Leaving the past there, if I can

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.

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One response to “Leaving the past there, if I can

  1. This post has stuck with me for a few days, so I wanted to come back and thank you for posting it. I think we all can look back on a time of our lives when nothing clicked and we were miserable–even when we were supposed to be having the “Time of Our Lives (TM)!”

    Good for you for going back and acknowledging it and then moving on. You define you, not every bad action or experience in your past. Thanks for sharing this with your blog readers and happy (belated) birthday.

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