Back to the Heights
Since we've been back in Boston I've been meaning to make a trip out to my alma mater, Boston College, just to wander around and see what's changed, and the other day I finally got around to it. Even though it's located out in Chestnut Hill, where the city transitions into suburbia, the journey was surprisingly easy since it turned out there's a bus two blocks from my house that goes almost straight there. I'll never understand how the bus routes were planned in this city.
While a lot of the campus is marred by sad mid-century architecture, the main gate and quad are very satisfyingly collegiate, even downright medieval.
It was fun to walk around noticing things that my fuzzy undergraduate mind had missed, like the faux-medieval touches on an academic-inspiration themed building like Bapst Library. Look at this witty carving of serf-students puzzling over a book. Just a little clue that this is indeed Boston College, lest you were fooled by the atmosphere of reverence for learning. If only they were wearing backwards baseball caps.
I'd read that they put in a labyrinth as a 9-11 memorial, and I really liked it. It was among several new elements of the campus that added a more serious and interesting tone than I remembered there.
Like, for example, check out this crazy statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola, captured in a moment of spiritual fervor. Ignatius and I go way back, since I attended not only a Jesuit university but a Jesuit high school as well, so I recognized the old guy right away.
A lot of my spiritual fervor back in those days centered around these mailboxes, and whether mine would contain any letters. I was a letter writing fiend, probably no more than the email I write now, actually, but it seemed more significant when the reply arrived in an envelope. I loved how you could peek in through the little window and see the tantalizing stack of mail. I had a recurring dream after I graduated that I was back in the mail room gazing at a full P.O. box through said window, but was unable to remember the combination.
A baseball-capped coed trotted by me with a red Netflix envelope when I was lurking in there, and it struck me so funny that college students would subscribe to Netflix. I guess there's no reason why not, but shouldn't she be reading or something? Or at least earnestly writing letters upstairs in the cafe, like young Chrissa used to do.
Speaking of the cafe, it has gotten quite a makeover since 1993. I originally knew it as "Sweets and Treats," and spent many hours there with my earnest cups of coffee and endless chocolate chip cookies. (One of my best college friends worked there for awhile, though when I was first getting to know her I somehow had the impression that she had a twin sister and that was the one who worked at Sweets and Treats. I think my sole reason for believing she must be my friend's twin, instead of being in fact my friend, was because Imaginary Cafe Twin wore her hair in two long braids, while Actual Friend wore her hair down when I saw her in our shared English class. See what I mean about my fuzzy undergraduate mind?) Anyway, as I was graduating, Sweets and Treats underwent a sad transformation as a Dunkin' Donuts outpost, but it is now fresh and modern and serving chocolate croissants, and called, oh so cleverly ... the Chocolate Bar!
The really weird makeover was the old McElroy dining hall, now saucily called "Carney's" and decorated like some airport international terminal. It was still a funny old mid-century Catholic school cafeteria underneath the soaring canvas awnings though, with flourescent up-lighting and a big wooden crucifix over the doorway to the restrooms. You'll always be McElroy to me, Carney's.
I know people always say this when they revisit things like old schools, but all the kids looked so, so young. I hated some of them (just like I used to), the overly made-up girls talking on cell phones and standing in the middle of the walkway, but some of them just broke my heart ... a dorky-cool kid walking through the cafeteria with social anxiety written all over his face, someone else climbing the steps to the quad carefully holding a brown-paper wrapped care package he'd just picked up from the mail room. I swear, every other kid was carrying a package, some special little bundle of goodies packed up and mailed by mom and dad to make their little pumpkin feel remembered at school.
I am waxing sentimental, I know, but I think the thing that struck me was that I didn't realize, back then, how much effort it took to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be, and to start to make those decisions on your own, instead of following the instructions of Mom and Dad. I guess I thought life was always going to be that way, full of angst and self-analysis, and most of all the paralyzing anxiety of worrying who you might see at the library and whether or not you should say "Hi" to them. (Okay, that was more high school than college, and I'm revealing myself as a total social nerd, but it's true, it used to take up a lot of energy.)
Without trying too hard to be profound - but then again, this is a post about the college years, so why not? - I wanted to pull aside Nerdy Cafeteria kid or Care Package kid and tell them I thought they were cool, reassure them in some way, or at least smile at them. I actually did happen to smile at this older guy leaving the cafeteria - he looked like he may have worked there - and his expression was total amazement. Back when I was a student there, my friends and I thought Boston College wasn't a very friendly place. Going back, the expressions I saw on faces looked more like uncertainty than hostility, with far too much doubt over who they were and how they should act to risk smiling at a random stranger, at least not yet.