Sunday, October 09, 2005

you can go back

Seventeen years since I first set foot on my university campus—as recent as yesterday in my memory. Two years since I’d been there last, yet as familiar still to me as if I’d been last week. But for all its familiarity, it is not my home any longer. That is the irony of Homecoming. For the space and time of this weekend, I belonged. Come Monday morning, I would have not.

The tension grows, each visit, between that which is the same and that which is much different. It is as if I am watching a different cast rehearse and perform on the set we’d used for the same production, fifteen years prior. The lines are familiar, the props, the backdrops—but the faces of the cast are not. I remember my cues and might even fit into my costume, but my part is now being played by a fresh-faced freshman with the world on a string and I am very aware that although this is all still very much a part of ME, I am no longer very much a part of IT.

So we come now and linger around the fringes. We make the loop around campus—pushing our stroller through the valley, trying very hard to look as if that’s normal—and make our traditional stops: our choir director’s office, the office of a favorite professor, the Chorale rehearsal, the “new” fountain. We comment on the changes—a new dorm exists where an empty lot used to stand, the President has gotten more gray, the cost to replace a student ID has gone up exponentially. We scan the crowd for familiar faces on a campus where we once recognized the entire student body, and we come up nearly empty.

Cheap Thrills is no longer our venue, now it is the Alumni Choir—a charming collection of the graying and middle-aged, all thrilled, as I am, to be making music again. I take pride in still having our signature piece memorized—it will never leave me, nor will the image of our director, whom I adored, directing it. The chord at the end still moves me to tears—though I’ll never distinguish for sure if it is the music itself or the experience it was couched in that produces them. My husband is two rows behind me and my roommate in the section next to me, and if I squint really hard I can pretend it is the same. But it is not. I am not a member any longer—no fear of blending in with the students. Not when they are calling me “Ma’am.”

In my nostalgia, I consider that someone else lives in my dorm room—at least the seventeenth inhabitant since my posters covered the cement block walls. I consider going to meet her—to introduce myself and ask to show it to my daughter. But I do not. It is her room—this is her time, her university. I will leave it to her. She thinks, as I did, that this place only exists in this space and time while she is there—and she is, in many ways, correct. But it exists beyond her existence—however different, however changed, however distant. It remains. You can go back home.

You just can’t stay for long.

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