I am haunted by words. I used to think the dead were the only ones up for the task. But the ghost that follows me is no restless soul. It’s just a two little words. Just an idea.
Back in the days of junior high, there was a giant, cloth poster that hung in the hallway by the door facing the road. In big, sloppy red letters, it read Carpe Diem. I guess it was supposed to be inspirational. Most of the time, it just felt like those words were screaming disapproval of my mediocrity, of my meaningless, meager junior high existence. I didn’t know how to get through the days without hiding behind my hair, let alone do something that would give meaning to the dimly lit halls of junior high. Like it was even possible to do anything but survive the long days of chicken scratch on wide-ruled paper and boys that tried to cover up their newfound body odor with Old Spice cologne and girls that wore so much drugstore makeup you weren’t really sure what their faces looked like.
It didn’t seem to matter, though. The words still bore into my retinas, squiggled through my pupils, and into my memory. Just when I think I’m content, the red letters awaken from some distant part of my mind and take a swim in my thoughts. And I’m filled with uncertainty.
Just earlier this week, my Spanish professor stood at the front of the room and asked us if we did anything interesting over the weekend. Everybody kind of shrugged. “La tarea,” a few of us said, indicating that we had spent quality time with our homework. I joked with the kid I sit next to that homework is all I ever do.
My professor sighed and shook her head. “Wasted youth,” she said in English.
I thought maybe she was right. The crimson letters infiltrated my neuropathways. They bobbed around in my head once again. Carpe Diem.
Maybe I’m supposed to go make memories so I can live off the fumes of nostalgia for the rest of my life. And when my bones get old and creaky, and my thick head of hair starts to thin, and the smiles add up on my cheeks and my forehead, then my youth, my beautiful, glorified memories, will make my aging lighter, easier. I’ll never have to carry the weight of regret.
I wish I knew what seizing the day meant. I wish I knew what it is that I’m supposed to do with my youth. World travel? Adventures? I wish Herrick had left a better picture. What rosebuds am I supposed to gather? What is it, Sir, that keeps your bones tossing and turning in the earth?
Sometimes, I just want to read books. I just want to sprint through the pages of somebody else’s imagination. I want to drink coffee by the gallon and listen to music. I want to watch the trees turn colors; I want to laugh at the same jokes with the same friends until my abdomen hurts. Maybe my life isn’t interesting. Maybe the things I do don’t fascinate other people. Does that make my vase empty, my youth wasted?
Sometimes when I drive by my old school, I can still see the old poster through the door window, when the lights are on inside the building and the day is overcast enough to block out the glare. I wonder if it’s really about seizing time at all.
I have this theory about going to concerts. You know that feeling you get, when the night has stolen the sun, and your favorite band takes the stage, and the summer air feels so sweet, and you are filled with energy, energy so real it’s like you can reach out and touch it? And the air is electric, and if you’re anything like me, the guitar is too. The music takes you. The world disappears, and the sound drowns out all the thoughts in your head. When it’s time for your favorite song, you sing along and you know the beat of the drum and the chords of the guitar like the night knows secrets, and you feel like you’re soaring through soundwaves.
But it wouldn’t feel like that if you hadn’t listened to that song every day for the past ten months. You don’t love the song because of the concert. It’s all those times before and all those times after that made the concert worth going. You didn’t invent the song’s meaning in one day.
Coffee spoons measure weeks. A chapter a day turns into a bookshelf a month. And those bold, red words still haunt. But sometimes the sound of an acoustic guitar is all a cloudy day needed to matter. And sometimes your same old stupid friends can wrestle the words away, and make them lie there, dormant. And meaning finds its way into life, rosebuds or marigolds.