I’ve said before that I’m a fan of trespassing. …Well, “fan” doesn’t do the feeling justice. It comes to me naturally. It’s an instinct. I can’t not see where doors lead, if they’ll let me. I trespass like I breathe.
And oh, as much as I love trespassing, I love nostalgia twice that.
Which leads to my Saturday night, when I made a random detour to the UT campus – a place I know like the back of my hand – and, despite that, began prowling around, seeing how it had changed, looking for missing memories behind bushes and around corners.
Around midnight I was walking back to the car, but of course I walked by the Carothers dorm, where my college years – and all the incredible things that would go with them – began.
The loading dock door, at the bottom of the ramp, was standing wide open.
I walked down to it, glancing around, sure this was some kind of trick, that the place would be crawling with custodians and workmen.
Shocked at my own fortune, I walked straight into the old shuttered empty cafeteria, alibi at the ready (“I’m looking for John… wait, is this Littlefield?”). It lay abandoned, construction equipment everywhere. The cafeteria, to my amusement, is being converted to underground dorm rooms.
I examined the new rooms being built. Found some blueprints and compared its unrecognizable current form to what I remembered (“Ah… so the ice cream station was over HERE”). Saw a bucket with the URHA logo on it, which I recognized as from a fundraiser I’d helped to organize in ’98.
Steering clear of windows, I found an open door to the Carothers basement, then a stair to the first floor, then walked down the hall, heart pounding, to room 100 at the end. The whole building was quiet and empty. I owned it.
The door to my old room was unlocked.
Smiling even at the familiar creak of the hinges, noting silently that the doorknob had changed, I walked into the same room I walked into in August, 1996, just under 13 years ago. I double-checked that the blinds were down and flipped on the bathroom sink light, and was hit hard in the face by the space I knew so freaking well. Its smell was the same. The furniture hadn’t changed. The wooden floor was worn, in part due to my own 18- and 19-year-old feet. With a feeling that somehow combined euphoria and suffocation, I dropped my backpack on my roommate’s old bed – just as I used to do – and flopped onto mine, laughing at the feel of the cheap mattress. I’m a nostalgia addict, and this moment was a hit of some very, very good drugs.
Then I sat up. Paced the room (it took 10 seconds; the room is small). And sat at the old desk, and opened my laptop (mentally comparing it to the goliath Dell desktop that used to sit here).
And… I could think of nothing to actually do. Nothing but sit and stare at every corner, where these two most important years of my life happened, feel the crushing exhilarating weight of memories I’d forgotten I had, memories that I know I’ll soon be forgetting again (and forever, this time). On May 21, 1998, I would have sworn to you that it was my last solitary night in this room. I was wrong then. But tonight I’ll make that vow again. For a few moments I sit here, and I despair, at all the happiness that’s past, at all the mistakes that linger here. It’s as selfish a feeling as you can imagine, for no one else in the wide world cares what went on 13 years ago in Carothers room 100. But it’s a feeling as powerful as it is selfish.
I’ve never felt as creative as I did at this desk. Never felt the future shining in front of me so clearly, so emptily. Sure as hell never felt as in love. Nor as heartbroken. Nor as desperate. Never laughed as hard as I did, that first year, when everything was new. For good and for bad, every fucking thing was brand spanking new in this room.
Just before moving out, in 1998, I clumsily carved my initials into the drywall, just above the door inside the closet. They’re still there. Always will be, I’m sure. Whether I’d visited or not, this room would still sit here, ready for a new freshman to form his own memories. The memories would be here regardless, decaying, just like everything decays.
But oh, God, thank you anyway for giving me these minutes. For reminding me what that mattress felt like. Letting me hear the air conditioner rattle. This was so worth the risk of getting caught that I’m almost willing to call UTPD on myself just to prove the point.
I’m going. I’m even more sure I’ll never set foot in this room again, certainly not alone, certainly not with the walls blank and the building silent like they are now. And that’s a good thing too. Let the new residents come in a few short weeks. Let them fall in love with learning, with women, with the UT tower, with football, with everything. I’ve had my insanely selfish night of remembering things past. Now I’m gonna let it go. Again.