Look baby, when we first met, you thought you saw something in me. Something I didn’t even see in myself. You called it “potential.” I thought you must have made a mistake. Heck, mistakes happen all the time. But you showed me a snapshot of a life far different from mine, and I thought, why not? You made me dream of unfamiliar sights, sounds I had never heard, memories I could almost touch if I closed my eyes and reached out. You promised me small wonders in the form of education and experiences that I could neatly place on the shelves of my heart and mind, wonders that would guide me through life. I started to believe you. Luckily, I was filled with a constant desire for something other than the present, an unbearable wistfulness. You cast your spell and my soul soared.
But the thing is, the human spirit is very fickle?—?it lights up when we are overtaken by child-like delight, by curiosity or wonder, and can dim just as quickly if we lose sight of ourselves. I started to see changes in myself. I had to give up a lot just to keep afloat. I tried to keep my dreams and passions alive?—?the dreams and passions that made me who I was. I promised to eventually get back on track. Yet as days came and went, the dreams and passions accumulated dust as “tomorrow” became “next week, ” which eventually became “maybe next year.” My convictions slowly turned into open-ended questions. I knew what I wanted from life. I thought I knew what I wanted. Did I know what I wanted?
Baby, you made me lose grip of my very essence?—?who I was at my core and how I thought life ought to be. Two years in, I realized that the picture you once showed me was only a half-truth. I knew it wouldn’t be all butterflies and walks in the Gardens. I knew we’d have to compromise to make it work; I expected the long hours and stress and questions and fights. But I didn’t realize quite how toxic your environment?—?this relationship?—?would be.
Duke, in some regards, you made me a better person. You opened my eyes to a world of research and knowledge and progress. You gave me the opportunity to discover places like Greece and Serbia?—?places that I had only dreamt of. You introduced me to brilliant scholars and lifelong friends. But you also made me question my self-worth and the worth of my aspirations. See, for a long time, I felt like I did not quite belong. The pressures to live up to a certain image were overwhelming. I wanted to find myself through trial and mistake. You wanted success, both personal and academic. I felt pressure to rip my self up just to keep your image whole.
I needed an escape. Durham was that shoulder I could always lean on. As soon as I stepped outside campus, I realized that life was not Duke. I understood that life should not be a constant emotional roller-coaster. So although I will miss some aspects of you, Duke, my heart will ache for Durham and all my experiences outside campus walls. I’ll miss the amazing people I met and the beautiful city that welcomed me. I will miss North Carolina sunsets and listening to B 93.9 Country FM while driving with my windows down. I will miss sweet tea and sweeter locals. The Pauli Murray murals around town, and going to shows at Cat’s Cradle with fantastic friends. The taste of an El Steamo at Fullsteam and chatting with Cameron the bartender after a long and hectic week and the respite of a Sheytoon from Cocoa Cinnamon while trudging through piles of work. The laughter of kids playing as Christophe and I pick out veggies at the farmer’s market bright and early on Saturday mornings. The dogs I walk at the shelter and the committed team that keeps it running. The morning light show, as the sunrise reflects off windows in the warehouse district, and the afternoon pick-me-ups while making conversation with people in line for King’s.
Living in Durham changed me in ways I could never have even anticipated. It started to heal the wounds you made, Duke. It was a release from you. I thought I moved here for you, Duke, because I needed you. But I realize now that it was Durham that I needed. A small city with a tight-knit community where strangers eventually become acquaintances who eventually become friends. A city where art thrives and people care deeply about causes, and each other.
So it is with a heavy heart that I leave this city and the incredible family I have made for a new adventure. I cannot thank y’all for everything you have done?—?perhaps without my even knowing it. But that unbearable wistfulness for something other is tugging at my heartstrings.
Despite your efforts to convince me otherwise, Duke, I have no plans and no idea where life will take me?—?and I am okay with that. Because if there is even the slightest of chances it turns out to be anything like Durham, then baby, that is a risk I am willing to take.
Sophia Durand is a Trinity senior and former managing editor of The Chronicle. She would like to thank her family 7004.6 miles away, her surrogate family at the Chronicle (V.107 through 110 and especially Chronphoto) and the amazing friends she has met over the last four years at Duke, in Durham and beyond, who have kept her from walking into manholes and moving cars. She promises to start wearing her glasses and will actively try to be less clumsy.