I always struggle to come to terms with endings, even when they’re welcome. I don’t think anyone would argue that 2016 was a perfect year. When we look back, we will remember Turkey and Nice and Syria. We will remember Brexit and the U.S. election that cultivated tension all across the country. We will remember Keith Lamont Scott and Prince and the countless others whose high profile deaths left millions shell-shocked. Twenty-sixteen was nothing if not eventful, and many people will have felt the aftershocks of a draining year that left them counting down the hours until 2017. Even still, we are left with prevailing hope for the future.
It was a big year for me, too. Even without the experiences I shared with the rest of the world, I went through so many life changes within twelve months that I still have trouble recounting everything that happened. Last January feels eons away, and the girl who maneuvered those early days of 2016 feels like a stranger, someone I once knew but haven’t spoken to in years. It’s hard for me to eloquently describe the ways my world changed in 366 days (thanks a lot, leap year), but I found myself looking for ways to commemorate perhaps the craziest times of my life.
Perhaps I’ll measure the year with too many tickets. For busses and trains and metros and planes. For a palace opera, for a Beyoncé concert, for a Yom Kippur service, for a graduation ceremony, for art and history museums. I keep them tucked inside books so that someday I will stumble upon them again and the memories will come rushing back. I’ll remember the excitement that bubbled in my stomach as I stared down from airplane windows and how I lost myself in the high-pitched vibrato of La Traviata. I’ll remember wondering, time and time again, if I was living in a dream. I’ll remember waking up in new places and feeling like a new person, how foreign streets became familiar with each passing day. I’ll remember how I kept my suitcase permanently packed and ready, how I lived a life untethered, uncertain of the future but happy with it all the same.
I’ll measure the year with battered shoes. I cannot count the number of disapproving looks my mother directed toward my feet. “Maybe you should invest in some new ones,” she strongly suggested more than once. But I continue to superglue soles back together and hike through cities and woodlands and mountainsides. These shoes are reminders that life has kept me on my toes as I moved from one place to the next, wandering through new places and rediscovering old ones. Reminders that I never stopped moving my feet, even when I lost all motivation and began to wonder if there was a point to any of it at all. These shoes carry the soil of worlds that are already fading away in my memory. They tell more stories than my words ever could.
I’ll measure the year with phone calls. With short conversations spent laughing at the top of my lungs and long conversations spent whispering into the receiver conspiratorially. Conversations that crossed state lines, that overcame eight-hour time differences and the spaces between that felt impossibly vast. Thousands of miles became hundreds and hundreds became none whenever I closed my eyes. These moments made me temporarily forget that everything had changed, because the voices that filled my ears made me feel like I was home again.
I’ll measure the year with goodbyes. I’ve never been very good at them, but I’ve rehearsed the script so many times by now that it rolls off my tongue automatically. Goodbyes to friends, to families, to professors and acquaintances, to cities and countries, too. Goodbyes that made me cry in cars and trains and planes, goodbyes that broke my heart and made me want to turn around and return to where I was at the start. They make me so tired, these words; sometimes, they are too much to carry. They make me want to stop time and live inside stagnant moments that feel like warm blankets and unconditional love. But my father once told me that goodbyes are gifts in disguise, that every tragic end is just a beautiful beginning, and that’s what gets me through every time.
And so here you go, 2016: you’ve been terrible and wonderful and everything in between. You have dragged me halfway across the world and back and kept me wondering what else was in store. You were a roller coaster of the good and the bad, of the beautiful and the ugly. I’m still not sure what to think of you, but now it’s time for me to say this goodbye, too.