Nostalgia

Well, I just flew in from my 15th undergraduate reunion, and boy, are my arms tired.

What? It’s not only a good line, but it happens to be mostly true – I haven’t actually boardedmy flight home, but I’m typing this in the airport, and my arms are tired. Mostly from lugging my weekend luggage up and down hills that I’m certain got steeper since the last time I was at my undergraduate alma mater, Kenyon College.

I haven’the been there since I graduated in 2002, and I was expecting…. well, I’m not really aure. While Kenyon was the place where some dark parts of my life happened, or started, it is also where I met some of my closest friends. I guess I was expecting to feel like I belonged, like I was coming home. Nostalgia, you know? Instead, I felt a profound sense of alienation.

I’ve never been the most social person, and this weekend made that especially clear; of the 50 or so members of my graduating class who attended, I recognized only a handful – with a few fingers left over. I was placed for the weekend in a student dorm, on a part of the campus that I had never spent much time when I was a atudent, largely because of the party/fraternity reputation of those dorms. And for many of my fellow ’02s, those were the times they were there to reenact.

Drunken singing, loud conversations until the wee hours of the morning in dorm halls, and at least one loud, angry meltdown… the things in college I tried to avoid. I spent two years living on the 4th floor (no elevators) of a dorm, on the Wellness (no drinking, smoking, loud parties) floor, avoiding that. And these were all people in my class, but I knew virtually none of them, and none of them (save a few) knew me. And when I spoke to the people I did know, reminiscing about our college years, it became clear to me that a great deal was missing.

Moatly, I’m speaking of my memories. Kenyon is where my depression first manifested, and even that is hazy to me. One friend spoke of a D&D game I ran involving puzzles, which he seemed to remember vividly, and which certainly sounds like something I would have done… but I found myself smiling and nodding, because I have no memory of that. I remembered playing D&D with him, among others, but my memories are all hazy and unclear; I have few details I can recall. That was just one incident among many that showed me how little of my time there remained in my mind.

It isn’t that it wasn’t important – as I said, I met some of my closest friends there, and was taught by some amazing professors. But whether the depression muted my memories, or they were lost in the many attempts at treating my depression (ECT, I’m looking at you), they just aren’t there anymore. I have bits and pieces, flashes of vivid memory, but most of the rest is just a dark, muddled mass of blurred shapes. And with those memories gone, so, too, was much of my connection to the college. Things still mostly looked the same, but I had to rely on the cues of others around me when it seemed something was new or changed. It didn’t help that the reunion was almost entirely on the ‘upper classmen/women’ side of campus, which I had few memories almost no little connection to in the first place.

Still, it was great to see the few people I did recognize, including my former roommate; we roomed together all four years, and so when he showed up, it felt like falling into familiar habits. The people I knew looked so similar to what I remember, with few exceptions, that it was both surprising and comforting at the same time. 15 years has made them wiser, and more adult, but not visually too different, at least to my eyes.

And yet, it felt like so much was missing. Both my memories, and the connection I expected to feel. I walked for miles around the campus, but while things were familiar, nothing pulled at me. My emotional connections were with the people I knew, and few of them were there. And the lack of memories is worrying, because, thinking about it, it reminds me of the gaps that a blackout drunk has (I’ve heard them described quite vividly). I don’t know what kind of person I was when I was there, really; I was a poor student, certainly, but was I also a poor friend? Are there people I wronged many years ago who feel they are owed an apology, and have never gotten it because I can’t remember? Similarly, are there friends whose lives I have missed because I forgot how to reach them? Much of what I can’t remember is likely pretty boring, routine, mundane life… but are there important things I can’t remember, and if so, what are they? Troubling thoughts.

But anyway, nostalgia. Even in a dorm I had never seen in my college years, surrounded by people I never knew, I felt a strange tugging at my heart as I packed to leave. I don’t know if, or when, I might be back, and what the college might look like. Or who I might see, or miss seeing. Strolling the aisless of the college bookstore – a place I did remember, and felt oddly comforted by – I ran into an old professor of mine, my advisor, who had been one of my favorite teachers; it was his classes, in large part, that guided me towards medieval literature years ago. He was older; he walked with a cane, and couldn’t remember me – and, given my own memory troubles, I can’t judge. But it was one more familiar face before I left, burdened with collegiate memorabilia. One more reminder of things past, that will never come again, no matter how deeply they are missed.

Like one of the songs of Kenyon goes, farewell, Old Kenyon, fare thee well.