I stood and watched the ghosts of my classmates, circa 2006–2010, walk through the halls of Lottie. Hi, Sarah. Do you want to eat lunch together today? Let’s have endless cups of tea in those clear glass teacups and not leave until dinner. That gets us a free dinner.
And then later, I was sure I saw Joy at the Union Cafe. But it wasn’t Joy. It was someone a few years younger. In fact, everyone I knew was gone and had been replaced by new faces. New energetic students, sporting slightly different styles, all in the same paths we had traveled. In the three years since I left, nobody who had been there was still there. Unless there was the odd student who was taking six years to get a degree.
Please don’t change those colorful tabletops, I silently prayed. Ever. Or the clear glass tea cups. Or the name of Climenhaga. Or the web of brick paths. Just don’t change. Ever. I need to come back and remember.
I was taken aback by my own nostalgia. Then I remembered. My family moved a lot for various reasons. Most were work-related, as my hard-working dad sought new developments in which to build.
When I was little, I didn’t mind the frequent changes. Moving was an adventure. It was only later in life, while growing up, that I heard bits and pieces from people and stories that made me realize what it was I was missing out on. When people said things like, “That was my locker when I went to school here,” or “Do you McCulleys ever change?” that I realized what I lacked in life was a hometown. Even the shortest of phrases, “My family doctor,” struck a chord of longing in my heart. I didn’t have a family doctor, and my life was a series of starting over. I didn’t grow up with the same best friend since I was five.
Nobody really knew us. Those who knew us when we were young had probably forgotten, and those who know us now do not remember us.
We were the invisible family.
That’s why four years rooted in the same place did something irreplaceable for me. I brought to it all the dysfunction, love, hard work, and misunderstandings I carried with me, and those things each carved their own inevitable path. Some to glory, and some to pain. But I was there, for four years. I walked to Climenhaga day after day, and walked from it to a basic math class. Euler circuits in General Math. The beautiful disharmony of the practice rooms, the sweetness of the orchestra tuning up, the professors that became my friends, my love for graphic design, the smell of paint and clay, the painful choice I made to switch from music to a field that I still love and work in, and the ache in my heart that I never fulfilled my musical dreams.
But I was there.
For four years.
Four falls. Four winters. Four springs.
The bond I have with the friends I made is the kind that lets you pick up where you left off every time you see them. The years race on by, completely indifferent to my wish to slow the clock down. The man I married? We met at the annual Fall Symphony. I played the violin. Another boy was supposed to show up afterward. Nate did instead. I never regretted that.
So that is why I stand in Climenhaga, in Lottie, or in that noisy, busy section of the Union Cafe and beg it not to change. Ever.
Because Messiah College is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a hometown.