The In-between: The Space Between Us

3/17/2019

Photo by Christopher Flynn on Unsplash

I have a trunk where I keep all of my most precious belongings. In it are yearbooks and photo albums and letters from my grandmother. I have a purple necklace that a boyfriend gave me during our senior year of high school, and every single journal I have ever written in since I was twelve. It holds my academic degrees and awards, a dress I wore on a particularly memorable girls’ night out in Guam, and a growing collection of brochures and ticket stubs that I habitually gather during my various trips around the world. To an outsider, this trunk could easily be mistaken for just another storage vessel filled with miscellaneous junk, but to me, it is a treasure chest that holds the most valuable memories of my life.

Given how much I cherish these memories, it may seem somewhat odd that I do not go through the trunk more regularly. Occasionally, I’ll be inspired to crack the lid and sift lovingly through its contents, but most of the time it simply sits in my living room (or, more recently, my storage unit) unopened. Don’t get me wrong—this lack of frequent attention has nothing to do with my forgetting about or losing interest in the magic of its contents. Instead, it is simply that going through these memories properly takes both time and energy, and everyday life often has a knack for getting in the way.

Like most people who have somehow managed to make their way into adulthood, these physical objects are also reminders of the wide assortment of friendships that I have accumulated along the way. These friendships include those from childhood, high school, college, and graduate school. There are the friends that I made during my crazy stripper days back in Guam, and those that I connected with both before and after, while living and working in Arizona. There are also my current Bay Area friends, my work friends, my academic friends, my party friends, and, of course, the friends I know from my travels around the world. Regardless of where these connections came from, however, whether they fluttered through my life for only the briefest of moments or became a central part of my journey, just like the objects I tuck away for safekeeping in my treasure chest, each of these friendships reflects a unique and special part of my life.

The thing about collecting all of these unique connections is that, by definition, every single one of them is different. Although the breadth of this difference can vary significantly from person to person, it is the very nature of human relationships that we all experience some level of variation. This variation is what makes it so certain that each connection will be tied up to a different part of ourselves, thereby reminding us of a different part of how we became who we are. What I love most about maintaining these friendships is thus that they all contain an even greater magic than the objects in my treasure chest, because rather than reminding me of a single event or experience, they instead reconnect me with an entire version of myself—with who I was at a particular moment in time.

That we do not remain a single, static version of ourselves is a somewhat bittersweet reality. Of course, as growing individuals it is our very nature to progress, and so if we did not evolve at all there would be something both incredibly sad and boring about that. At the same time, however, the specific way in which this progress manifests within our lives is both unpredictable and unique, which means that in the process of our evolution we also run the risk of growing apart. People move away, change careers, start families, make new friends, develop different interests, or sometimes just get a little distracted. In doing so, a space of separation inevitably opens up between the two evolving individuals, which may or may not be one that is so easily bridged.

Learning how to navigate these spaces can be a challenging task. Those that are opened up by physical separation, for example, present a number of very concrete obstacles to overcome. The constraints of time, money and geographical distance can make it difficult or even impossible to connect either in person or over the phone. And while social media often serves to create the illusion of sustained closeness, this illusion usually masks our actual separation and furthers our complacency.

The spaces opened up by less tangible forms of separation are perhaps even more challenging to overcome. As humans making our way through the world we cannot help but be shaped by our experiences. The trouble with these experiences, however, is that no two are exactly the same, and this lack of similarity can sometimes lead to a growing sense of untranslatable difference. Perhaps, for example, we develop different tastes in music or art or food, and these differences cause us to misunderstand—or worse, feel left behind by—one another. In the face of this kind of separation, the path around such intangible obstacles is often far less clear, such that we may not even be able to discern a way back into a connection with the other side.

However, the gaps I find most challenging to navigate are those that have opened up within myself. Although I am still (as far as I can tell) inescapably me, the journey I have embarked upon thus far in life has led me through an ocean’s worth of changes. While on the surface, it seems that I have somehow managed to keep most of myself intact, underneath I often struggle to make sense of who I am today amidst all the diverse and seemingly incongruent parts of who I used to be.

It is, in fact, this confusion that lies at the root of my collections. Sifting through the artifacts in my treasure chest enables me to recall meaningful events or situations that have occurred in my life, and helps me piece together the role those moments have played in how I came to be who I am. I’ll pick up an old t-shirt or smell an old bottle of perfume and it will immediately take me back to some specific, formative experience. The process of remembering this experience will bridge my internal separations, reconnecting a part of who I was then, with the person I have come to be.

The magic of my human connections is both more powerful and more complex than that of the items in my trunk. Just as with the objects, reconnecting with old friends sends me on a journey back through time, and helps me bridge the gaps within myself between who I am now and the person I used to be. Even though we may not speak regularly or see each other often, on every occasion when we do manage to connect, it always feels as though little or no time has passed at all. Instantly, we are both transported back to being those same earlier versions of ourselves that we were when we first came together.

However, because we are both going through this process simultaneously, navigating the space between us becomes a more complicated task. Rather than simply bridging the gap and journeying safely to the other side, instead, we both reconvene in a middle space that is suspended somewhere between our old world and the two new ones in which we currently reside. In this way, we find ourselves in the in-between together, somewhere between who we were and who we are, finding community and building connection together in the middle.

Convening with each of my human connections results in a similar sensation. In this way, the magic of these connections is much stronger and slightly different. We need each other to remind us of who we used to be. Both similar and different, because both individuals have changed. Therefore, we meet each other in the in-between of these spaces.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.