I’ve seen this campus through all its seasons; I’ve trudged up its hills while bracing against the freezing wind, heard the spring snow crumple weightlessly under my boots, and lounged for hours on its green lawns. My fourth and final September here I wandered under the afternoon sun and basked in the warmth of my memories. My memories formed delicate portals everywhere. I couldn’t help but slip through. Without my consent, every building, street, and tree I glanced at summoned sights and sounds from my time here. Houston Hall made me think of my freshman year with tenderness, gingerly squeaking down the hall in rubber flip flops on my way back from the shower, my hair wrapped in a white towel, taking shots to hype ourselves up before journeying out into the cold in absurd little outfits on a Saturday night. Ginn Library’s carpeted floors stifled my friends and me giggling amongst the somber and silent grad students. The countless embarrassing questions, all the times I smiled and waved at the wrong people, argued about politics over bagels and lox, sat cross-legged in drab meditation rooms and ate school-sponsored rice at awkward majors events.
The intimacy of the memories might be alarming if they didn’t feel so sweet in retrospect. The president’s hollow house witnessed me run out of a frat party after a petty heartbreak in January, and watched Melia chase me close behind. I knew I’d made a true friend when, after crying and stomping around in the stupid Massachusetts snow, she observed my drunken tantrum with loving equanimity. Just months later, when the magnolias began to bloom, I found myself swinging in a hammock outside Harleston and gazing at my first love as the maple trees’ shadows dappled his rosy face.
That last September day, I walked slowly. I know this campus like a childhood home, complete with my favorite spots for gossiping (the Sink), for crying (the lawn behind Paige Hall that overlooks Medford), for reading (Lilly Library), for meeting (Miner 112), and for eating (by the Carm windows). My reverie was inspired by nostalgia and intensified by the weather. The breeze blew gentle and cool, and the sun had been taking turns with the clouds all day, reminding me of the winter to come and of the summer I was leaving behind, again and again. The lawn mower’s pattern lingered like a ghost on the grass, shaved close to the soil. I sniffled with year-round allergies and kept stopping in air-conditioned buildings to grab another tissue. Is home knowing where the tissues are? There was work to be done, and I knew I’d be productive in Ginn, but a heavy thought persisted in my head—this is among the last times. And being outdoors and comfortable in Massachusetts is such a precious thing. That’s one of the first lessons this landscape taught me when I moved here from Florida. The seasons remind me that without the dark months of bitter wind and sunless days, you wouldn’t appreciate the extra light now lingering in your life, wet blooms, or birdsongs.
When I first arrived on campus I felt an intense emotional whiplash when I’d perform a lovable confident version of myself to make friends, while another version of myself retreated to her dorm room to cry because someone had to grieve the life I had lost. Someone had to endure the pain of transition. That’s the word I journaled about the most in those first few weeks—transition. High school did not prepare me to leave it. There was nothing to be done about the fact that my old spots (the marina, the tea shop, the quad), friends (Sonja, Casi, Anna), meals (Chicken Kitchen), teachers (Mr. Cooper, Mr. Erdmann), routines (student government meetings, weekend sleepovers), could never be restored in precisely the same way again. When we returned to Miami from college, it was now a visit.
Today, I sense the cycle of love and loss and change repeating. Everyone is thinking something different when they sigh at the fact of our impending graduation and the start of our twenties. For me, I know the crying jags will increase exponentially in the coming years. I know I will disappoint others and myself as I stumble my way into adulthood and clumsily wield my autonomy. Sure, the practical questions float around—How will I make an ethical living? Who will I live with? Where and how and why will we live together? But the bratty child in me is whining about questions that have no good answers—Why, she pouts, do I always have to leave again and again and again? Leaving high school for college taught me that, despite feeling certain in the moment, I would never be as happy as I once was in my new life. I will eventually transition from one beautiful story to the next. College, with its rolling hills and stately libraries, with its brilliant, vulnerable, kind and unkind professors, students, and dining workers, guided me for better or worse through a pandemic and the last daylight hours of my adolescence. It gave me some signposts of a life I love to guide me in the next one. Someone has already devised the rituals we’ll use to honor the transition. I can already imagine my heels sinking into the dewy grass in late May, smiling through tears in the silliest hat I’ll ever wear as congratulations echo through the quad. There will always be a tight-knit and beloved community out there, with greenery and bumblebees, porch concerts and shawarma shops. A community where people eat meals communally, yelp in delight during game nights, wave hello to the babies in sidewalk strollers, and collaborate on all manner of projects to make the imagined real. Within it, there will always be me, in a bedroom of my own design, surrounded by books, magazine cutouts, poems, photos, experiencing the pleasure of rolling lavender on my wrist before bed in a linen comforter. The dream is real and waiting for me. The seasons will tell me when it’s time to go.