Returning to a Place that is No Longer Yours

Transitions are just not my thing. Right now it is even harder because I have ended graduate school, but have not yet started the next chapter of my life. It has always made me sad to leave somewhere I love and contemplate returning to it when it is no longer mine. The first few years after I graduated college I did not want to visit college (despite claiming that Madison,WI is my favorite place ever) because I could not bear the disappoint of no longer feeling like it belonged to me and it was my special place. This past week I have had some meetings at my graduate school and while I am dealing with the ending of my own chapter I have been watching the incoming students deal with the beginning of their new chapters through orientation.

Despite how much I loved graduate school I would not trade places with these new students right now. I have been staring at them and observing the uncertainty or false certainty on their faces. What classes do I take? How does everyone else have their schedule planned out? When will I feel comfortable in this place? I try to place the faces I look at in the roles that were in my graduate school class. Who will be the pretentious student that raises her hand all class? Who will be the funky humanitarian studies guy that will save the world? Who will be the class social chair? I realize this exercise is pointless as these roles change with each class.

 When I walk into the main entrance to school that is usually filled with students it is empty and quiet. People begin to wander in clustered in groups and I am saddened that I don’t recognize a single one of them. School smells and feels different. The old bathrooms still smell like air fresheners and have barely been used. When I go into the library to get a book the stacks are eerily dark. I turn on a light and am worried that I am going to get crushed between the stacks with no one around. I have flashbacks of the tough memories I have in the library: applying for PhD programs I didn’t get into, finishing papers I struggled with, and feeling desperate to be anywhere, but there. I feel like I am an observer looking into my past. 

Since I will be at my graduate school as a teaching assistant every week it is time that I develop a new relationship with the place. Perhaps it no longer will belong to me, but I can feel like a lucky visitor. Eventually the faces of the new students will no longer be a symbol, but they will become real people to me. The students I know will return and I can feel proud in telling them about the new chapter of my life. I wonder that if once you fully move on and engage in an exciting new phase of your life it becomes less painful to accept that you no longer can claim ownership to the old places that were so meaningful. Or perhaps it is always hard to return to a place you once loved.   

Some funky pictures of the familiar and empty places I observed on my visit back



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