You would never think it possible, but as a college student you pack up your life every eight months. Before you start that long--or short--trek back to your hometown, you first have to go through the agonizing process of packing up all of your belongings into packages that fit neatly into giant, gaudy rolling crates. The life that you lived for so long gets put into that foldable cardboard box that you forgot was even behind the dresser, ready to be forced into a different location; an unsuitable one.
The clothes are the easiest to put away, even though the total stock has almost doubled in size (is it magic or credit cards?). My favorite part of packing is the Random Box of Assorted Crap. This consists of everything in your drawers and the medium sized stuff that is too big to slide between the box and the speakers or not big enough to get its own space, like the printer. The RBoAC holds a lot of the small pieces of your college life that you forgot about. Here you will find the box of pens you never thought you had while you carry the embarrassment of asking everyone you know for pens safely in your heart. This is where you find that love note from your girlfriend that crushes you just when you were feeling strong. This is where you realize you have a lot of condoms. This is where you find those notes that answered that question on the final you took yesterday. This is where the small intricacies of your existence pop up. This is you. This fact hits you on the ride home, when you're still drunk on Tequila from Cinqo de Maio last night and your dad has to drive because you would surely kill tens of people if you were behind the wheel.
I have found that there is a certain duality in character that pops up when you go to school. There is nothing wrong with this system, as it just seems like the natural order. The Michael P. Anton--affectionately known as manty pants--in Boston is not the same one that left for the Hub in the early Fall of 2004. You grow in different ways. Most distinctly, there is a disconnect between the future, the past, and most importantly the present. My world in Boston very rarely, if ever, touches my life in Jersey. It is always weird traveling in between my two worlds because there is a whole Connecticut that is merely there to buffer these two people, locations, lives that I inhabit. No offense to Hartford, but you're nothing more than a transition.
When you come home from college, you find your old friends, your family, where you grew up, but you don't find home. The very simple term becomes convoluted. I can't tell you how many times I would order something on line and it would say "home address" and I would end with a 02215 Boston zip code. There were times where I'd tell my mom that I am going home on Saturday because I have a test on Monday I have to study for, and I'd see that little pang of her heart through her eyes. Home is where the heart is, and it's slowly leaving her sight, leaving the bedroom that shares a world with hers.
But, for four months a year, I am privileged to return to my roots and live in New Jersey. I get to sleep in the same room that I have slept in since I was locked in a crib (not technically, of course - no need to call up DYFS). I have the honor of reconnecting with friends who are moving on in their own ways. Here we all are again, thrown backwards from our forward course straight into neutral, or even reverse. We are all square pegs that are being forced into that old circle hole. I'm always surprised when asked about if I miss my friends when I'm at college, or why I don't visit them or talk to them a lot. For me it's simple: we all have our lives to live. Why bother Steve when he's meeting new people and experiencing new things? I can go years without seeing him and we could pick up right where we left off. For the record, I see this as a positive.
As I have mentioned before, dealing with old classmates isn't exactly the most fun experience (hence the use of the word "dealing"). At one point we were all organically connected through high school, struggling through together. Our rally cry of "we have to get the fuck out of here" was loud and clear. Then we reach a point where we're all back in the place we wanted to escape from. Some people enjoy their return to normalcy, to what they remember; relying on the familiar. Then you start to talk to an old classmate and the only thing you can share and discuss is how great college is and how weird it is to be back. We are all still unified, it just happens to be in confusion.
We all share the same false sincerity and just try and not be called an asshole. I was talking to someone who I barely kept in contact with at school, but now I have a strange urge to talk to her all the time. We had the "college is great" conversation, and I voiced my displeasure with being home. I then divulged that I would be spending my summer next year in Boston. She then brought up her house by her school. Then, I told her that it was time to offer invitations that no one will ever follow through with, and say half-heartedly just because it's the "right thing to do." We both are invited to the other's place, but we'll probably never go. But hey, at least we're polite.
There are some people that you don't want to see because there is too much left on the table. Some people meant everything to you the last time you were on this soil, and mean almost nothing now. Others have been perverted past recognition. Further still, some people you have seen grow up and be something you might not like, nor would enjoy having reflected back on to yourself. It's easy to talk about when you're 225 miles away, and very tough to put into action in reality. Some doors simply should not be opened, while some were closed too soon. You can always use the rotating one, but sometimes it gets vicious after a few cycles.
After all of that fancy talk, the sole issue is it isn't so easy defining yourself without a backdrop. It is weird leaving a city where you live in anonymity to a town where three generations have some idea of who you are. Every action goes from a drop in the ocean to a disruptive ripple effect. I got weird looks when I went to shoot around on my own from my friends. "Why didn't you call us?" I was asked. I didn't have a good answer, because that's just how I lived. What is considered singular and normal is now selfish and irregular. Nothing I did change, just where I did it.
The truth is that the cardboard boxes can go anywhere and survive. My printer has no more significance in Boston, Taiwan, Jersey or LA. The picture frame is a time stamp from my prom no matter what happens. The sticky blue stuff for my posters is just another unidentified gum-gluelike-paste-kinda-substance. All of those things just make it easier to define myself. That box is full of comfort that what I'm doing is right. It is packed with landmarks of my journey to where I am now. No matter where I am I just have to do something that is unusually hard.
I just have to be me...once I figure out what that is. Any idea which box that is in?