What to Expect When You Move Back to Your Old College Town

Published in The Britton Journal on June 19, 2019

1.     You’ll notice the new paint on the buildings just as often as you’ll notice the buildings that should have new paint. You’ll wonder how you look to these buildings, returning after three years—whether you appear shiny and new, or chipping.

2.     Your old dwellings will immediately recognize your phone, but not you. Even though the phone in your bag is two phones newer than the one you had when you lived here, the WiFi will connect automatically like the time away was only hours. But you, the same body all along—the cashier will have to ask your name like you’re a stranger. You’ll suppose you are now. A stranger or a haunting.

3.     The people who had lived here with you back then will have left at the same time you did. You’ll have to remind yourself regularly that they didn’t, they won’t, come back, too. That you’re the exception, not the rule.

4.     You’ll nearly kill yourself driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction because you used to drive these roads in your sleep, so you had long ago stopped paying attention. The roads will have changed while you weren’t looking.

5.     You’ll have forgotten how the aisles are organized in your grocery store, that mental map replaced with a new one. You’ll pass the bread aisle twice before you finally find it. You’ll feel like your forgetfulness is betraying someone. Like you let your new dog sleep in the old bed of its deceased predecessor.

6.     You’ll start to wonder if you’re the butt of a joke. Those graduated kids driving around the block of their old high school over and over and over again because they don’t know where else to go. You’ll feel a new kind of empathy for those kids. You don’t know where else to go.

7.     In an attempt to recalibrate, you’ll sit in that same chair in that same coffee shop and listen to that same song and drink that same iced coffee. And the barista will say she’s never had anyone order their iced coffee like that before, and you’ll feel a little good and a little bad. Like maybe there’s been a tiny gap here waiting for you after all. But oh, how long have you really been gone?

8.     People will laugh at you when you call them in a panic, choking out to them, “Change is hard.” “How can it be hard?” they’ll ask. “What’s different?”

9.     In the span of three years, the Earth will have rotated over one thousand times, and its plates will have shifted upwards of four inches. The Moon will have completed nearly thirty-six cycles, growing brighter and then falling darker and back to bright again three dozen times. Your skin will have regenerated over forty times, and your hair will have grown eighteen inches. None of us remain in the same condition for long.

10.  You’ll open your window and smell the scent of sliced timber, and it will awaken something dormant in you. You’ll breathe it like the oxygen given after nearly drowning—in greedy gulps.