Monday, September 04, 2006

Homecoming, Coming Home

I'm not quite sure when I got on my "nostalgia for college" kick. I think it started about a week ago when I did a story about freshman move-in day at a local college.

I remember eating lunch with my parents before they got back on the road in August 1997, thinking I might need to cry, barf, rush to the bathroom, or burst out laughing loudly and inappropriately. I was definitely in danger of rapidly expelling something from my body when my dad said, "Angela, give me one hour and I'll trade places with you." And he was right. I was embarking on something great.

Last week, as I was photographing two girls setting up their dorm room, I told them, "Give me one hour, and I will totally trade places with you." They laughed and I wished them luck. As I gently closed the door to their tiny double dorm room, I could hear them talking about where to put the minifridge.

Fall always makes me nostalgic. In keeping with my recent habit of watching bad movies on TNT, I watched "Drumline" the other night. The plot is terrible, but the drumming is impressive. There was a huge marching band competition in Rochester this weekend, and Alissa and I were on full band geek alert as the sound of warm-ups and run-throughs drifted through the air. I love the sound of a drumline warming up.

Keeping all of this in mind, let me tell you that I haven't been back to S.U. since the day I graduated. College... didn't exactly end with a bang for me. I had the bout of depression. My thesis kicked my ass. I had a stubborn, fussy, rude OCD roommate. It was totally my fault that he lived with us. It was so much harder that my previous, happy three years there that I wasn't all that sad for it to end. It was a relief.

I've kept in touch with my closest friends from college, and they all moved to such interesting, different places that there was no need to physically return to campus to see them. Syracuse is pretty much exclusively a college town. Since everyone has been in DC, New York, Philly and Boston- and I have other fun people to visit in these places- there hasn't been a need to return.

But I shot a wedding in Rochester this past weekend, and I totally passed Syracuse on the highway. As I rounded this one bend on Route 81, the familiar skyline caught my attention with a jolt. I remember feeling so many things as I rounded that same bend in the past. It was my transition from home to school; a moment when I always took a deep breath, psyching myself up for another semester of darkroom chemicals and critical feminist theory.

On the way out, I didn't have time to stop. I saw the sign for the Carrier Dome and the hospital. I thought about the drumline and the kids I used to volunteer with on the pediatric oncology ward, wondering if any are still braving treatments or possibly worse, middle school by now.

The bride and groom live in Seattle, but they both attended U of R. There were probably 35 alumni at the wedding. I was totally blown away by that. Are you in touch with 35 people from college? I have, like, six college friends I'm still in touch with on a regular basis.

So on my way home today, I got off at the exit and drove through campus. Everything, almost everything, is exactly the same. All of these memories were coming back to me, like a black and white pencil drawing filling itself in full Technicolor about one block ahead of my car as I slowly drove on familiar streets, the names of which I had completely forgotten: Sumner, Livingston, Euclid, Clarendon, Comstock. Dorms I never lived in: Dellplain, Watson, Booth, Shaw, Kimmel, Marion.

And more than that, another name, one I don't think about every day, coming up from inside, like a heartbeat, a small marble landing in my stomach: Stephen. We had a life together in that town. Not the frantic "weekend here and there" routine we had for years after graduation, but a real daily routine. I had forgotten about that. Even when we were still together, I had forgotten about that.

I stopped outside the house I lived in senior year. It was smaller than I remember. The porch steps still sag. Then I realized I was starting to ruminate and drove over to the awesome New Age bookstore to see if they had any more of these intention candles with words on them that I like so much. Perhaps I got the faintest whiff as I walked up to the closed door, but I thought just before I pulled it open: "I know exactly what it's going to smell like in here." It smells like 70 different varieties of essential oil and incense.

As I pulled back on the highway, I thought about the six people I'm still in touch with through IM and email and blogs and marathon cell phone calls. I know where they are in life, respectively: heading into the third trimester, moving back to London for good, working on a pilot's license, debating getting a puppy as practice for parenthood versus just trying to get pregnant, working trade shows in Vegas, picking up after devastating heartbreak and moving on.

I have them on speed dial, plus one number that's been deleted from everywhere but my brain. One by one I called them all from Interstate 81, leaving one voicemail message after another. I pulled "Glory Days" up on my iPod as I waited for them to call me back, and before the song was over, someone did.

I chatted with old friends for the rest of the trip. As I waved my EZ pass at the final Thruway exit for Yonkers, the song from the eHarmony commercial came on the radio. I grinned to myself, and I knew I was almost home.


shannon said...

Must have been college nostalgia weekend. I took Gaby on a driving tour of my college on the way to our best friends' house this weekend.
She was less than impressed. :) I, also, hadn't been back in several years (not quite since graduation) and I found that driving through the campus and looking at those beloved buildings healed a place in my heart that wasn't really aching.
Oh, and I only keep in touch, really, with three people from college (hi Becky). The rest, I'm happy to see when we run into each other and I don't miss them much otherwise.

Becky said...

(Hi Shannon!)

Hey Angie! I read your DVD debate with great interest, and I think you're making a good decision with regard to which couples to highlight.

Also, I know what you mean about college nostalgia. I don't get to Staunton often, but my former roommate is taking some of her students there in October to see a Shakespeare production, and if she's got room, I'm totally going as a chaperone. Is that weird? =)

Jillian said...

Yes, it was most definitely college nostalgia weekend-- must be the time of year! We were in Seattle when you called this weekend. We were out there celebrating our anniversary a little early, and then visiting with Helen and her boyfriend Anthony. We had a fabulous time! Now it's desperately trying to get back on East coast time and pretend that I'm happy being back at work.

We must catch up soon though!!! I haven't been back to SU since Nik graduated in 2002. But reading about your adventure makes me want to go back!