I was recently looking at my alma mater’s Twitter page, and I suddenly found myself in awe of the background picture: an aerial shot of campus on a fall day. In the middle of the picture is the hilly two-lane road that cuts through campus and gives the school its nickname as the College on the Hill. The autumnal colors that abound are striking enough to make you wonder why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else.
Yet it wasn’t this picture that made me cry, but the road itself, and what it reminded me of.
You see, the road runs through a quaint one-Subway downtown, across campus, and off into the middle of nowhere. During the last days of school — at the end of finals when most of us were done with exams but other people had one more to go but before the week dedicated to senior parties began — my friends and I went sunset chasing. Three of us were done with finals; the fourth wasn’t, but she came anyway. We got in my car, opened the sunroof and all the windows, put Robyn on at a blaring volume, and drove up the road towards the sunset. We sped past acres of cornfields into the vastness of Central New York, not quite sure when to turn back.
One part of me wanted to keep driving. Forever. I didn’t want the song to stop, the sun to set, college to be over. The other part of me knew I had to go back — drive my friend back to the library, say goodbye to underclassmen, start the rest of my life. We turned around eventually, not so much out of choice than out of necessity. My friend’s baseball hat had flown off her head in the chase and we drove back at 10 miles an hour to look for it on the side of the road.
I think about those last days of school a lot. It’s not healthy. It’s not quite nostalgia as much as it’s emotional cutting. A small part of me wants to go back, but we can’t stay at college forever and we can’t repeat what we had.
A fellow sunset chaser asked me the other day over Gchat if I felt lonelier in college or in the real world. My first thought was to say in the real world, but that wouldn’t be true.
Sure, I no longer spend most of my waking hours with the people who bring out the best in me, but the freedom out here is addicting. You can do and be anything you want. You can move to LA or New York or San Francisco for the sake of adventure; you can easily shrug off the awkwardness of a bad date because you’ll never have to see the guy again; you can take two days off work and fly to Paris for a long weekend.
College was fun. It was awesome. It lives on in our memories, and in the thoughts I revisit on my morning runs. Because in college, we found ourselves, if only for a few years. We found our people. We found our interests. We found our roads into the real world.