I always write when things are over. Something about the process helps put my mind at ease. Relationships ending, coming home from traveling, the turning of a calendar year — each tips off my writer brain that it’s probably time to produce some sort of content. I can summarize, analyze and compartmentalize experiences so much more easily in the form of a poem or blog post than with anything else.
But how the [redacted] am I supposed to write about something four years in the making?
I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a while. Trying to figure out how to pay homage to a town that was home for so long without waxing gross-sappy-sobbing poetic about it (probably still going to be sappy). There is no way to talk about it all. No way to adequately describe the soaring highs or disastrous lows, the moments of alienation or of family. The times I couldn’t stop smiling or the times I cried every day for two weeks. A chunk of life this long, this rich in experience is meant to be lived fully, not recounted on WordPress after four years.
But, I still need to write about it.
So I decided on scenes. The characters of my college life. Little things I’m going to miss.
I don’t know how else to say goodbye to a place that has both taken and given so much to me.
There’s a man with a yellowing beard and a silver wedding band who has been playing a song on the violin for as long as I’ve been alive probably. He never seems to stop. Never pausing to look at the students streaming by, never breaking the tinny stream of notes. I’ve seen him at coffee shops, but those two times are the only ones I’ve seen him without a fiddle tucked under his chin. Anyone who’s walked past the corner of 9th and University has heard him. There’s usually a hot dog stand there too. He is as much a part of downtown Columbia as any establishment. Few things in life are certain, but I can count on this man playing like it is the only thing he knows.
Those good weather days. Columbia humans, you know the ones I’m talking about. Where everything is soaked in sunshine and warm whispers of wind. All of downtown is filled with families and dogs and tiny children clutching Sparky’s kid cones. The Quad becomes a home base, dotted with frisbee games and baseball and how do people even manage to string a hammock up between the Columns? Everything feels good and light and golden. Even on my worst days, when depression and anxiety creep up to settle themselves on my chest, there is nothing quite like a beautiful spring day in Missouri. It lifts my heart in a kind, quiet way, and for that I’m grateful.
Wherever I go, I’m going to see someone I know. It’s comforting to know that I can show up at my favorite bar by myself and it will be fine. Jessie will stamp my hand, Joey will pour my drink without asking and half my friends are probably there already. Shake’s will always be full of everyone I’ve ever known. I can walk into a course on the first day of the semester and find out that three people I know are also in it, and none of us knew.
Bookends. That eerie, wonderful realization that life mirrors itself sometimes (if you’re paying attention).
The boy I lived catty-corner from freshman year, who listened to cool trap remixes and always said hi to me in the hallway, now lives in the unit in front of me. We have the same house number, so if I forget to put “Unit D” on my packages, they’ll be delivered to his door. I made his burrito at work yesterday. I don’t know his name and I don’t know if he remembers me, but the fact remains that we live about as close to each other this year as we did three years ago.
Once, I became friends with someone freshman year in an uncharacteristic blaze of courage (read: “Hi. I also live in Wolpers. Can I sit here and eat lunch with you?”). We run into each other from time to time at the bars or in the library, and it’s always that easy sort of friendship. Friday night, he pulled me into a hug and put his chin on top of my head. I realized that those tiny, brave moments throughout college — as small as introducing yourself to someone — can make all the difference. Somehow, we made it from locking ourselves in the third floor study room and cramming for Sharon Ryan’s econ final to drinking at Piano and going on senior pub crawls. (Hi, Jack, if you’re reading this.)
The concert venue I went to freshman year to see Bon Iver (and when we slept in Julia’s grandma’s basement) is the same one I went to senior year to see Ben Howard with Hannah (who I’ve lived with for three years). Both times, I got a setlist and both times I cried during the show. Also, Julia’s brother’s friend that I went to the concert with was Skyped into my senior capstone class a few weeks ago. A small world, y’all.
The person I sat next to in a psychology course sophomore year turned out to be one of my study abroad roommates this past summer. We found out we are soul sisters and are forever mad at ourselves for not becoming friends sooner. (Hi Shannon. Love you. I would sit on the floor of our kitchen and eat cereal every day if I could.)
I’ve already decided that the two weekends I’m coming back to Columbia for the rest of my life at Homecoming and True/False. One is the ultimate tribute to Mizzou and one to Columbia. They fill the whole of this odd little town with vibrant life: unbelievable beer specials and beaming faces and dancing down sidewalks and such palpable pride.
Sorry, future employers. Those are simply weekend that I have to go home.
There is so much to talk about. The Diner at 4 a.m. with near-strangers who became good friends. Crying into the phone to my mom in the middle of the mall. Falling in love. The unbelievable monotony of a full-course load. Laughing until I cry, loopy with exhaustion at work. Dying hair in bathrooms. Half-asleep to over-caffeinated in one Coffee Zone cold brew. The powerful crowd mentality that is shouting M-I-Z at Faurot. Red lipstick. Being catcalled at 9 p.m. on a Thursday. Closing down Ellis Library. The post-kicking-ass-on-a-presentation high. Drinking beer on patios. Going on medication. Snowstorms and weeks of rain. Drunk girls in bathrooms. Google Docs. Care packages from home. Cutting your own hair. Being flat broke. Falling asleep on couches with Law and Order on. Loving humans so hard you think your chest might burst. Losing yourself. Finding your voice.
There’s no way to remember it all, but I know I’ll miss it.
It’s ending, isn’t it? This huge, pivotal, important experience is coming to a close. Two weeks from today, I will be a college graduate (and my brother will turn 15). I have so much to do before then that my body hasn’t stopped trembling. There are goodbyes that I’m actually dreading — humans who have a permanent place in my heart, who I don’t want to imagine life without. I know there are planes and Facetime, but nothing beats actually hugging people you love. This is a place where I have grown in way I would have never expected, and it feels really weird to know that I’m going to be saying goodbye soon.
I love y’all. To each of the families I have found in this strange, beautiful place: Thank you for everything. Y’all make life so worth living.