This week, which annually must be one of the most forgettable chunks of time on the calendar nationwide, found me back in Ann Arbor. My aunt and uncle, both University of Michigan employees, are paying for me to house-sit at their place on the outskirts of Ann Arbor this week, though unbeknownst to them I probably would've done it for free because of what this city means to me.
I took a stroll through the old stomping grounds this evening. Through the diag and under the collegial ivory towers where I sat through poetry discussions and environmental science seminars. Down South University past the pubs looking like warm respites from the winter air, the very pubs that we went to when we were looking to celebrate, looking to get lucky, looking to forget a loss, looking to pass the time for lack of an alternative, or looking for nothing in particular at all. Into the student housing district, where select houses remind me of particular faces, particularly memorable parties, particular bedrooms of girlfriends I used to know.
As I took tally on the years that had passed since I called Ann Arbor home, something profoundly scary occurred to me: nearly four years have passed since I graduated in Michigan Stadium that spring of aught ten. In even more frightening terms, that means that I would be a senior preparing to graduate had I started all over again after graduation. Yikes.
But I've finally come to peace with that fact. In the four years since graduating, I had a much more difficult time letting go of Ann Arbor and college than most of the people I graduated with did. When I went to law school the Fall after graduating, I was more stuck on the loss of old friends than I was intent on making any new ones. I took the eastbound Amtrak train from Chicago to Ann Arbor on a monthly basis, to visit the girlfriend, to see a football game, to go pretend I was still in college with old roommates who were in fact still in college. Rather than embracing Chicago, I spent a lot of time living in the past, living in the Ann Arbor of yesteryear.
When I moved back to Ann Arbor the following Fall, the monthly attempts to recreate college became an everyday way of life. Devastated by heartbreak, I hung out with a lot of kids who were still in college and took on the drinking habits of a college student accordingly. Try as I might, rekindling college never quite materialized. In retrospect, it was kind of pathetic. While my old roommates from college had all taken the next step, I was drinking cheap vodka with college students, hanging out at college parties, and hitting on sorority girls who were in high school during my own college years. The third post-college year was perhaps the worst of them all; I would often drive to Ann Arbor, physically and mentally decimated from another bout with the booze, just to walk around and wallow in my own self-pity and a serious case of unhealthy nostalgia.
Over the past year I've largely avoided Ann Arbor entirely. I guess it's the same as an ex-girlfriend: in order to get over it you need a clean break. I had to rebuild my life without the prospect of Ann Arbor.
For the first twenty-two years of my life Ann Arbor was the driving force behind my entire existence. The only real goal I had ever had in life was to get into the University of Michigan and earn a degree from the institution from which my beloved sports teams hailed. They say that recently retired professional athletes often have incredibly difficult times adjusting to life after sports, their dreams having been realized and suddenly distant memories. It was much the same way for me. After graduating from Michigan, what was there to do? I didn't have any discernible goals after that. My life's dream had been accomplished. As a result, my life seemed utterly directionless.
As I walked around Ann Arbor tonight, though, it wasn't the past that haunted me. Rather, it was the present and future that primarily occupied my mind. Those college years will always hold a special spot in my heart of memories. But tonight, for the first time, that's all they were: memories. Ann Arbor and the collegiate years I associate with it have finally become a part of my past, and nothing more.