This is where the hot dog man gave me free M&Ms and he said I could get him back, but it was days before I graduated. His stand has been replaced by four bougie food trucks, but his kindness remains in my increasingly shitty memory. I remember when they put in that huge Pepperdine sign on the top of that building. That shop used to be the ice cream place where Wolf Blitzer would get his black and white milkshakes. Here’s the dorm where I had the partially lofted bed and where I piled sweats on after sleeping outside in the winter for Sufjan tickets. Here’s the dorm where our ceiling collapsed while I was in the shower.
It’s interesting what sticks and what doesn’t. I had lived in fear of returning to my alma mater: a place where I was accompanied by painful social anxiety, catty friendships, and burgeoning depression. It wasn’t the place exactly. I loved the warmth of the glass stairwell in Rome Hall on the way to my job at the Writing Center. I liked the country campus where I took classes with my favorite professor, a charming and hard-nosed British woman who would eventually help me get into graduate school. I lived to run for the last Metro at U Street after shows at the Black Cat, catching my breath holding onto the disgusting train poles as we laughed.
When I was in college, I didn’t have a name for why I cried. I had the music of sad men, I had a relationship that was full of strife, I had the protective shield of being (militantly) anti-drinking, and I had a handful of counselors who had tried to put me in the box of homesick college students. I was a mess.
One universal truth I’ve found when talking to other sufferers of mental illness is the relief of a diagnosis – putting a name to pain and discomfort that has been rattling around for years. I didn’t get properly diagnosed with mental illness until I was 26, having a second go at settling into a city in Austin, TX. Suddenly it made sense why college had been so hard for me. I lashed out at other people because I couldn’t make sense of my emotions, and in a hard environment to find true happiness, I didn’t have the strength to get there.
This is all to say, revisiting the scene of the crime helped me heal. It helped me feel the joy of my Austin life, of my medicated life, of my strong friendships, and of my happy relationship. I learned not to fear the memories, because buried beneath it all was me. Even through depression and confusion, there I am, graciously accepting some chocolate from a stranger, even though the stranger is gone and that version of myself is too.