I was out driving late one night last semester when I wrecked into a memory.
I was the only car in sight on College Avenue that fall night, so nobody had to see this but me. I pulled up to the light at the intersection with Ashland Road, right before the bridge.
I slowed down and turned left. There was nowhere to turn. I slammed on my breaks and just stared ahead in disbelief.
It hit me, in that moment, how things have changed. Two years ago, a road used to wind here, past Discovery and Responsibility halls on the right and around Virginia Avenue Garage. Now, it’s just a walkway.
How did I forget about the walkway? It’s like the fact escaped me, like I’d wanted it to not be true.
In my mind, I’ve been trying to make that turn for the past three years.
I miss freshman year. I miss it every day. Once in a while, when I feel like being alone, I’ll play some music on the stereo I’ve had for all four years of college, lay on my back on my bed and close my eyes. I’ll let the vibrating bass of Explosions In The Sky take me home.
I’ll go back to freshman year. I’ll go back to Hatch Hall room 734. The door is the third from the end on the right. I’ll swipe my ID, punch in my pin of 6220 and let the door swing open to my past.
I’ll see myself sitting at the desk I moved to the opposite wall. I’ll be surfing random message boards because I have way too much time on my hands. I’ll see the refrigerator box my roommate and I turned into a dumpster before I destroyed it one night after a party.
Wade will throw open his door from across the hall. Brian and Nassim will hear it two rooms up and do the same. We’ll all go to Late Night Rollins to burn the rest of this Saturday night.
I know if senior me were to open my eyes and walk into the dining room, I’d see these three roommates at a table of our own. But I don’t want to right now. I want us all to be young again.
I want those impromptu runs to the bookstore. I want the free nights I melted away in the Tiger Grotto when I felt proud that I’d made it even this far. I want for Natural Light to taste good again. I want for Saturdays in the fall to be one big festival down the main street of my life.
I want to be reckless. I want to learn from those mistakes one hangover or failed test at a time. I want the drama of a dorm floor and the passing faces of people I wish I knew to challenge my sense of place. I want growth.
In the grand scheme, freshman year is a silly time in our lives. It’ll never go on our resumes. Reputations don’t exist. The past only matters to you. The campus is yours. Everything is new and exciting.
It’s scary, but damn, it is exciting.
Freshman year brings with it a thrill that is difficult to replicate for the rest of college. It comes before the storm of jobs or capstones or internship applications. It feels like that first day of kindergarten, when we could tell people what we wanted to become and nobody knew enough about us to shoot it down.
If only I had the ability to take what’s in my memory and make it real, I’d place freshman year here on this patch of grass where the path no longer runs. I’d sprint back to it everyday, even for a little while, because that was a world where the worries could go away.
But I can’t do that. The road is gone, and I can’t drive through the grass to bring it back.