Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m both an over thinker and somewhat of a sentimentalist. I’m very much a fan of sitting back and rethinking to times I simply took for granted, while I sit in the present, during dark times, and roll around in my own sadness. It’s probably one of the worst qualities I have, and yet, I get a small amount of joy that I can nearly fit into a sardine can. I don’t necessarily look for said joy, but rather, it sort of shoves its way in my face. More often than not (particularly on a bad day), I’ll unintentionally come across something on Facebook, or in a picture on my phone’s camera roll, or a text from a friend, then do nothing but compare and contrast now to then, and vice versa. Again, it’s awful, and I can’t say I necessarily enjoy it, but the times I do fully recognize what I’m doing it gets me thinking.

Why am I so sentimental?

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved putting things in mass detail. I can’t take a trip somewhere and not take pictures of the first place I ate, or the hotel room I stayed in, or the weird, non-American car driving on the highway. I can’t just visit an abandoned building and not take a single picture. I can’t come and visit my hometown and not take take note of the difference the city is in now. I just can’t help but be particular and almost OCD about taking physical proof that I was somewhere, or near somewhere, or overhearing about something on the news I once visited or partook in.

The farthest this goes back, I believe, was when I was about ten years old. It was a Saturday afternoon. My mom was home, and my dad was out running errands. It was either too hot or I was too lazy to practice basketball on the driveway, so I stayed inside my room and pulled out a piece of paper from my backpack. And for almost no reason whatsoever, I just started writing. I wrote about the color of my walls, of the time on my clock and where the hands were pointed at, of the show my mom was watching (and who was on it, what they were saying, etc.), of the clothes I was wearing, what my cats were doing, what my cats had already done, and about anything else. It took thirty minutes, but I managed to more-or-less describe in detail everything that was going on in my house at that select time just because it felt good. In fact, eleven years later, I can still see that same piece of paper sitting on the carpet in my bedroom, and I can remember thinking, “I’ll find this in a few years, and think it’s the coolest thing ever.”

I lost the paper.

But that’s okay. I had since written on many, many other pieces of paper with the same general idea. But, as time continued and I developed a larger vocabulary, the papers reached higher detail and smaller handwriting to fit it all in. And with each piece of paper, I would think back to my previous paper, or the one from a year ago, or two years ago, and smirk about how far I had come.

A fourteen year-old Joel was already sentimental over something that, in reality, didn’t matter. I wouldn’t need to ever relive those days of nothing going on, but yet, I did because it felt good to just write my weird thoughts down on paper.

Eventually, I stopped doing the detailed papers and switched to writing novels within a year. Little did I know that writing a novel would only further push my desire to be as detailed as possible with about everything I do, say, write or act out on. It’s really something I never expected to do, but I’m immensely happy and proud of it. Not in the sense that it makes me look like a cocky, pretentious jerk, but that it brings me comfort and makes me feel like me.

This is especially awful when I’m telling a story, over text, to friends. I’ve become more self-aware in the past couple of years, but the difference between how I tell a story and how everyone else I know tells a story is sometimes really bothersome to me (for some reason).


Friends: “Tonight, I was getting coffee, and this weird looking homeless guy was sitting at the table next to me playing his harmonica and yelling at people. It was really weird.”

Me: “Oh God. Tonight, I was at a coffee shop with a friend, and we were talking about Breaking Bad when all of a sudden this really drugged up guy sits at the table next to us. He didn’t really say anything to me or anyone at first, but all of the sudden he pulled out his harmonica. Oh, he also had one arm, too. And then he kept singing some song that I couldn’t understand, but his voice was cracking and it was funny and my friend even told me I looked physically uncomfortable. When girls would walk by, he’d yell at them and then it became funnier. But he seemed like a nice enough guy.”

(Ugh. I even hate typing that out, but I don’t mean to. It just happens. Every time.)

While I’m sure my friends roll their eyes anytime I try to tell a story, telling them and telling myself said story the way I remembered it brings me joy. Even though it may have just happened five minutes ago or two minutes ago, it’s something I’ll possibly never get to relive. That in itself pushes me to being an obnoxious storyteller (on accident!) with most everything.

This trend continued to shape itself in 2011 when my grandmother passed away somewhat suddenly. It was March 8, 2011, and I was three days away from spring break, thirteen weeks away from graduation — and two weeks into being eighteen years old. My grandmother had slipped and fallen a week prior to March 8, and I was distraught, but hopeful. Each day she was in the hospital, her health continued to improve slowly but surely and it was looking like she’d be out within a couple of weeks. Never before had I been so relieved so quickly with anything, news or otherwise.

But on March 7, my dad, stepmom and aunt were leaving the hospital for the night. By this point, my grandmother was speaking again – slurred, but speaking – and the first time in the past six days, I felt relieved knowing I would come back the next day and see her smiling and happy. But while we were saying our goodbyes for the night, I had an enormous, pulsating message coming from gut saying, “Take a picture of her.” I fought with myself for some reason for about two minutes, worrying about “how I’d look” taking a picture of my grandmother on a hospital bed, and then decided it can wait until tomorrow when I visit after I’m done with school.

March 8 came, and I never got that picture. In the early hours of the morning, my grandmother was transported to hospice, and though I tried to rush to visit her during lunch, I missed her passing away by a single minute. That tore me apart. I didn’t know what to do. She was the first person I had ever lost in my life who I was extremely close to. Seeing her lifeless body was one of the few times in my life I’ve been in a legitimate state of shock. What my eyes were seeing and what I was telling myself just could not and would equate. Of course, when I did accept she had died – which took about two minutes of a soup of a mind – I cried harder than I ever have in my life.

Looking at it now, any modern trace of being extremely sentimental of various life events stems from the night I fought with myself to take a picture. If I had just stopped caring about what others would have thought of me, I would have taken the last living picture of her and cherished it for years to come. But I didn’t do that. Joel, the eighteen year-old naive high school student listened to his far too hopeful thoughts and let something go I can truthfully never again relive.

It’s been over three years since that incident, and while I miss my Grandma, and while I still have some regret not taking that final picture, I feel like I’m a better person because of it. While her death initially sparked my absurd interest in detailing my urban exploration adventures (which you have physical proof of on this blog!), it also still haunts my thoughts and my the way I think.

Now, why am I so sentimental? 

Life is gorgeous. Life is vivacious. Life is unique. In the darkest times, in the happiest times, and in the solemnest times, life is yours and life is mine. One second gone is one second lost. In the past year alone, I feel I have lived more than I ever did in the twenty years in Texas. I’ve experienced things I had only dreamed of, met people I typically wouldn’t have talked with, seen things most only see pictures of; all while I live vicariously through myself for the first time in my life. What I’m making in St. Louis isn’t better than what I made in Amarillo. What I’m making here is nothing more than a new set of experiences and a new life that, eventually, I’ll look back on and smile and cry about. I won’t be crying because I’m ashamed of what I’ve done or how far I’ve come, I’ll be crying because I was lucky enough and blessed enough to do things that only once seemed like fiction. And it’s for that which I’m eternally grateful.


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