"I bought a small bottle of beer for fifteen cents and sat on a bench in the clearing, feeling like an old man. The scene I had just witnessed brought back a lot of memories -- not of things I had done but of things I had failed to do, wasted hours and frustrated moments and opportunities forever lost because time had eaten so much of my life and I would never get it back."
- Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary
In my college days I taped that quote to a "Blow" movie poster which hung in my room. I wanted to put it somewhere I would see it everyday, so that I would remember each day to experience college life to the fullest, because I knew that someday college would be over. And I knew, pursuant to all the cliched advice they give at orientation, that I would never remember the petty assignments, the yawn-inducing lectures, or the hours spent boxed up in a library cubicle. Rather, it would be random Tuesday night trips to the bar, spur-of-the-moment choices to skip class and drink all day on the lawn, and spontaneous Friday-morning-hangover decisions to make a weekend road trip to Dayton, Ohio, that I would remember down the road.
Despite my best efforts -- looking at that quote everyday and legitimately modeling my decisions off of it -- that quote haunts me in my post-grad life. It does not haunt me in the sense that I wasted my time in college, but rather just in the sense that time has eaten so much of my life and that I will never get that time back.
Not until this past weekend, when I returned to Ann Arbor during my Spring Break, did I truly feel that I would never get college back. It hit me like a revelation, and it hit me pretty hard. Upon graduation day, I knew that I was done with the classes forever. And when I departed for Petoskey last summer, I knew I would never again be living in the college home I loved so much. Even this fall, when I returned to Ann Arbor for football games, I knew that I wasn't one of the students tailgating. I knew these things, but I never felt them. I guess I always felt that I was just on some sort of college hiatus, and that someday soon my buddies and I would be back at our favorite bar drinking 2 dollar pitchers on Wednesday nights.
As I walked on campus amongst the undergrads last week, though, I felt for the first time that the students looked younger than me. And as I looked out my tiny window from the sixth floor of the grad library stacks, I felt for the first time that the town outside the window wasn't my home. Most distinctively, as I lay in bed the morning after a long night out drinking at my old watering holes, I felt that I couldn't keep up with the hard-drinking lifestyle I had adhered to from weekend to weekend throughout college.
Perhaps the revelation occurred because my remaining college pals will be graduating in a couple of weeks, thereby effectively exterminating my lingering ties to college. Add to the equation the fact that my best friend from college just moved to Virginia to begin a new job, and it all really hits home: College is over forever.
What makes the whole thing difficult is the transitional phase. When I threw up my cap in the Big House during graduation I knew that college was over, but no lightbulb went off in my head instructing me to act any differently. In the previous year the real world has been thrust upon me, but I don't feel quite mature enough to call myself a true adult. I always had just assumed that I would become a responsible adult upon graduation, but no one in college ever tells you that it just doesn't happen that way.
Hank Williams Jr. painted an accurate picture of my college buddies and I when he wrote the song "All My Rowdy Friends (Are Comin' Over Tonight)". Later on, he sorrowfully depicted the aging process when he wrote "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)," lamenting that "no one wants to get high on the town. . . and cornbread and iced tea took the place of pills and ninety-proof." I wish Hank had written a song about the in-between. Maybe then I would know how to feel as all my rowdy friends are seperating but not quite settling down. Maybe then the transition from nightly ninety-proof to the occasional iced tea would be a bit smoother.
Knowing that "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)" suggests the ultimate destination is a sobering thought; in fact the forecast can appear quite dreary in these transitional times. Still, when I think about the finality of college, my mind reminds me of the annual camping trip my father and his college buddies take to a remote cabin. I've never seen any photos from those trips, and I've never actually heard any stories about those trips (probably for good reason). But I know from the cautionary looks my mom gives my father whenever he starts counting down towards the trip that college is revived during that one weekend. Those cautionary looks provide hope that college never dies, but rather it just appears less often as we grow older.
Then I think about next fall's Michigan v. Notre Dame game, the first night game in the history of Michigan football, which is serving as sort of an unofficial reunion for all of my college buddies just because no one wants to miss an event of that enormity. And I know that when all my college buddies converge upon Ann Arbor for that weekend, college will live again.