In where do I fit?

| Staff Columnist

I have a tendency to use semicolons in text messages. It’s a compulsion, really, that I associate with my childhood affliction—an obsession with grammar. I think I started exhibiting the first signs of this as a 4-year-old when I so cheekily told my grandfather that “ain’t” isn’t a real word. Time passed, and I realized that I was bound in some sort of masochistic love affair that, while excusing me from being good at anything with numbers (thank God), singled me out from the rest of my friends, who had no qualms about saying “who” when “whom” was obviously appropriate.

This obsession manifested itself for a time in the form of my refusal to end sentences with a preposition. I went obnoxiously about my day, hopping from conversation to conversation, saying things like, “About what did Mr. Mooney teach today?” or “Does anyone have a pencil with which I can write?” I was insistent; my friends were frustrated. They had a right to be. While, technically, prepositions should never dangle at the end of a sentence, oftentimes it’s just so awkward to rearrange the way in which you speak so you can comport yourself in a manner that won’t upset the English gods. But really? I have finally come to the point where I don’t even know what to do about those prepositions. I am supposed to keep them away from periods, but they don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

I felt exactly the same way when I went home for Thanksgiving break.

I traveled back to Illinois last Monday, exhausted from a night of only three hours of sleep. Home promised to be a warm refuge from work and sleep deprivation, if only for a span of five days, that would help me recuperate from a long semester and prepare me for two more weeks before the break between first and second semester. I dozed away the trip and awoke to find myself back in the cornfields, now stripped from the autumn harvest.

It wasn’t the same. I found myself floating from my room to the living room to watch movies, or to the kitchen to eat, or to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, each place making me more keenly aware of the fact that I had not been there for three months. Furniture had been rearranged. New inside jokes had been born. The microcosm of Mt. Vernon, Ill., had continued to evolve while I was gone, and I felt less a part because of it. They were different. I was different.

People seemed to appreciate being around me more, but still, it was too formal, too sterile. I felt I didn’t belong.

After talking to a few of my friends, I realized that we all experience that feeling on some level or another. We’re all at a point in our lives where it’s hard to tell where exactly we are supposed to be and where exactly home is. Wash. U. has too many people and the beds are too small to be home, but home seemed almost foreign, too small, too pre-med-less.

I suppose the whole coming-of-age story is clichéd only because it’s true. We go away to find ourselves and find when we return home that the people we left actually are people, not these idealized, constant figures of mother, father, grandparents. They change. They mess up. They feel uncomfortable and don’t know how to behave around the college student. It’s awkward beyond all belief, and though both parties try to fix the relationship, to reach back into the past, it can’t be done. We’re left like dangling prepositions or shoved awkwardly into some phrase in the middle of a sentence.

Good writers can bend the conventions of English with the flair of artistic license, though. They can take a cumbersome sentence and make it fluid and natural with just a little bit of effort. I finally came to be comfortable with my new position in my family, not a child but not quite an adult either, and maybe at home in both places.

I’m not quite sure whether I’m supposed to be at the end of the sentence or somewhere in the middle, but I think I’ll keep reading and see how the tale unwinds.

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