Friday, June 5, 2009
the old college try, try again
Wednesday morning, I picked up a rental car (a Pontiac Vibe, a vehicle that makes one wonder why anyone would bail out the American auto industry) and made my way north to Massachusetts, to my alma mater. I was up there a year ago, for just a day, but that was for a job interview, and so not the occasion for looking back. This time, I was planning to peer bravely into the murky depths. Or whatever.
The town has, of course, like seemingly all charming small towns, changed dramatically. There's a whole strip of shopping centers, replacing such venerable institutions as Stan the Vegetable Man, and lots of those brand-new generic brick storefronts that, in their blandness, make for a depressing streetscape. However, it's a town that cares about food and coffee and books, so it's still a good place for an afternoon wander.
As I drove up into Massachusetts, I was surprisingly nervous. When I look back on my college self, I see someone watching the party nervously from the sidelines, trying to figure out all the steps before jumping in, and then just copying what everyone else is doing. In other words, not the most compelling person. I'm curious now about what others saw in me, especially those who I admire, and who, I realize from my archival diggings, cared about me in return - there must have been something there, right? So I had made a date to see a former professor, someone I was close with a long time ago, but who I hadn't spoken to in about 20 years.
I had been trying very hard not to have any expectations (someone I know refers to expectations as "future disappointments"). I mean, it would be great to have this cosmic-level connection with someone from my past, someone who could fill me in on the blank spots in my memory and tell me all about myself and, to top it off, advise me what to do next. But there was a strong possibility that my professor was just accommodating a request from an alum, and that we'd chat a bit over lunch, talk about mutual friends, and then he'd say, "Great to see you, keep in touch!"
As it so often is, the reality was somewhere in between. At times, I felt I was an amnesia victim, trying to rebuild my memory: "And then what did I do next? And who told me that? And what did you say to me then?" At other times, our conversation would pull a trigger for me, and the past came rushing in with such strength that I felt I was right back in the emotional turmoil of a confused and somewhat terrified teenage girl. It was one of those experiences that makes you truly, intuitively understand that time is not a straight line, and that it doesn't always go forward.
Tom and I spent a few hours together, having lunch (in a great French bistro! yay, French food!), and then wandering around campus. As with many New England schools, the campus is ridiculously beautiful, especially on a pearl-gray June day; you expect to see the Chariots of Fire guys go running past, or maybe Gene shaking Phineas down from a tree. It's changed a lot, and, to be honest, it's not as if there were many spots I felt particularly attached to in the first place, so it wasn't too sickeningly nostalgic, nor did I whip out my checkbook and donate a new wing to the library out of love and pride for the alma mater.
But still, I did get a lot out of the afternoon, I think. It's all slowly sinking in (I typically have to let things settle and ferment a bit before I get the gist), and I'll keep you posted on any insights or revelations. Right now, it seems I'm mostly trying to connect different periods of my life. Looking back, I feel as if each section of my life (childhood, college, L.A., NYC) is completely separate from the others, and the person (me) is completely different each time around. It's helping to dredge up these old memories and have them not be some cold dead history lesson, but instead something that envelops me in old emotions, loves, fears, hopes.
Maybe I'm hoping for some kind of synthesis, some way of fitting together my various incomplete selves. At the very least, it would be nice to fill in some of the blanks, so as not to feel as if I'm in a less-tattooed version of Memento.