When I returned home this past weekend for fall break and entered my bedroom, I was startled to notice that my bedspread was different. The old pillows were gone, replaced with new ones in new colors, neatly lined up against one another. A moment of confusion ensued before I remembered that at the end of the summer, my mom and I had discussed redecorating. We decided that after ten years, the polka dotted duvet cover was childish and could be replaced. Even after recalling I had initiated this, looking at these unknown patterns in my familiar room felt strangely foreign. My first night home, I tossed and turned, continuously waking up to experience moments of confusion during which I couldn’t discern where I was. Each time, I regained my bearings and drifted back to sleep.
The life of a college student is punctuated by frequent breaks, particularly during the fall semester. To return home, I board a 55-minute flight to New York, often falling asleep for the short trip as soon as I reach my seat. Less than an hour later, I awake to an entirely different environment. Switching on and off between two completely separate bubbles can feel disorienting. We students spend so much time building a life away from home but then have to dart back to a different, mutually exclusive world. When each break ends, we are expected to slide seamlessly back into our college lives without a hiccup.
For me, the transitions between school and home have always felt abrupt and, at times, unsettling. I scarcely have time to consider the change of scenery before I arrive. My first few experiences home, I felt as though time had stopped. My school life melted away. I was surrounded by my family, old friends and memories of my old self. My world at Duke began to feel almost illusory, as if the glimmers of the life I had formed there were not real. When I returned to Duke, I experienced the same hazy amnesia: the lingering feeling that I had never left.
During fall break of my freshman year — the first time I went home — the memories of my high school life still felt intimately close. Returning home evoked a confusing nostalgia: a fresh, sharp pang for the life I had already established. That life was clear and delineated. It was easy. I already knew who was important. I had spent years finding the people that stuck. From a distance, my alternate life at Duke felt temporary and fleeting. I had been swept up in the whirlwind of excitement that characterizes freshman fall, but back at home, suddenly my place at school felt uncertain.
Each time I come home, I feel more removed from the person I was two years ago. This acknowledgment does not make me feel particularly happy or upset; it is simply a fact. I reminisce upon memories of high school, but those memories are distant now. I drive by the same shops and streets, but my emotional attachment to them has begun to fade. What remains of home is the connection to my family and old friends, whom I always look forward to seeing, but my hometown itself is more of a backdrop for these relationships rather than a meaningful component of my life.
High school was undoubtedly an enjoyable chapter for me, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of that chapter now. My ambitions are different. The way in which I view my role in the world is different. The qualities I value in my friends are different. I appreciate the refreshing independence with which I dictate my life at school. As silly as it may seem, I feel constricted at home when my mom tells me to make my bed or to wake her up when I return at night. Although these requests are trivial, I have grown accustomed to operating under my own constraints. I want to write my own story with my own rules.
When I was driving this past weekend with the windows down, I whizzed by red and orange trees. Their vibrant colors signaled that autumn has arrived in New York. In Durham, the leaves will not lose their greenness for at least another month. The pace of time is inherently different in my two homes. The speed with which the seasons change in these worlds is not the same. Similarly, the speed of my life in these worlds is not the same.
As time has passed, the bridge between my two homes has grown to feel more solid and the distance between them increasingly diminished. Each subsequent break after the first, it became successively easier to remember that my life at Duke is real and does not disappear when I temporarily leave it. Likewise, my relationships at Duke have begun to follow me home.These connections are truly meaningful now, present with me always regardless of where I am.
Even so, I doubt these two lives will ever be completely synchronized. Each time the plane takes off and lands, I wonder which place is my “true” home. I asked myself this question at different points throughout the year and arrived at different answers. My childhood home is where I feel grounded and safe, but it has also grown to feel static.
Now, I have begun to understand that Duke is where I feel most like my true self. I have room to breathe and room to grow. For better or worse, life at Duke is always in motion. I can propel myself into the future and allow myself to evolve. Time ticks by. Here I look forward, not backwards.
Carly Stern is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Fridays.
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