memories, events so precious they were tattooed firmly into the folds of my brain.
I kept my gaze directed at the pile of fabric under my fidgeting hands to keep my mom from noticing the sudden welling of my eyes. Here were the physical manifestations of all the memories of my childhood. Shuffling through my wardrobe felt like I was scrolling through an album. I grabbed a couple of sweaters and realized that I was holding many years in my grasp. I sifted through memories, carefully selecting some, folding them gently into my suitcase, and leaving others.
I believed I could do it alone; I was so ready to go forth and become my own person, free from the influence of my parents. But, recognizing that my mom believed in me reaffirmed my suspicion that, no matter how much I told myself I wanted to do this, I still did not believe in myself.
The packing felt so familiar. Years before, I had moved from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to New York. Then, like now, my clothes were dispersed into tangled bundles all over the room. The only difference now was that I, not my parents, decided what would be traveling with me.
After moving to the United States, I unconsciously tried my best to make myself as different from my parents as possible. Conversations over dinner morphed from lively chatters in Russian to quick exchanges between my siblings and me in English. For the first few years, my parents struggled to keep up with our pace, and the language barrier began to create a rift that seemed to only widen as cultural differences between our generations became more apparent. I tried to give up as much of my past as possible in order to quickly assimilate into my new community here; my parents reminisced about family and the traditions of home.
I was carrying that same sentiment with me into college: I wanted to redefine myself, to morph into the context of my new home.
The following morning, my mom dropped me off in front of the bus station. I placed my overflowing suitcase into the storage area and boarded a bus headed to Cambridge. As I made my way down the aisle to find a seat, I had a realization, in the dramatic way that people undergoing big changes do.
No matter what I carried with me into and out of college and the years beyond, the memories that have shaped me to this moment would always be with me, silently defining all my actions, lurking and mingling with newfound experiences and eventually settling with the dust of the carefully chosen fabrics in my personal closet.
Now, in the spring of my freshman year, as I get ready to move back home, I will begin packing again. This time, my suitcase will be a little heavier with the memories I’ve accumulated in my two semesters here. I will pack my dress from convocation, the crimson scarf I bought for Harvard-Yale, countless new sweaters, gloves and other things.
Most importantly, I’ll pack a realization: No matter how I change over the next few years, I’ll carry with me the fundamental memories that help me define and believe in who I am.