When I walk the concrete pavements side by side Rich, I pass the shadows of the girl I used to be before I graduated two years ago. I take in the contemporary but aesthetically cold appearance of Livingston campus, the homestyle waffle fries comfort of College Avenue, the nature appreciation on Douglas and the regret that I judged Busch.
17 and graduating J.P. Stevens High School, a lot of fellow students were going to Rutgers to study engineering, computer science, biology, chemistry, physics on Busch. I wanted a fresh start so I never wanted to make the trek to that campus.
I only just gave it a chance last weekend at Rutgers’s Day. I’m still growing up.
Rich works at the physics lab and he took me to a physics show that mesmerized me as they amplified and explained physical properties to distill the tricks in front of our eyes.
Honestly, I didn’t understand the lesson behind it, but I saw the effort the professors put in to teach. Explosions, smoke stacks (the shapes dependent on the hole they come out of), laying on a bed of nails (the more nails there are, the more it can hold body weight evenly without penetration of skin), the effect of dry ice on a balloon (it shrinks!) were more than an illusion. I had a newfound respect for the sciences that I could have had sooner.
If I’d had the time. I graduated from Rutgers a year early. It wasn’t planned. It was a hard decision that came in the middle of my 6th and final semester. I didn’t say goodbye properly – because I had just begun to date Rich who had two more years to graduate. I knew I would be back on campus.
But it wasn’t the same. I visited a few times a week, in the evenings when everyone was eating at the cafeteria or going to class. I couldn’t stay late for the events – drag shows, coffee houses, Demarest special interest meetings – they all started at 9pm. I had to drive home to be in bed by 10.
Demarest was my home for the three years. It was a dorm, but it was so much more than that. I developed my own voice and gained confidence because everyone around me was unabashedly themselves. There is a free-expression painting room in the basement that anyone can leave their mark in with a pen, with a marker, with paint. I walk into the room now and the energy is the same, screaming, letting demons out, connecting years. Demarest has clubs within the building – every night 3 different clubs run, varying from cinema studies to philosophy to crafts. I went to the discussion nights depending on the focus topic, my favorite the screening of Kingsmen Secret Service and night of henna tattoos in cultural studies.
I had Squads in Demarest. I met Rich there.
I never felt weird. I wish that was the same in the adulting world.
Now that Rich is graduating, my goodbye has to be permanent. I’ll still go to Rutgers Cinema as an alum to get discounted tickets, but I’ll never be an undergrad student going through her college firsts again. I’m left reminiscing: playing basketball in the Werblin pool with friends, the Squad dinners at Brower cafeteria that had us pushing tables together, staying up late just for the company, baking countless brownies in the tiny basement kitchen of Demarest.
The one thing I didn’t do was have a picnic under the pink trees next to Passion Puddle on Douglas. But I have hope.
Rutgers and I won’t be seeing each other for a while, but I will revisit. It’s a home that still has a part of my heart.