Writing Catalog

Noel Ullom

Grade: 11

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Scott Parsons

An Attempt to Define What I Am Not Sure is Mine

Personal Essay/Memoir

An Attempt to Define What I Am Not Sure is Mine

Ever since I reached the age to understand it, I have been told I have my father's eyes. I have been told that when someone meets my gaze, they find the same curiosity and lightheartedness I admire in someone else. The crinkle around the eyes whenever we have been surprised with unexpected laughter. The shade of brown that struggles between light and dark, undeciding, as if to choose one would be to surrender to a simplicity they fear. At the same time, others tell me they resemble my mother's. Not in color, as hers reflect a summer sky and mine the earth beneath it, but in shape and constant movement. Despite this, my eyes share a streak of hazel with hers, an act of defiance as if to reclaim me. Let me look in the mirror now. I meet someone's eyes everytime I do, my own I suppose, but what makes them so? If it is not their defiant color and not their softer shape...is it only what they have found that sets them apart?

Early on in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Carraway admits to being the product of a long family history in New York. More specifically, he explains that he comes from a "prominent" and "well-to-do" family that has lived in the city for three generations, taking great pride in their wealth and traditions. Said traditions, however, strangely include complete denial of their true story in America: that Nick and his relatives descended from Nick's grandfather's brother who began a hardware business. His family instead turns to the tradition that they descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, or in other words, the tradition that they did not need to work for where they financially stand today. The tradition of their imagination quickly turning into reality with ease and for the sake of ease. The tradition that Nick continues to carry.

Despite every difference in our lives, pasts, and stories, my physics teacher and I now sat in the same room to discuss the very subject of how we came to be here. In this interview and over the two years I have known him, Mr. Dimitrov often credits his father for his accomplishments and stories. He explains that his father had come to America from Macedonia, had a career as an industrial electrician, and worked tirelessly to support his family as Mr. Dimitrov grew up. As he got older, his father's support also took the form of introducing him to his career path, and exposing him to the various possibilities of technology and science. These words and encouragements from his father helped to shape Mr. Dimitrov's perception of what the future may hold for him, but a single word spoken to him by his father later on held more power than he can even comprehend today: "go." He had been accepted to college. And his father was going to pay for it.

My eyes have discovered many things over the course of their lifetime, but laying them upon the building of my father's college campus brought with it more significance than the eyes could ever catch. I looked up at my father's alma mater, but with my own desire; had been brought here by my family, but at my own request. An odd combination of reminiscence and discovery hung above us as we stood - I met the gazes of each high window in a series of first-times while my dad spoke of last times, I watched as the buildings told me their stories while my dad told stories for them. Our eyes looked, though at the same building, at a different time. As I turned to examine the rest of the campus, I'm not sure what I found: whether I watched myself in years ahead walking to her next class or my father doing the same. What I do remember, above all else, is a fighting determination to find the first. To find a version of myself that walks with intention and certainty towards a future she knows is hers alone, despite finding familiar footsteps along the trail.

Upon moving to New York, Nick Carraway suffered a temporary yet undeniable feeling of loneliness, of feeling lost in an endless sea of nameless mansions and individuals. It was not until a certain encounter with a stranger that he even considered the idea that he may belong there. One morning, Nick is suddenly stopped by a man asking for directions to West Egg - a favor that not only required knowledge, but taking on the role of an inhabitant. During this strange yet prideful moment, Nick describes, "I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler". Original settler. Original. Not only had he discovered this place, he believed, but he had discovered it as his own.

There is a quote that Mr. Dimitrov had been told long before he stepped on his college campus but began to hold meaning only once he arrived there. As he sat amidst a sea of fellow ninth graders at his high school's opening assembly, a teacher once read, "Goodness without knowledge... is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous... Both united form the noblest character." Said words sat in the back of his mind as he grew and matured over the years, as he explored what defined both the world around him and himself. He told me that he was once obsessed with logic. He would examine every subject, every person, every moment with a lens consisting only of what he believed to be reason and evidence, what he believed to be true and obvious. He himself, perhaps, got in the way of this. Or rather, what was thrust onto him. As years went on, he fell unexpectedly in love - not only with his wife, but with his newly adopted child Georgia. "When Georgia came along… it completely upended my world. I know it's a cliche, but even more so than that," he told me with smiling eyes. It was the first cry of his child that offered him the truest definition of his noblest character, that offered him another world to combine with his own.

As I come to the end of this essay, I realize I have yet to understand who I live for. Who I write this piece for. Is there a part of me that relishes in watching indecision dance foolishly across the page, or do I feel as though I owe a sort of answer to my reader? Did I begin typing, and do I look in the mirror, to find the ones I love or the one I've been learning to love? There's an answer out there, I hope, but one that transcends this moment and myself; one that maybe I'll catch floating in the eyes and cries of another, or the darkness of my own alight with time. But even so, I suppose I'll end this essay with a guess: that the reason I live is for this alone, for losing and discovering what I mean to find as I find it.