My baby’s first university visit. My own alma mater. The old and the new collide everywhere we go. As my college self and my current self hold hands, I am enjoying new experiences with my daughter – everything about this is a ‘first’ for her. My college memories are trailing me like a shadow; in some light they’re invisible and in other light they overtake the whole scene.
The main pathways of the campus are still here. Most of the landmarks that were anchors still exist. But the in-between is all changed around. Fraternities have switched places and have been joined by sororities. Beautiful, big buildings that were newly erected when I was a student have been torn down. Open space and big blue sky that once beckoned, have been closed off by a boom in construction. Roads are now pedestrian-only and roundabouts have appeared almost comically, completely tripping me up as I try to navigate around.
My daughter and I have some time before our informational tour so we sit under a tree in the quad, my favorite oasis. It’s the one place on campus that hasn’t changed in the decades since I lived there. It’s bordered by beautiful pink marble buildings and the grass is silky and green, even in February. It is a beautiful, sunny, 70 degree day and I close my eyes, sigh, and breathe in air that feels and smells like 1990. We share some jokes, laugh a ton, and bask in the moment.
I look at my beautiful daughter and realize, in amazement, how extraordinary this is that I’m actually here with her, a product of my years there. I can think back to so many decades earlier, doing the same things with my college buddies. And here I am in the same place, and what feels like the same time, with my child whose existence can be credited in large part to this school, where her father and I met. I feel like I created the ultimate human being, who will always be my tangible friend in real-time, whenever real time is.
The idea that my daughter is the product of two people who met here is very cool to me. We go to the place where her father and I first saw each other, and take pictures. It’s wild to me to think that her creation a few years later was made possible by that meeting, at that place, at that time. She looks so much like her father and it’s strange to think that now I walk this road with her, and without him. The thoughts I once would have shared with him about all of this will stay in my mind, unspoken. He doesn’t even know we’re there.
The sights and smells are also bringing back for me other memories from that time that I haven’t thought about in ages, and I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings. The old and new continue to meet head-on. Who was I? Who am I?
At the end of the tour, after all of the other prospective families are gone, I share a memory with the tour guide. I can’t help myself. I’ve been in my own head with these memories, and one just eeks out. I somehow sense a smile behind me and turn around to see another mother and daughter standing a few paces behind us. I wonder if they’re hearing our conversation.
The mom smiles knowingly, points to herself and tells me her name. Is she talking to me? I want to turn my head to see if she’s speaking to someone else. And then I look at her again and realize — God had literally conjured up one of my best friends from college, from freshman year, who I haven’t seen in decades! I leap into her arms laughing and screaming with glee.
She’s here?! We’re here together?! This is really happening?! The old and new are crashing over me in tall waves. Waves of pure gratitude and joy. Waves of incredulity. I am not alone with my memories! We begin to reminisce. But most of all we just embrace over and over, feeling the joy of two souls who have experienced so many unique times together who have not had an opportunity to express that to one another in too long, and now finally have the chance.
Our daughters laugh and take pictures. And then they hug each other and let us take pictures of them. I’m in my 40s and I’m a young adult at the same time. I’m a kid and a mom. I’m in an unfamiliar place and I’m home.
I don’t walk alone. My memories are legitimate, no matter who is still with me to validate. I can just as easily be swept back to senior year walking across that quad with people who remain in my past, as I can currently enjoy the friendships of the ones still in my present. Finally, I realize I can transfer my somewhat uncomfortable nostalgia for the past relationship to a future that is in many ways, already standing next to me, holding my hand.