Recently, I learned that the old dormitory complex in which I once lived as a college student, is being torn down to make way for a new student center. The news has affected me strangely, and I have spent the past few days giving more thought to that old H-shaped set of buildings than I have over the past twenty years. Truthfully, other than telling the occasional story, retelling some good and some not-so-good times, I haven’t really given them much thought at all. It has been an intense and unintentional visit with the past.
A friend from college posted a photograph online last evening, which was taken in one of my rooms from those days. As soon as I saw the image, memories swirled toward me so quickly that my stomach lurched. Suddenly, I was driving up a huge hill, and just as I reached the crest, the altitude dropped drastically, taking my bearings with it. The details of the photograph were so startling, the memories so clear, that my eyes stung, and for just one second, I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to reach into the photograph, to grab hold of my school ID lying on the dresser, to check my chipped graduation-cap mug for leftover coffee, and to turn up the volume on the stereo to see what song was playing.
It’s strange isn’t it? When we are young, the things which are so much an intricate part of our formative years, are given so little thought. We take for granted that they will always be there. This is how we perceive our parents and grandparents, our childhood homes, the buildings and places where we live, and play, and learn. Places and things that we love and remember are never assigned an expiration date. We don’t think of them as growing older, or passing away, or falling apart. These things are too tangible, too real, too substantial. They are the bricks and mortar of memory and surely they will last forever.
Some days I feel chased by ghosts, phantoms trying their best to force me into reconciling pieces of my past with the life that I live today. Now and again, I allow myself to be caught, to slow the chase, to face the specters rather than running away. Those times take a special kind of bravery. Playing the game of “how things are vs. how things might have been” shakes me to the core, and makes me feel irrelevant. It’s hard as hell to live up to your own youthful expectations.
I think sometimes this is why I have so much trouble visiting places from years ago, and perhaps why I am so unsuccessful at keeping in touch with old friends. It makes me feel old, and just a little sad. I haven’t visited Longwood’s campus in many, many years. Its buildings are stone footholds in a past so distant, they sometimes do not seem real. I have always been afraid that seeing new faces in those surroundings might lessen my hold, or darken my recollections, confirming my suspicions that what came after my time there was somehow more important, more vital than anything that came before.
I know that my thoughtfulness this week is shared by many friends from those days, as we all remember the lives that we once carved out for ourselves within those walls. A reunion of sorts has been tentatively scheduled for late Spring. Surprising even myself, I have decided that I would like to go. I don’t do reunions well, they tend to make me feel discombobulated and awkward. I also realize that some reading this might think, “What’s so earth shattering? It’s just a set of buildings, after all.”
But it is so much more than that.
It was my home. It was a place where I loved, and laughed, and cried. It was where I met people who would help to form the person that I was to become. Those particular bricks and mortar cannot be demolished, nor torn down. They cannot be bulldozed through. Even though the buildings will no longer exist, what they represent will always remain.
And I feel terribly lucky to have once been a part of it.