the leaving part
You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right. -Maya Angelou
Maybe it was the hot, humid New Jersey air or the sound of whirring box fans, loud like cicadas back home in Mississippi, but this morning felt like Reunions weather, and I knew. Not in my heart of hearts but somewhere a little more afraid, a little more uncertain, that my time at Princeton is coming to an end.
I think back in lessons. The illusion of control, the certainty of uncertainty, predictable unpredictables. I think of body as a temple, body as a trash can, body as a home. Home as a place, home as a feeling, home as a person. I think of self-love, self-care, self-discipline, and how more often than not, they all lead to the same decision. I think of decisions, how they define us, and then again, how they don’t. Work as practice, work as love, love is work, love is practiced. I think of effort, and grace, and how we just don’t know. And how forgiveness frees, and how freedom finds. I think that I should just go to bed and it will be better tomorrow.
I think back to the words of wiser humans. I think back in this poem. And in this sentiment. I think back in this book. And this book. I think back in letters I’ve received. I think back in my own words, in the letters I wrote myself every semester, addressed “if you need me,” hurriedly opened during mid-semester blues. I remember that I forgot to write myself one this semester. I think of it as growth.
I think back in moments. Moments so clear in my mind, too personal to write. Events that are simple to document, but impossible to capture. Gentle silences. The silence when space itself breaks. Moments of heartbreak. Eyes watching eyes. Eyes watching stars. Eyes watching games, and shows, and performances. Eyes focused on work, on the prize. Day turning to night outside the window. Night turning to day, snooze for 10 more minutes. A lot can happen in 10 minutes. Walking slowly. Walking fast. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Silent, chatty, rowdy. Pleasant conversation, meaningful conversation, conversations I never want to have again in my life. Moments of full, full living.
I think back in people. I think of the space between people, of holding space. I read once that we will experience feelings we don’t have words for, and we will name them after the people who gave them to us. When I think back in people, I think back in feelings.
I think back in places. 1967 Hall B111. Bloomberg 191. Scully 215. Foulke 321. Frist Booths — the ultimate time sink. Blue chairs. How each floor of Firestone has a specific feeling. High up in tree branches. Couches in the Crane Room. Couches in my room. My bed. Murray Dodge and “please only take 2 cookies at a time.” 2 cookies x 4 times = 8 cookies.
Lately, I have heard so many classmates say how ready they are to leave; I’ve heard myself say it, too. Princeton was challenging, and not always constructively. I know this. And lot has changed; after four years, we all need a little more elbow room. It’s getting cramped here. I cannot walk around campus without walking through memories. Every walk is a memory walk. And in that sense, I am ready for a new space. But I am looking back — remembering what these four years mean to me — and the leaving part is dawning on me.
Today, someone asked what I wanted to do for my last day on campus. I realized that my PTL Bucket List was sadly, mostly untouched. I haven’t streaked the Woody Woo Fountain nor climbed the grad school tower. I haven’t seen the Death Masks in Firestone. And tragically, I haven’t vandalized the University in a significant, but obviously, harmless and tasteful way.
But I don’t want to spend my last day on campus doing these first’s.
I want to fill my last day with all of those perfect, unnoticed moments that I have had all four years. I want wake up early and drink coffee in my room. I want to eat a good breakfast. I want to sit on the couch and watch TV with the people I love. I want to drink cold drinks and read good books and listen to good music and take a nap and wake up refreshed. I want to run into someone, and talk for forty minutes. I want to sit at dinner for two hours. I want to walk to the u-store in my pajamas. I want to go to bed, knowing where all of my friends are, safe, in their rooms, close. I want to say, “See you tomorrow.”
Oh goodness, I am afraid to leave.
But in my heart of hearts, where I am a little braver, a little less uncertain, music is coming in through my open window in the slums. Princeton is with me, and Firestone is closing and a crowd is heading to the Street and the string lights in my room are never off and you are here, too (we are talking about the future) and I think — it is time to go.