Last night, I went to visit Pink and JD (my friends who are getting married) and we had a fabulous night, just cooking, baking, eating, and watching the Penguins totally dominate the Maple Leafs (Leaves?). It was a great night, and actually, I kind of forgot that I wasn't still in undergrad just down the road; I mean, I probably spent about half of my evenings doing some variation of that all last year. So like I said, awesome night. It was just what I needed. What I didn't need? The emotional breakdown I had once I got to the parking lot (don't freak out, mom, just keep reading).
I got in the car and immediately pictured myself driving back to my college. I had to shake that thought out of my head and remind myself to go 35 miles beyond that down the road. That's when the waterworks started. Now, if you know me at all, you know that it does not take much to make me cry. I cry during almost every movie, when I'm sad/happy/angry/frustrated/excited/any emotion, and at plenty of other things. It's really just how I express myself, and it usually relieves some stress. But last night, I just let loose and basically cried steadily for the ten minutes it took to get from the parking lot to the exit that I used to take to get back to school. I felt this inexplicable pull to take the exit and just drive through my college campus.
So I did just that. I started around the road that encircles the campus and just drove slowly, remembering what it was like to be there. I drove past the academic building where I spent the better part of my class time (and the majority of last semester in general), the library where I used to do research for my senior seminar paper until they kicked me out at midnight, and the campus center where I checked my mail every day, worked in the snack shop, ate in the dining hall, worked out on the elliptical, and went to a bunch of concerts and dances. I kept going around and ended up driving along the Yellow Breeches, a creek that runs through campus. I drove over the covered bridge that I drove over every day last year and pulled into a space in that commuter parking lot I hated so much. I was just going to go sit by the edge of the Breeches, but then I realized that the grass was soaking wet, so I nixed that plan.
Instead, I decided to disregard my earlier post regarding "being smart" (as well as the fact that a girl was recently attacked on the campus...okay, so I'm giving away my location), and I walked along a path alongside the Breeches, towards the swinging bridge. As I walked, I figured out why I felt so pulled back to that campus that night: I wanted to be in a place that knew me. I love where I am now, don't get me wrong. But I can't attach my new home with my spiritual, emotional and intellectual development. That campus, however, is where I became who I am today and met some of the most incredible and influential people I've ever known. And as I continued to walk, I realized that I had never really grieved the loss of this place in my life.
I don't want to trivialize the grieving process; I've experienced the death of loved ones, and this is not the same situation. But in a way, it is similar: I had a deep connection with the people and the place, I lived and breathed it for four years, and all of a sudden, I wasn't a member of that community anymore. At least, not in the same way. I spent my senior year getting ready for grad school and living off-campus, so I had already mentally disconnected myself from much of the community. This really helped me move forward, but I think it led to the setback I experienced last night. I had this sudden realization that I had basically wished away the end of this experience while striving for the next one. And this past summer, I didn't have a spare second to just sit with that loss. A month and a half of moving home, tying up loose ends, planning and packing; sixteen days backpacking in Europe; five days of unpacking and re-packing; a week in New Orleans; five days of unpacking and re-packing; a week at the lake; five days of unpacking and MAJOR re-packing; moving to a new place. Last night was the first time I really thought, "I miss this, and I miss it a lot."
I kept walking (being mindful of the time, because there is a midnight curfew and I didn't want to start my life as an alum by being arrested) and eventually got to the bridge. I walked across, and stood in the place where I stood just over a year ago, in the midst of a fun photoshoot with my housemates. At that time, we felt like we were right in the middle of our lives; we were about to graduate from college and get jobs (or, in my case, pay for some more education) and start this whole second half of our lives. And as much as that's true, I feel even more in the middle right now.
While I am kind of straddling that gap between college and real life (grad school screws with your head, guys), I'm also stuck between living in the present (as well as for the future) and embracing my past. I'm trying to figure out what it means to appreciate and really love where I've been without trying to get back there. Without needing to get off that exit every time I drive past.
After that slight revelation, I felt way more at peace, and I walked back to the parking lot, where I literally started the car at 12:01 (but there were no PSafe around, so I was good), and finished driving around the circle. I drove back to Civil War Land with much less stress and a new perspective. I'm still working on how to balance those two extremes, but at least I'm not an emotional wreck like last night. Stay tuned for further developments, my dear readers.