eastpack

Aug 11, 2021

By: Frank van Kasteren

For years I’ve had this fantasy that one day I’ll get up, fill my Eastpack backpack with too many books, get on a bike with Roses from Outcast on my MP3 player and start a new year at my high school. The beginning of a school year. That explosion of all emotions at once. Disappointed that the holiday was over, the thrill because you were going to see the girl you secretly liked again, sadness about holiday lovers, regrets about things you wanted to do this holiday, curious about the new first graders, classmates and schedules, scared for everything you fear as a teenager, angry with everything you are angry with as a teenager and… horny. The boys at least. And then, with the same classmates and teachers, we just pick up where we left off. With that last thought, I always feel an emptiness that I don’t quite understand yet. It’s not that I miss that time or that I’m less happy now than I was then. On the contrary, my high school days were not that fun. I sometimes think that some of my hypothetical lives were then put on hold and are still there waiting for me to come pick them up. But I’m not coming, because I don’t know how. My Eastpack went into the trash years ago in a state of decomposition, the ugly high school building was completely demolished and replaced by another ugly building, and my classmates are no longer teenagers, but people in their early thirties. When I meet those people these days, it feels like I’m meeting someone new. As if I know that person twice after that: then and now. Not that it is disappointing or that they have all changed a lot, but because I miss the gothic, the nerd, the hippie, the metalhead, the skater, the mean girl, the cockroach, the junkie or the prettiest girl in the class. Now they are their jobs and often look like them. Sometimes they are already moms or dads and most of them look like that as well. They don’t look like themselves from back then, from my fantasy.

After all, as a teenage boy, you try to be what the girls want you to be.

My fantasy is a potpourri of the most vivid memories of that time, the memories of unanswered love, friendships that would last forever, and open-ended stories that muse on. In that world time stands still. Maybe that’s why I like to be in that imaginary world, because I’m not in a hurry or too busy. And because it is forever. Those Job People in their early thirties are living proof of the fact that time does not stand still in that world either. I know that, of course, but still, when I see them, I feel an emptiness that I don’t quite understand yet. Because that means that the school year will never start over again.

In 2005 my school year started more exciting than ever. Before the summer holidays I had met a girl: Ismay. She came to our school after the holidays because after her MAVO she decided to do HAVO. She was very fond of acting and had persuaded me to participate in the school musical. After all, as a teenage boy, you try to be what the girls want you to be. I’d been a vegetarian for a year, played tennis for a year, pretended to listen to Korn and Slipknot, and watched a famous Dutch Soap for a year. And now the school musical: Romeo and Juliet. We were going to audition for the lead roles when the year started, we agreed. Then of course we would start dating afterwards, I thought. I must admit, it was kind of strange that I hadn’t seen Ismay at all for the first few weeks of the year, but it wasn’t until I got the part of Romeo that I learned Ismay had failed her exam by a few tenths. No HAVO, no school musical, no dating. The musical was never played and I never saw Ismay again. If I’d meet her now, I would probably know two Ismays afterwards. Even though I know I’ve been lying awake for nights, unable to focus on anything, there’s something inside me that misses those kind of weeks. That explosion of so much emotion.

I hope someone gets on a bike somewhere right now, with an Eastpack that’s too heavy and Kafka’s Into the Sunlight on the MP3 player.

And here we are. It’s 2021 and out of nowhere we can start again, all together. It doesn’t look like my fantasy at all, but I recognise the disgust, the curiosity, the thrill, the sadness, the regret, the fear, the anger and the horniness. I don’t feel like it and look forward to it. I am curious and above all afraid. Afraid that it will be disappointing or pass too quickly. I hope someone gets on a bike somewhere right now, with an Eastpack that’s too heavy and Kafka’s Into the Sunlight on the MP3 player. And sometimes, when in my memories that teenager from back in the day stares ahead, he feels a void that he doesn’t quite understand yet. A void in places he doesn’t know yet, in a part of himself he didn’t become yet. Then it feels as if ‘the me of today’ can talk to that teenager from back in the day. As if we are together in that moment. And as if that teenager back then has heard it in that void, and as if the things he said in that void were addressed to me now. To the man sitting here right now.Whenever I realise that, I wonder if the emptiness I sometimes feel now is perhaps a moment where I am together with older myself from the future. From after this explosion. I will try to listen to what he says. And then I say to him, enjoy this moment for me, because I don’t know how to do that yet, but later it will be beautiful.

This blog was written in response to Kafka’s song Into the Sunlight.

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