Thursday, December 18, 2008

Going home, again

I'm back in the bosom of my alma mater, on a fellowship at the rare books libary. Being here has been weird, but pleasant. But also weird.

Aside from the city where I grew up, I've lived nowhere as long as I lived here--and although I can't imagine a set of circumstances that would return me again for any length of time, you never know: the woman I'm subletting from turns out to have been in my undergraduate class; like me, she came back for graduate school, and now teaches at a university 40 minutes away. Her landlord? Also from my graduating class. As is another of the building's tenants. Today I'm having lunch with a college friend who recently moved back as well.

I guess people are always doing that--moving back to places they've lived in before, or just not leaving in the first place--but continually returning and continually leaving is an especially estranging experience. When I returned here for graduate school, after a couple of years away, I occasionally had moments of feeling unstuck in time: walking across the main quadrangle, I'd suddenly forget where I was going, or what year it was: I was going to meet HK for dinner in her dining hall, right? No, wait: she'd graduated three years ago and now lived in D.C.

It was strange being back in a place that I'd once known so well, and where every corner had associations with my younger self. For a couple of years, I described the experience to people as what I imagined living in the same city or small town all one's life would be like: having layer upon layer of different memories attached to the same places.

But I now think that's wrong. If you live all your life in the same place, you have a sense of progress and continuity; the town changes as you do. I have all kinds of relationships with this institution and with this city, but they're not continuous: I've come and gone, as an undergraduate, an alumna, a graduate student, a city resident, a commuter, and effectively an adjunct.

Now I'm a fellow, and a temporary resident of a neighborhood I didn't previously know. But as I walk to campus I walk past the apartment I sublet for a summer when I was 20 and working a 9-5 job. I stop in at the coffee shop I discovered as a freshman, returned to in grad school, and where union representatives still tirelessly organize. I pass the health plan and remember what a long schlep it was from the train station when I was commuting. And as I approach the rare books library, I can see, in my mind's eye, the photo of me and my roommate standing there at our college graduation. I have another photo, shot in the same location, where I'm in my doctoral robes.

I like myself plenty, but running into all these previous selves is getting exhausting.


Jack said...

I notice you didn’t run into any of yourselves coming home cocked or yelling angrily about crepes in the wee hours. Nice of yourself to keep it respectable-like.

Anonymous said...

I read the first sentence of your 6th paragraph as "Now I'm a felon."

That's all I really have to say. Except see you in a few days.


priscian said...

Is that the "Je n'ai pas besoin de crêpes!" incident? I heard about that one. I'm glad that time travel isn't possible: first, because it gives me a headache to think about; second, and more important, I fear what might happen if I ran into one of my past selves. Instead of gently admonishing him about upcoming failures and misjudgments while sitting down nicely at the local trattoria, I figure I'd probably just immediately set to pounding the shit outta him for being such a freakin' idiot in the future. That probably wouldn't help any.

Flavia said...

Jack (and Priscian): there's an easy explanation as to why I haven't run into that self--and it's because that self is still with me.

The crêpes place, fortunately, didn't last as long.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Wow. When I first saw the phrase "yelling angrily about crepes in the wee hours," I thought it was a misprint. Flavia coming home furious at creeeps after 2 am I understand. Expect! Even kind of enjoy!

But, no. You say it was actually about crepes?

Flavia said...

This will clarify nothing for the mystified, but I feel compelled to note that the episode referred to above did not, in fact, take place in the wee hours. It was no later than 6 p.m.--although, being November, it was pitch-dark outside.

And yes, I was yelling in the streets. In French. About crêpes.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Wow. Ummm ... zut alors?

Renaissance Girl said...

Have you read an essay by Joan Didion called "On Keeping a Notebook"? She has a thing about running into former selves....