At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

art theplacePart One: The Ride

It had been eight years to the day. Putting the car into park, I emerged from the vehicle. Standing on the campus of Quinnipiac University, it had been eight years since I walked across the stage to receive my degrees, eight years since I left one existence for another. It was a surreal and cathartic experience, to say the least.

Just outside of New Haven, Connecticut, surrounded by Sleeping Giant State Park, Quinnipiac was my academic home for four years. It was the line in the sand between my hometown childhood back in Upstate New York and my impending adulthood — destination unknown.

And today, here I was, back to where it all began for me. The visit wasn’t the end of this journey back to New England. Rather, it was a stop along the way with my collegiate crony and roommate Brett, as we both were on our way from Brooklyn to North Andover, Massachusetts, for the wedding last weekend of our mutual best friend Dan. 

The three of us were a tripod of friendship through most of our time at Quinnipiac, and have made the utmost effort to keep that bond alive post-college with New Year’s Eve meet-ups and such. Brett and I both hadn’t really been back since graduation in 2007. So, we thought, “Why not swing by QU on the way up?” 

Strolling the quad, the late spring breeze wafting through was just how I remembered. Memories of lying on the lush lawn, awaiting class, talking up cute girls in their sundresses, deep conversations with friends as we dove into the mysteries of life and what will happen to us all once we’d be unleashed onto the job market. Just like beloved people and cherished things, the campus itself had changed with age. It was different, aesthetically and emotionally, but I still recognized the important parts, the traits of beauty and attachment that made you never forget why you were attracted to this property in the first place.

For a Saturday afternoon, I soon noticed how eerily quiet the campus was. It appeared nobody was around. It was deserted. I then remembered why. Graduation weekend was right now, and last night was the final evening the seniors could party and commiserate on campus before they had to walk across the stage on Sunday.

You see, for the four days leading up to graduation weekend, the school brings the senior class back to their old dorms to pretty much do whatever they want, to walk (party) down memory lane before the trials and tribulations (and job hunt) of adulthood began once that piece of paper, four years in the making, is placed in their hands. 

With all the doors of the dorms wide open, to air out the smell of cheap beer and liquor, Brett and I were free to roam the buildings. Empty bottles, pizza boxes and condom wrappers were strewn about, with a surprising amount of ceiling tiles punched out in a drunken haste of excitement and revelry — some things never change, eh?

We wandered into my freshman dorm on the far edge of the campus. Even the exact dorm room was open. A odd sense of self washed over crossing the threshold of the space — almost like the reverse aging effect of Moonlight Graham when he leaves the baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams.” 

I thought of the first time I stepped foot in that room. August 2003 — 18 years old, never having lived anywhere else but home. I thought of my high school sweetheart who came to visit me that fall semester, and how we assured each other we’d be together forever (only to breakup that Thanksgiving). I thought of all the late night study sessions, sneaking cases of beer into our rooms, all of those strangers my age — from Long Island, Boston and Philadelphia — all of which would become fast friends, lifelong pals or eventual dusty, long-lost faces in the closet of my mind. 

I stood in that room for a couple minutes, but it felt like hours. I thought of all those students who stayed in that room before me, and all of the ones who came after. I wondered if they’d ever come back for a visit, how they’re doing in their own pursuits. Are they happy? Do they ever wonder about what it all means? And how we all try to connect the dots of our past to make sense of the present?

And as I jumped back into the car, with GPS aimed for Dan’s wedding, I wondered about myself, how far I’d come and what it all meant in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been on the run for so long, in pursuit of dreams and in avoidance of adulthood, that I really never take a moment to truly look back and see what led me to here and now. 

I don’t know the 18-year-old self that I once was. I remember him, but I don’t identify anymore with what it was he wanted and desired, at that time, in that place. But, what I do know is, he’s somewhere in the cosmos of my eternal existence, and would be pleased to know that I’m alive and happy, and through it all, through all the tests and classes, the breakups and failures, that there were successes of my wildest dreams — that it was worth it.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for “Part Two: The Wedding,” which will run in next week’s edition.

 

Hot picks

1 The “Way Back When” trout dinner will open its 2015 season at 5:30 p.m. May 29 at the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley.

2 Water’n Hole Bar & Grille (Waynesville) will have Dirty Soul Revival (hard rock/blues) at 9:30 p.m. June 5.

3 The “Trail Magic #11” release party will be held June 5-6 at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City.

4 The Strand at 38 Main (Waynesville) will have Shana Tucker (jazz/soul) at 7:45 p.m. May 30.

5 Gourd artists from around the world will again be ‘gathering’ at the 13th annual Gourd Artists Gathering and Art Festival May 29-31 in Cherokee.

Go to top