I didn’t expect to feel it until graduation, but in the past week I’ve been hit by an unexpected wave of nostalgia. It all started when my beloved laptop, an 11-inch MacBook Air purchased in 2012, finally stopped working. Not unlike me as a student, the laptop tirelessly chugged away from seventh grade through 12th, doing its best to maintain its efficiency before experiencing a “senior slump” at the end of my senior year. Though I’ve predominantly used it for homework and Netflix during high school, my computer reveals almost every detail of my middle school life, from the countless Photo Booth pictures I used to take with my friends to the Pages documents containing every essay, short story or poem I wrote for school before Google Docs became the norm.
Right after the demise of my computer came the arrival of a long-awaited piece of memorabilia: my “Letter to My High School Self” from Ms. Rubin’s eighth-grade class. Upon reading the first few paragraphs I concluded that, with the exception of my handwriting, I’ve barely changed from then to now. Eighth-grade Chloe, like my current self probably would be, was meticulous about writing down every detail of her life in that moment, from her outfit to the type of cookies she had eaten that past weekend at her older sister’s high school graduation. She admitted being “pretty scared for high school, tbh,” and threatened that she “better have gotten good grades.” The real kicker was reading the page listing all of eighth grade Chloe’s favorite songs and TV shows, most of which I still listen to and re-watch nowadays. So I wasn’t particularly surprised by anything in the letter — that is, until I got to the following words of encouragement from younger Chloe: “Looking at this now, just remember when life was a little bit simpler, even though it seems pretty complicated right now.”
I understand why I would’ve written something like that; as an eighth grader, I’d been terrified at the thought of navigating the immense responsibilities of growing up. My middle school life, though monotonous, had been a comfortable routine of following my predictable class schedule, completing light homework assignments, and enjoying a Friends episode or two before bed. I had no idea what “studying” really meant, and no desire to find out. My monthly allowance covered my trips to the movies and after-school Swizzles runs; the thought of actually working to earn money never crossed my mind.
But even after having tackled the added complications of my high school workload, my two jobs, and the impending threat of having to face the “real world,” I can see and appreciate the beautiful simplicity of my current life. Compared to eighth grade Chloe, who fretted constantly about her school outfits and acne-ridden complexion and would have sobbed at any test grade below an A, soon-to-be-high-school-graduate Chloe is significantly more carefree. Though my deepest insecurities haven’t completely vanished (and probably never will), the sometimes daunting milestones I crossed in high school have undoubtedly made me more confident, thick-skinned, and accepting of my flaws. Rather than panicking at any small bump in the road, I’ve learned to embrace a last-minute hurdle here and there. As I reflect on these past four years, my memories are a strange mix of happiness, embarrassment, laughter and stress, I not only feel an overwhelming sense of relief but a small burst of pride.
I can’t ask her, but I think eighth grade Chloe, in all her insecurity and anxiety about the future, would have been surprised by the simpler life her older self now enjoys.
Chloe Mandel is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.