I live in a city known only to the world for its women’s prison that inspired Orange is the New Black and its sewage plant that memorializes the still-alive comedian John Oliver. Danbury, Connecticut—squared away in New England’s westernmost border—is virtually unknown to the Duke public, granting me an iota of something squarely mine on a campus teeming with commonalities.
While many of my peers couldn’t point to Danbury on a map, I could visualize all 44 square miles of its suburban bliss—a fact I took sanctity in when I desired an escape. Danbury was my secret anchor during my first year of college. When I felt myself getting swept away by the rat race, I recalled the safe, rose-tinted hometown I could go back to.
I still remember the evening sun peeking through the trees as my family’s cramped car rolled into town after move-out day, the light illuminating my neighborhood in a way that made it seem as though Danbury had been frozen in the few months I was away. Eager to reacclimate before my city thawed, I immediately unpacked despite having just endured a 10-hour car ride.
The first month of my summer was desperately busy. I went from tending to my grandparents’ tomato garden in Québec to sunbathing with my best friends near Candlewood Lake without stopping to think about how my life was going to get upended again at the end of the season. The theme of my summer was a world before Duke, one that was stagnant and void of reminders of my transient and fluid twenties. I filled my time with vintage shopping and work and internships and diving because, the moment I stopped and took a breath, I was made painfully aware of just how incompatible Danbury and I had become.
A trip to my local mall made me cognizant of my strained relationship with my city. When I was younger, I used to map out the floor plans of the Danbury Fair Mall rather than counting sheep at night. I could envision every store and restaurant at their precise location; I could trace my footprints around the asphalt parking lot. And yet, after only two semesters enduring the North Carolina heat, I found myself having to consult the map near the entrance to successfully complete my shopping trip. The sushi bar nestled between Sunglasses Hut and a Candyworld? Gone. The J-Crew I used to drag my feet in when my mother spent hours pouring over cashmere scarves? Poof! I found myself drifting through the food court in a state of sehnsucht, trapped between the familiar and benightedness of the home I returned to.
There’s a phenomenon called the Uncanny Valley Effect where the more human an object looks, the more uneasy and revolted a person feels. In the weeks following my shopping trip, I experienced the Uncanny Danbury Effect: a town at a disturbingly close distance to the one in my memories, riddled with tiny differences that served only to remind me of how I was phasing between two worlds. The inside jokes my friends who attended our local college cracked, the gliding of my tires on the fresh paving of a once-bumpy road and the soft hum of a 7/11 I didn’t know existed all left me reeling with fact that Danbury had left me behind.
Danbury had forgotten about me.
The thing about being the only out-of-state student in your group of friends is that you’re constantly forced to confront your lack of a permanent residence. If it’s not the piles of suitcases and dorm supplies in your closet that remind you you’re leaving in three months, it’s the birthday party in October everyone’s talking about or the eagerness for autumn in Connecticut. And the thing about being constantly forced to confront your lack of a permanent residence is that you’re also forced to reconcile with the fact that you’re not as important to the trajectory of others as you might think. Life goes on regardless of if you’re there or not.
Both Danbury and Duke aren’t going to freeze over as I phase between their two locales. Leaving Danbury meant leaving behind the familial troubles, job transitions, drama and grief of my loved ones. Entering Duke meant witnessing how the clock hands have ticked by since I left: a West Campus dorm now replaces my Randolph residence, my DKU friends are half a day’s plane ride away and the familiar structures in my student organizations have shifted.
I’ve come to learn that the imposter syndrome and the existential dread that permeate my opinion column can’t be shaken off when I step off Duke’s campus. Similar to a broken puzzle piece, I don’t quite fit in anywhere. I’m in a transitional period where I’m changing alongside my environment. The world and I crossed paths and then continued on our merry ways.
Even with the solemn nature of the past few paragraphs, I must emphasize that I take comfort in the truths that this past summer has made me sharply aware of. I’m strangely relieved knowing there’s nothing I can do to change my circumstances. All I can do is work to create a sanctity within myself, built from vignettes of the places I have to leave behind.
Viktoria Wulff-Anderson is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Thursdays.
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Viktoria Wulff-Andersen is a Trinity sophomore and an opinion managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.