Last August, exactly two years after my parents moved to Texas, my boyfriend, Jack, held my hand while I wept outside of my childhood home and wiped snot on my sleeve.
I grew up in a small colonial house on a sleepy suburban street in Maryland. A huge oak tree blanketed the front yard in leaves every fall and big azalea bushes propped up nets of white lights in the winter. Each summer I watched from my window while my brother hit wiffle balls in the backyard and my mom read on the deck. My favorite neighbor, Ann, lived right next door and let me share her cat. I spent hours searching for him in hiding spots outside and shoveling winding little paths to his favorite places so he could navigate the snow. When I left for college, our elderly neighbor, Uta, gave me a sculpture of a little girl holding an orange cat because she said it made her happy to watch us through her window. I loved growing up there.
When my parents moved to Texas my sophomore year of college, I didn’t handle it particularly well. I felt devastated and emotional and spent a lot of time dreaming up ways to escape. I went through the sulky, obnoxious teenager phase that movies suggest should have happened years earlier. I was always a late bloomer.
In retrospect, I know the issue was simple: It hurt me to think that someone else’s family would live in my home. That someone else’s daughter would paint over the hot pink color of my room that a younger version of myself chose with painstaking care. That someone else’s parents would cook in the kitchen and someone else’s Christmas tree would sit in the living room window.
It hurt so much that I refused to return after I left. Even when I went back to the area to visit friends and family, I went out of my way to avoid driving past my old house. I couldn’t face the reality of the change. It was too painful.
When Jack and I visited Maryland, though, I thought enough time had passed that I could include it as a stop on the Grace’s Childhood Landmark Walking Tour. I didn’t even make it to my old street before I started sniffling. By the time we reached my old house, I was sobbing. Jack asked me what was wrong and I blubbered something about memories and nostalgia and started walking away, trying in vain to pull it together and salvage what remained of my pride. It’s difficult to recover from someone seeing you transfer snot from your face to your clothes. Impossible, even.
It wasn’t until hours later, calmed by my favorite Peruvian chicken with extra sauce, that I properly verbalized what caused such a strong emotional reaction. I missed what life felt like when my family lived there, and seeing what it looked like without us confirmed that phase of my life was over.
I’ve come around to my family’s new life in Texas. I’m down to trade The Tombs for Billy Bob’s and Bethesda Avenue for Main Street. But going back to that house and seeing someone else’s car out front and new flowers in the yard and a new shadow in the window confirmed that life moves on. The place I left wouldn’t remain frozen in time, waiting for me just how I remembered it: some idyllic retreat from the complexities and realities of life that seem to multiply with each passing year.
I’m no oracle, but I’m willing to wager that graduating college and coming back to BC will feel pretty much the same. I already notice this place moving on without me—mostly in good ways. New buildings, new renovations, new majors. New people. What strikes me now more than ever is that life will never feel like this again. My friends won’t all live in the same building and my responsibilities will be more weighty than making it to class on time. Even if I come back years from now, chasing the feeling of this experience—the capital-C College experience—I know I won’t find it.
It helps to know that trading The Tombs for Billy Bob’s means I can trade Hamilton for some post-grad equivalent. I can trade my tiny dorm room for a tiny apartment and Boston for another city. I can trade school anxiety for work anxiety (yay).
But we all know it won’t be the same. So, if you see me wiping snot on my sleeve and crying outside of Rubi, know that I’ve been there before. I’ll be fine even if my dignity won’t. I’m just appreciating the things I can’t get back while I still have them.
Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan/ Heights Editor