In a few days, I’m going to start packing up. Into sturdy suitcases with wheels will go the clothes that have kept me relatively dry in the winter and decently unexposed in the summer. Into cardboard boxes will go the almost read books and useless baubles I’ve collected over the last four years. Into large, plastic bags will go the miscellany that can serve a better use through Goodwill than it can through me. And in the end, it will just be me and a nest of dust bunnies hopping across the familiar tiled floor. (Actually, I’ll probably leave the hopping to the dust bunnies; it’s just awkward when I join in.)
I’ll probably sit for a moment in my empty apartment and wish there were something else I could box up, bag up, before getting to the really tough part of moving out. Then, with memory as my final duffel bag, I’ll gingerly look back on the last four years and try to grasp what else I’ll be taking with me, what else I’ll be leaving behind.
Fifty years down the road, I don’t want to remember Duke as a frozen landscape of beauty and charm, or even as a place where potential and disillusionment finally learned to tango. I don’t want to remember Durham as an abstract city coming to terms with its cultural past and future,or coming to terms with a university it both loved and loved to hate. Grand nostalgic gestures, don’t overstay your welcome: I’ves old your bedroom to idiosyncratic trivialities. So when people ask me to describe Duke, perhaps I’ll tell them that the best tasting leaves grew along side the BC walkway. Or that the best mud could be found in Erwin Park. Or that the juiciest stories in Perkins were written on the walls of Leve lD. I’ll tell them that the sand volleyball court off Alexander was not a good place to try to roast marshmallows.
And when people ask me to describe Durham, maybe I’ll tell them about the unfinished painting on one of the ceilings at Wavelengths. Or about the Chinese restaurant on Garrett that continually refused to serve chow mein, even though it was on the menu. Or about Roland, who could sometimes be found wandering along Ninth Street, and who could tell a fascinating story without uttering a word.
Memory is going to play tricks on us no matter what. As I take the next step in life,and then the next, my recollection of my four years at Duke and in Durham is going to grow more rosy or more bleak, depending on the circumstances. The University’s memory of me will fade within a year or two as new people come in to take away trivial memories of their own. And that’s just fine. Because for me, there will probably never be a “big picture” of Duke or Durham that I can package and resell to an inquiring audience—certainly not one that I can convey before my poor listeners start to fidget and excuse themselves with unlikely stories.
Instead, there will be a morning spent on a porch with a friend, drinking mimosas and composing tag lines for imaginary erotic novels. There will be a summer spent with my roommate, painting our entire apartment with 1 cm brushes. There will be a midnight picnic at the foot of the world’s largest bureau in High Point.
And, of course, there will be people, people who, like Duke and like Durham, will stick in my memory for all the trivial aspects of their personality. A friend who sepassion for being pantsless was simply as tounding. One whose lizard impressionn ever ceased to amuse. One who cursed unabashedly while playing one on one volleyball in Wilson…. Of course these friends are much more than a sum of their traits, but it was, and always will be, the little quirks that made them mine.
I can only hope that my friends, too, will remember me for all the stupid stories they could tell about me. I would rather my memory evoke a laugh, bewilderment or even a sneer than a nebulous feeling of warmth and good will. If I can pull this off, then in the end, we’ll all leave this place with duffels full of recollections that will be of no use to anyone but ourselves. And that’s what’s going to make them worth keeping.
Cindy Yee is a Trinity senior and former University Editor for The Chronicle. She would like to remind people to stop and smell the campus every once in a while, look up through the trees in winter, and quit doing things that are making them unhappy.
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