Today is my 29th birthday.
I did not spend today at work, nor spend most of it at home, nor spend it with close friends or family.
Instead, I spent a large portion of it at my university, about which I have complicated feelings.
Professionally, things went well. I had a great job out of college and was relatively well prepared for it by my education. That much is indisputably true.
But personally, it was a disaster, managing to exacerbate a wide range of my insecurities with everything from bad roommates to unrequited love to loneliness compounded with the sense that it was my fault things had gone this way. When I reached graduation, I did not feel a sense of nostalgia for the last four years, only relief that it was over. I left with only a few friends and a ton of regrets. I wish I had gone somewhere else, even with the good professional result.
So why in the hell did I go back? And why did I do so on my birthday? Well, I was invited.
It was the 20th anniversary of a scholarship I earned while I was there, and the guest speaker was interesting, so I put on a suit and decided to survey campus and see what had changed, perhaps bumping into some old professors.
So I drove a couple hours to collegeville, parked, and stepped onto campus. I saw the student union, and that opened the floodgates.
Very few good memories came back. A lot of bad ones did. I wasn’t expecting that, although I suppose I should have. So I decided that when I wasn’t lunching or attending a lecture, I would wander around campus and just let the memories flow.
So I did. I walked past all the buildings I lived in, wandered through the communications building (which had been renovated since I graduated, and so looked nothing like it had when I was there), walked through the quad, and so on. It was an emotional experience — while no one knew I was having an emotional experience, as I was just some guy wandering through campus in a suit.
By the end of the day, I knew it had been a good thing that I had been there. I felt all that pain again. All that misery. Nearly cried. Relived many mistakes. A lot of those things have lived with me for years, especially the unrequited love. It’s taken a lot of work to start to move past them, though I probably have a long way to go. Perhaps by reliving them, I could take steps in keeping them in the past.
So now, I think there’s virtually no chance I will return to my university. It’s part of my past. It needs to stay there, lest I be defined by the four years I spent there. But for one day, it was OK to feel it again, and know that at the end of the day, I could get in the car and leave it behind.