205. That’s how many miles exist between my house and my former University.
54. That’s how many months it has been since I last saw the place that’s so prominently featured on my bachelor’s degree.
And if we’re being honest here, which I always am, I had hoped that number would be much higher. In fact, I was sort of hoping I would never need to actually count the number of months between visits, because I fully intended never to go back in the first place. But, it was career day and as one of the few alum at my company, I was asked to go do some recruiting. I tried to get out of it. In fact, I’ve managed to dodge this duty for the last four years because, thankfully, one of the other four alum usually volunteered to go. This time however, I was not so lucky. I thought about coming up with excuses, but then I thought about how I came to this company. I recalled the face and name of the intern coordinator that had visited my school, and I felt guilty. How could I let those students down? How could I let my company down by not actively looking for talented interns? Well, I couldn’t. I am nothing if not loyal, which has not always worked out in my favor, but it is what it is and I am what I am.
There are two routes that lead to my University and when I was a student, it didn’t matter which route you took because they both took the same amount of time to reach the final destination. As creatures of habit, once a student picked a route, they would usually travel that way every time. It was familiar. You knew every turn, every speed trap, every decent bathroom along the way. I debated whether or not to take my usual route, dreading every familiar wheat field and road curve. After all, the drive was a major contributing factor to my disdain for my former University. At the fork in the road, I changed my mind and settled on the less familiar route.
When I arrived in town ahead of schedule, thanks to the newly-completed highway construction, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me as old familiar signs came into view. The Days Inn marquee, where a former good friend once worked (as did the mother of a former flame). The Country Kitchen and Pancake City signs, places where we would all gather for a late-late night snack. King’s Buffet and the Great Wall. Chinese food was a Sunday night staple of mine. Street signs – Jefferson, McPherson, Franklin…the Super Wal-Mart, the Kum & Go (actual name) gas station…all familiar, all the same, all unchanged, almost as if time stopped in this little college town. I turned down the radio and looked around, taking in my surroundings.
I pride myself on having a very good memory, but now that I was back, I realized there were details missing from my memory of my college days. Was that Walgreens always there? (yes) I thought King’s Buffet was on the left-hand side. (nope) Why are so many details so fuzzy? It really wasn’t THAT long ago so I don’t know why I couldn’t remember the name of the campus library or what time the University bookstore closed, but I can assure you that the memory loss was not caused by too many drunken stupors. I have a tendency to block out bad memories.
So why all the hatred for my alma mater? I don’t know. I can’t explain why I don’t think back on my college days with fondness. Nothing tragic happened. I just know that I was unhappy. I was homesick. I missed my life in the suburbs. I found myself missing stupid things, like eight-lane highways and traffic. Like stadium seating movie theaters. Like Borders bookstores and shopping malls. I resented my college, the place, the town, because of what it wasn’t. It wasn’t home. What frustrated me even more was that the reasons I chose to go to this school were the exact same reasons I ended up loathing it:
It was far enough away that I wouldn’t be tempted to go home all the time. But temptation usually has its way with me whenever it wants, so I just shrugged my shoulders at the inconvenience of the drive and drove home anyway.
The town had little in the way of shopping and entertainment. No malls, no decent movie theaters, no fabulous restaurants or stores, and therefore, no distractions from my studies. Except rather than study, I spent a lot of time dicking around on the Internet. I didn’t realize I was such a procrastinator.
The school was known for its academics, but all that meant was that we were crappy at sports and I had to face the realization that I went to school with a bunch of nerds. (Hello kettle, it’s the pot calling!)
But when you really get down to it, it wasn’t the school. The school was wonderful, and the majority of people that went to my school have wonderful memories and made life-long friends in the process. So really, it was just me. I wouldn’t let myself be happy there because I knew the whole thing was just a necessary stepping stone to get to where I wanted to be. And where I wanted to be was in a big city working for a big company with a big salary. Not in a small town in the middle of nowhere at a school that’s unknown outside of the state making negative dollars. Add on top of that, at the time I had a boyfriend that lived in New York City, and every time I would fly to visit him I only reminded myself just how far away I truly was, not just physically, from getting what I truly wanted.
I stopped the car and the nice boy in his pin-striped suit helped me carry in my materials and stuck around to help me set-up my banner and tablecloth. I had 45 minutes to spare, so I took the opportunity to walk around campus and take a few pictures for my husband. He’s never visited my former residence and the one time he mentioned wanting to take a drive to see where I spent nearly four years of my life, well I shot down that idea immediately. It wasn’t worth the gas, I said. But really, I just didn’t want to take any strolls down memory lane.
I returned just in time to grab a pizza from the student union building, scarf down half of it, and straighten the cards on my table. In four hours, I never had a moment where I wasn’t speaking to someone. I spent about a half an hour after the event speaking with one of my old professors and I also spent some time talking to an academic club, one that I used to serve as vice president for (nerd alert!). And though I had a great time talking about myself (who doesn’t?) I was ready to come home. The drive back was pretty uneventful. It was dark and I was tired. It had been a long day.
205. The distance in miles between my house and my former University.
For the first time since I graduated, I wished it wasn’t so far.
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