There is a certain beauty in saying goodbye. The idea that you may never see some place again, some people again, causes such a profound ache, such a flurry of memories, that you can’t help but notice a certain grace in it. Maybe it’s just my teenage melancholy speaking, but that’s how I felt, leaving Iowa.
We make things more beautiful in retrospect, everybody knows that, but the funny thing is, even when I was at Iowa, even when I was in the middle of a heated discussion about Fitzgerald or Ginsberg or what it means to be a writer in the modern age, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that would whisper, These are some of the happiest times of your life. You will miss these moments later.
My roommate and I began emailing long before Iowa started, very soon after we were assigned to each other. We would share little bits of information about ourselves, the books we loved, the music we couldn’t stop listening to, and all the little things that make a person real—her favorite punctuation mark is the m-dash, her favorite flower is the carnation, her favorite time period is the Renaissance (because Shakespeare!), she’s a granola fiend, she listens to the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack just as much as I do. I was stunned at how similar we were, how perfectly we seemed to fit, but when I finally set foot in the Burge Lobby that first day, I realized it wasn’t a coincidence. I had something in common with everyone there. Everyone there could feel the words of great authors, not just read them. Everyone there could write for days on end or argue about Wes Anderson films or tell stories about symbolic turtles, long into the night. We were a motley crew, but we complimented each other perfectly.
I spent two weeks honing my craft in ways I didn’t even knew I could. I spent two weeks learning to find the stories around me, to write the ghosts in characters without ever mentioning their troubles, to hear the poetry in the noise, to turn a city into a sonnet. Every night I went to sleep having written something I wanted to keep, or having read something I never wanted to forget.
I fell in love in Iowa. I fell in love with these people who would risk having to pay overweight fees on their luggage, just so they could bring more books to share and devour. I fell in love with my workshop, a group of people who inspired me and transformed the way that I write, who provided me with a reading list that will last me until my final days. I fell in love with Iowa City, a cement wonderland among the cornfields that bleeds ink and poetry, that opens its cafes and bookstores to young and hungry storytellers clutching Moleskins and watching the world with inquisitive eyes. What I wouldn’t give to relive those two weeks again.
The moment I set foot on the plane back to San Francisco, I knew I had left a piece of my heart behind. It’s still sitting there somewhere—maybe reclining on the couches of the Burge lobby, or lying hidden in the drawer that my roommate and I filled with sugary snacks. Perhaps it’s hidden among the bookshelves of the Iowa City Public Library, where I almost saw Hillary Clinton, or in a coffee cup at Java House, where I curled into a couch at least once a day and just wrote. Maybe it’s nestled somewhere among the cornfields, drinking in the sunlight.
My roommate and I still send each other letters. Not emails anymore, but real, pen-and-ink letters. Every time I tear open one of her new arrivals, I can’t help but feel that ache for Iowa.
There is a certain beauty in saying goodbye, but I don’t think I’m ready to say it yet, even now.
Sarisha Kurup is a junior at The Harker School in San Jose, California. She attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this past summer.