The end

Published on 2024-04-26

Content warning: existential dread, loss

Spoiler warning: I talk a bit about the film "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" which spoils something that might be thought of as a twist or a reveal, although I'd probably have had a much easier time watching it the first time had I known what I mention from the beginning.

I think my two least favourite times of the year are winter break and the first week of summer. The only two times of year I really have to myself.

I remember so many years ago, my friends and I sat around a bonfire in someone's back yard. It was late in the summer before we'd land in the 11th grade, or our second last year of high school. We agreed that when the summer ended, we'd never be this free again. Junior year was a big step up from what we were used to. We were going into those "university preparatory" classes, where the workload was much higher. We needed to start looking for work during the summers to pay for university. We'd stop being teenagers, ostensibly, and start that painful transition to adulthood. It felt hauntological. Sad, but necessary.


It feels a bit silly in hindsight. But the difference between me and who I was in my junior year is that I have hindsight.

I had an exam tonight. It was my last exam, on the last day of the examination period, in the last time slot of the day. It was a full seven days after my previous exam. I had a full seven days with no other serious responsibilities except keeping myself alive and well and figuring out what it means for a problem to be NP-Complete. And... it was harder than I expected. I think I passed, though time will tell. Either way, I left the exam room... aghast? Humbled, at the very least, and with an overwhelming sense that it was finally over.

I've been thinking a lot about endings.

"I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is a film adaptation by Charlie Kaufman of a book by the same name. In it, a man thinks about his past. Not the "real" past, in some sense, but a past he wanted to imagine he had. He imagines a girl whom he'd like to have dated, as she contemplates breaking up with him. His fantasy isn't exactly an idealized version of his life; it's a world that retains all the complexities of life, but it's something different from what he has. More importantly, it's a world that feels very real until the point that we as the audience run up against the limitations of his own imagination.

I also get pretty hung up on how things could have been different, but you'll never find what you're looking for in a past that didn't exist. I suppose that's what makes hauntology so alluring as a genre: we are haunted by the spectres of what could have been. Even if they aren't "real," they stick with us.

In my senior year, the summer before we all dispersed for university, I took my friends to my family's cabin for a weekend. It was just us. Naturally, we talked a lot about the future, but I couldn't say we were all that excited. Accepting that our futures were what they were meant reckoning with the fact that we'd no longer share our lives like we had before. We'd be spread out across a continent. It seemed as though our friendship suddenly had an expiry date.

Whether or not leaving would spell the end, the nature of our friendship would be changed in ways we couldn't predict.

Relationships long-distance in time

Midnight, one night, one of my friends and I went out to the dock to look up at the stars. That night, more stars were visible than I had ever seen before in my life. I hadn't spent a lot of time out of the city as a kid, and when I did I was often too distracted to look up. I felt present in that moment—more than I usually do, which is to say, not very much. We agreed this didn't have to be the end. I expressed a sentiment very similar to what I'd discussed two months ago: maybe everything is indeed temporary, and maybe that's okay.

Academiology II: Residency

You can't close one chapter of your life without opening the next. Just because the story's over doesn't mean it's gone. Good stories beget more stories.

Humbled, I handed my exam in thirty minutes early. It would have been helpful, surely, to go over my answers even once, but once we entered the last thirty minutes of the exam I wouldn't be allowed to leave. I couldn't bare the thought of having to sit there for another half hour with nothing to do but overthink and overanalyze the problems I simply didn't have an answer for.

I stumbled onto the last bus and got off at my apartment. I sat on a block of wood outside the building, exhausted, and looked up to the sky. The stars here are nothing like they were in the country—just a few light dots in a sheet of dark blue. But they were all still there, after all, whether or not I could see them myself.

I don't like endings, and I don't like goodbyes. Not only because they're hard, but also because I'm not convinced they're the right way to understand our experience. The story of my friend and I looking at the stars hasn't become any less important by virtue of it being in the past. It might not have happened the way I described. It might have been quite different; the mind has a way of filling in gaps with what you want to remember. The story doesn't matter because it's literally real; it matters because it clarifies an answer to a problem I've struggled with for a long time:

There is no end. Good stories beget more stories.

I think these feelings always have a way of getting dredged up around this time of year because people don't always stick around for the summer. Sometimes, summer means losing the people you care about. Maybe they'll be back in the fall, or maybe they won't. Fall means the start of something new—something we can't predict.

I suppose, whether or not the people themselves leave, the stories they leave behind don't leave with them. The same goes for all things and all stories told. There's something valuable about that. Something that transcends keeping things eternally in the present.

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