I went back to college last weekend for something that’s become a bit of a pilgrimage. I drive down for a reading, in the past couple years with a friend (who’s also an alum) and we take in a reading, along with a brief walk around the campus and then it’s on to eat dinner with old friends or professors, all enjoying the stories of who we were a few years before.
The relationship I have with my college is definitely love/hate. I felt mixed emotions about school the entire time I was there–living and breathing so many different emotions so rapidly. A lot of shit goes down in school–a lot of drama, a lot of growing, and lot of stupid decisions made in the name of experience. I quite literally fled campus (and the East Coast) to get away from all of them right after graduating. The first year after school, I was pretty bitter towards my alma mater, in some ways blaming it for the poor choices I made a long the way. I think beyond that, I felt as though despite all its promises of a long and tender relationship, it seemed that once I walked across the stage for my diploma, the cord was promptly cut and all nourishment and love immediately ended. I felt lied to, abandoned. The truths about love and life and poetry did not seem as illustrious when sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a Houston apartment.
So, for about 2 years, I hated my college. Hated it to its core with my very marrow (I take my hate pretty seriously). But then, with time, things changed and so did I. I came back to New Jersey. I slowly began building a life for myself. I got a box-spring and a job that made me feel my college degree wasn’t such a waste. I got business cards. I was not completely in love with my alma mater, but I was willing to test the waters with it again. I’d check out its website, try to see what I had missed (mainly what I could recognize). Friends still were there and we would catch up from time to time. To visit them and to keep (somewhat) abreast of my old department, I would go down, once a year, for a special reading that brought a “big name” to campus. Even better, it brought plenty of unfamiliar faces, allowing me to blend in with greater ease and be visible when I wanted to.
Things have all been well and good, with last year being an exceptionally fun time, but this year… well, this year was just different. I can’t say anything went wrong: the reading was a lot of fun, I had lovely company, and the crab bisque at O’Connors was pitch perfect, but this year, more than other years I realized how much I, along with the campus, have changed. I no longer feel connected when being there, no longer find it easy to relocate old thoughts and feelings. Most of the places that were so dear to me do not exist anymore or are not there in the way I remember them. Kent Circle is gone, the dining hall is gone, the theater is gone. They have all been replaced, but with buildings that mean nothing to me. Don’t get me wrong–the new buildings are amazing–the theater is absolutely beautiful and the dining hall/student center actually looks like it belongs in a “real” school. I am envious of the students who are there now for these new facilities they will be able to take advantage of and experience when they are exciting and new. I also can’t help but feel a little “sour grapes” that none of these changes were made before I graduated, but that’s life, right?
But then another part of me is just so sad that this one place in the world that just seemed unchanging has significantly changed. I hated walking around feeling like an outsider. An old outsider. Nothing felt right anymore–not even the retellings of our “glory day” stories. For the first time ever, I felt like the washed up quarterback reliving the final seconds of the big game against the rival team. And I realized how much I don’t want to be “that guy.”
Don’t misunderstand me though. I don’t wish to go back to that time in my life. I have no desire to be back in a dorm, staying up half the night to cram for a class, dealing with whatever random drama/insanity filled my life then. I actually really like being an adult. I like where we live and who I live with. I like having a job and making decisions for my day-to-day existence. It’s not always easy, sure, but I’ve moved so far past where I was 5 years ago I couldn’t imagine going back. I guess it just makes me sad that in order to make these changes in who I am, there is a potential to affect the way I feel about the things that I once loved.
I realize that my college owes me nothing. I realize this even more when I talk to people who went to larger universities and feel no sort of emotional attachment to their institution whatsoever. Talking to them makes me feel better and worse at the same time. I almost envy their complete disregard for the four formative years they spent on their campus, studying, not studying, making the same amateur mistakes me and my friends made. And to be honest, I don’t know why my college holds so much emotional value to me, but it seems to be something that most people from there also experience, for better or worse. I’m sure that in time, my feelings will change again and I will OMG L-U-V college 4EVA again. And then I might hate it again. But I guess that’s the sign of any good, long-term dysfunctional relationship, right?