I'm sitting on the balcony couch of Atlantis, the Atlas house, under night stars and fuzzy blankets. Berkeley's frat parties are the background music as O tells me about her dad crying when his best friend fell into depression, her own mental health struggles a few weeks later and she could only tell her mom, her sister currently estranged from the family, her brother dying of cancer, given 2 more years. Her brother whom she loves, and she’d come back during Christmas mainly to visit him. Or not, she doesn’t really want to go back to her super-religous family.
She puts her face in her hands, looks up, tries to keep her eyes open. Her eyes with intricate patterns across her blue irises, red veins on the white sclera, brown eyebags.
"You look tired. Maybe you should sleep."
"You're right." She stands up, yawning. "Goodnight, Laura."
We climb up the stairs. I watch her disappear into her room. When I tiptoe into mine, the clock reads 3:02 AM. My roommate, U, is long asleep. Moonlight streams through the open curtains.
Bringing my writing into the moment has the side effect of bringing me into the moment. For a slice of a second, I’m back. I’m on the balcony, overlooking frat houses blasting some Top 10 hit, California air through my hair. I’m walking back to my room with warmth in my blood, E’s challenge to my abortion opinion to sleep on.
After Atlas, I’d associated its memory with pining. A void. Controversial opinions unvoiced, criticism unuttered, disagreements unspoken, in every conversation.
I tried to recreate the culture I loved. I told M that I want friends back home to be more thoughtful. (A dick move, I now realize.) I wanted to scream at this world for giving me a glimpse of emotional and intellectual fulfillment I want in my life indefinitely, then ripping me away, before I was ready to say goodbye.
But for the first time, writing about Atlas didn’t hurt. Wasn’t accompanied by longing bubbling underneath my lungs. For the first time, I was happy to have slivers of my feelings preserved in eternally-lasting words. To reread my descriptions and feel it again.
Cohort 4 of Atlas 2022 will never happen again. I'll never sit on the second-floor balcony with H, E, and U again; I walking in past midnight asking us how we're evaluating the game theory of staying up. Perhaps that is fine. Perhaps it is enough to have not just photographs or ephemeral memories, but my narrative essay to tuck next to my heart. Perhaps I don't need to optimize for more Atlas environments.
When I started writing this piece, missing Atlas was messing with my peace of mind. I couldn’t take it anymore. I know that writing reveals gaps in your arguments by forcing your logic onto the page. Perhaps the same applies for feelings?
But now, I realize, writing doesn’t just help you understand your emotions. It makes you at peace with them.