“It’s weird,” my friend says as we sit in the café waiting for our mochas to cool. “I’ve been back here a bunch of times, but everything’s different.”
“Freshman year was five years ago,” I say. “And we’ve only been out for one, but when I walked in here a couple days ago, I didn’t recognize anyone.”
“It’s like you’re an alien suddenly,” she says with a short laugh.
This isn’t my first visit back to campus after graduating and it probably won’t be my last, but every time I come back I experience a paradox of feeling that I could stay forever and knowing that my current life pulls me back home. I simultaneously miss college and dorm life, and yet when I woke up this morning after sleeping on the floor of my friend’s room, I stared at the tiny sink spotting a bit of rust and wondered how I put up with it at all. I miss undergrad, yet I’ve grown out of it.
Every time I return to my college, I feel like I need a full week just to catch up with everyone, but I never have a week and even if I did, I’d still be out of sync with my friends’ schedules. I can at least work while they’re all in class, but I experience the overall sense that I no longer have a permanent place here.
Ironically, that’s not a completely terrible feeling.
After I left, the college renovated the main class building and installed a completely new printer system that everyone complained about for a month. I returned the first time to see the same building on the outside and a new look on the inside. In fact, each time I go back, something else is different. The layout of the furniture in the café changed. The coffee cups have a new design. The honey mustard that comes with a chicken strips meal is a different, more tart brand, and the baristas behind the counter are, for the most part, strangers.
Returning after graduating for short visits every few months has been a highlight of my post-grad life, especially when it first began. Reaching back to something familiar–something that had shaped my life for four years–comforted me in the midst of adjusting to the change of not being there. It’s like stumbling across your collection of old video games in your closet while you’re rearranging your room. You pause, plug everything back in, and escape for awhile. You remember how much each game captivated you and although you never experience that same sense of wonder again, you get a taste for it.
One year later, I’m still rearranging. Sometimes I miss the past four years so much that I have to stop and fight back the sadness of not seeing some of the best people I’ve ever known every day anymore. I have a job, but I still live at home and I’m still figuring out how to make my free time more productive and less passive.
Yet my friends who are still navigating through classes are eager to see me when they know I’m coming and spending time with them again makes the length between visits non-existent. Even the friends who graduated before me make the effort to join the gathering as well if they can, and although we all will never be in the same place at once again, I’ve seen everyone at least one time between all of my visits. I have yet to build up a social circle like that back home and it could take another four years or it may never happen at all. Proximity makes it easy to build friendships in college. Adjusting is both exhilarating and exhausting, but as time passes, I’m more at peace. I now yearn to both hold onto what I’ve built and continue on to new experiences. I can visit college without despairing that my life has lost its luster after receiving my diploma.
To me, the entire campus is alive and it remembers me while now moving at its own rhythm. We both have changed, yet we will never grow completely out of sync, at least not for many years. I may never be rich enough to fund a new dorm building or buy the honors college, but every time I go back, I’ll still know my way around.