Lately I’ve been walking down familiar roads, sleeping in beds already conformed to my body, and greeting with people who are happy to see me again instead of pleased to meet me.
I was told coming back to the United States may be hard. The exact words they used during our exit meeting were, “you just went through a monumental and life-changing experience that your friends and family didn’t, and probably won’t fully understand.”
I thought that I would experience this disconnect by being disappointed by being back in College Town. All of my sophomore year I felt like I was too big for the city. I wanted to be in a big city, involved in a better art program and was overall tired of being at a school that trained you to work a 9-5 job and nothing more. On the other hand, I was really excited to come back to University. My school in Madrid was, in a word, horrible. It was the difference in school culture between the States and Spain, but it was a big change and incredibly hard for me to feel as though the professors didn’t care about me as a person.
I’ve been on campus for a week now and have experienced this disconnect in a different way than they alluded to in the presentation. It feels natural being back on campus, almost like when you leave for summer break and come back. Some things have changed, I’m seeing people that I forgot about, and I’m getting back into the swing of the workload that comes with going to college in the States. Instead of feeling like I don’t belong in College Town, I feel more like my whole experience in Madrid was just a movie I watched, or dream I had.
When I tell people about my last semester, it’s almost like I expect someone to call me out and say, “that didn’t happen”. If someone truly challenged a story I told about being in Madrid last semester, I think I would be so confused that I would back down and agree. The other day someone asked where I got the jean jacket I was wearing. When I responded with, “It’s from this thrift store in Paris”, I half expected them to argue with me that I had never been to Paris.
I changed a lot when I was in Madrid, and I think that is part of the disconnect I feel between the person I am in College Town and the person I was in Madrid. I had roommates from different parts of the States who changed the way I thought about life, art, fashion, school, relationships and improved my opinion on having roommates in general. When I left College Town in May, I didn’t have a lot of the same capabilities that I do now, so the disconnect seems warranted.
When I tell Blakely and Madelyn about Maeve and Sevyn, it feels like I’m talking about characters from my new book. Yesterday Sevyn commented on my Instagram post, and every time I see her, Maeve, or Lana post from their respective colleges I linger on the post for a moment. Here’s a girl from Alabama, New Jersey, or Louisiana that I’m seeing with all of her college friends but just two months ago we were sitting on our shared couch watching a movie together and sharing every detail from our nights out. It only instills the idea that while these people may mean everything to me one day, the truth is I am just a temporary player in their lives and visa versa.
Experiencing feelings like this make it hard for me to live in the moment. In a short amount of time Madelyn, Blakely, and I will be graduated and it’s highly unlikely we’ll be in the same city post-college. Madelyn is planning on going to medical school in Texas, Blakely will go on to work in the army stationed in Pennslyvania, and I have no idea where I’ll be. I don’t want to think that the girls who mean so much to me will just fade into this same memory fog. You linger on their posts, you comment that you miss them, and every once in a while you text for a while but at the end of the day they are just people from a different period of your life. Everyone knows we grow and expand as we age, but what adults fail to mention to us is that sometimes as we expand we lose people close to us who no longer have room in our bubble of life.
I try to cut off this thinking as soon as it happens, but there is little I can do about bridging the gap I’ve been feeling since being back on campus. I’ve printed out my photographs from my European escapades and hung them on the wall and have pictures of my roommates hung up on my new fridge, but it still seems like a fever dream.
As I take the two-minute walk from my building to the economics building I try to tap into my senses from the fall semester when I would have to take a 45-minute train ride to get to class every day. The scenery I would see out the window, having to hold onto the railings due to the bumpy tracks, hearing the other commuters speak to each other in Spanish, I generally drank tea on my way to class, one time a little boy went to the bathroom in his pants when I was heading to a final. Acknowledging things from your senses is a grounding exercise, and sometimes I want to be grounded back into Madrid just to prove to myself it wasn’t all fake.
I spoke to Maeve the other day and she felt this same way. In her first week of classes, her old friends made fun of her clothes every day. We both developed a new sense of style, cities are always full of people who dress more outrageously and confidently. I assured her that I was getting some strange looks as well.
It’s interesting to see how my ‘self’ has snowballed over my life. In high school, I was focused on athletics. It’s not the main focus in my life anymore, but just yesterday I ran four miles farther than I was planning to on the treadmill just because I wanted to run longer than the girl next to me. When I lived in Arizona I worked for an international video production company and spent my free time hiking and creating videos for them. I don’t do it prolifically anymore, but I still enjoy making and editing shorter videos with my friends. Sophomore year in college I photographed every sports game, and now that I’m back I am continuing with that. In Madrid, I was writing prolifically, photographing, and highly interested in fashion and its industry, which I’m bringing back with me to college this year.
Snowballing isn’t the most comfortable thing since you can’t add more snow unless you get out of your comfort zone so I wouldn’t say I’m ‘looking forward’ to adding more layers, but I am definitely intrigued about what will come next.
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