Four Years Ago

On Saturday, November 5, 2016, I arrived at Union Station on my way back to Brown from a conference. As soon as I walked through the sliding doors, I was suddenly struck by memories from 4 years prior. Each step I took into Union Station, provoked my memory to become clearer. I sat in this station 4 years ago, waiting for a train to take me to Brown after my arrival from Amherst College. I was visiting both of the schools’ accepted student programs because both of them were paying for me to visit. I felt a disconnect between the memories in my head and the reality I was experiencing. There was this sensation of being the same person, but also being someone entirely different.

I walked passed the Subway that was next to the Dunkin’ Donuts. A distinguished memory of me eating food from that same subway fluttered in my mind as I made my way further into the station. The physical space was still the same even after several years.

I sat down and I let the memories and sensations manifest themselves. They worked their magic and I slowly began to remember what I was feeling that day and then, I began to contemplate.

Back then, I was just a high school senior from a small reservation town, waiting with my luggage for the next train to Providence. I was excited and exhausted at the same time after my visit to Amherst.

I was nervous and I was scared.

Everything was so new to me. Visiting colleges. Riding Trains. Traveling by myself. All of this was a lot for me to handle and were actions I did not envision myself doing at 17. It was only 11 months prior that I boarded my first airplane, and now I was traveling by train. I was by myself and all I really wanted was my mother beside me, to help me choose which college would be the best for me. I was indecisive because I was unsure which school, Brown or Amherst, would be the best for me. Amherst was this small beautifully college, located in the mountains. All that I knew of Brown was that it was in a city. I was not sure if I could enjoy that because cities gave me headaches.

Being in Union Station brought back these memories and feelings of uncertainty because it felt like I was checking in on an entirely different person who was so young and so fragile. Who was full of hope and excitement but also of fear and nerves.

I sat in Union Station, stuck between memories of the past and feelings of the present.

The confidence that I did not have at 17 permeated the air around me. I was not nervous and I was not afraid of traveling alone. I sat in Union Station with an awareness of the differences between then 17-year old Ronald and now 21-year-old Charlie. Both of whom on their way to Brown University

Back then, I was just this rezzed Navajo kid who didn’t know how he was going to navigate college or if he was even ready for an undergraduate career. 17-year-old Ronald didn’t know how much of a minority that 21-year-old Charlie is painfully aware of. They were nervous and unprepared for college. They got lost among Brown’s buildings and took the wrong Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) bus.

Now, 4 years later, here I sat, probably in the same spot that I did the last time I was here. The feelings of change and pressure increased and I realized something. 

I took myself for granted. I took my experiences for granted.

Change was something that I did not want to accept but it was something I grew comfortable with. I sat in Union Station, and I was reminded that in May 2017, I will be graduating with an A.B. in Ethnic Studies & Sociology from an institution that has pushed me to my limits, and has forced me to learn how to navigate this very white world.

And, I do not believe that I have ever acknowledged that I changed, and (hopefully) became a much better person.

When I am at Brown, I am familiar with the buildings without having to look at the signs. I know which bus to take to go to the airport, to Wal-Mart, and to the Mall. My days, weeks, and months are scheduled in advance to make time for studying, papers, and exams.

I know what it means to be a minority, to be marginalized, and to fight every single day for validation & affirmations. I feel the pain of isolation but that goes away when I see another minority across the room. We glance at each other at the same time, and we know. Even if we don’t know each other’s names, we have a mutual understanding of being different than our white classmates.

I have a much more complex awareness of myself and of my surroundings.

Something I did not have 4 years prior. Being in Union Station, traveling to that moment of uncertainty, reminded me of how much phases I have undergone. It reminded me of the obstacles I haave overcame. It reminded me of how much my life has shifted since I left my reservation and chose to attend Brown University instead of Amherst.

I have been able to sufficiently navigated college in the last three years and my undergraduate career has kept me busy & has challenged me in ways that high school did not. I have been abroad; traveling to Dublin, Paris, and London. I have conducted my own research. Pulled an all-nighter. Lived off campus, paid rent, and paid my own phone bill.

I have learned so much.

I have so much to learn.

And this is just within my time with Brown. What are the things I have learned outside of Brown? What are the things I will learn once I leave Brown? If so much happened in the past 4 years internally, what will happen in the next 4 years?

I am not exactly sure nor do I believe that I know. Yet feelings of excitement, of hope, and of nerves surround and swirl inside of me. The fear that I had when I was 17 are not with me, and if they are, I am more comfortable with them than I have ever been. 

Maybe, as I am on my path of finding my own Diné Aesthetic, it isn’t going to be this sudden realization of knowing who I am as a person or as a multiracial Diné. Rather, a gradual acknowledgment and appreciation of what I have experienced and the complexity of myself.

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