Last weekend I did the thing I’ve been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading since May: I returned to the University of Delaware as a graduate. I expected the experience to be uniquely weird, so I was not prepared for the sinking familiarity I felt as the weekend progressed. I’ve done this before. But I hadn’t.
It wasn’t until I walked into my favorite steak shop, the one that was located on the bottom level of my former apartment building, and immediately began crying that it dawned on me: This is a freaking breakup. Here I was, crawling back to my “ex” to check up on things, and I’d found that it had already moved on to 4,500 overly excited freshmen. It’s like what we had didn’t even matter.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because our relationship was a real roller coaster. In the beginning UD was way more into me than I was with it. I was pessimistic since high school and I had ended things on not great terms. Sure, UD was a classic beauty, with its red brick and Colonial-style buildings and more sunny days than my Pittsburgh-raised self could fathom, but we all know that looks can be deceiving.
And so I trudged on, finding myself growing more and more attached to my freshman floor, Memorial Hall, and the Green on a fall afternoon. I realized I was falling in love when I tasted my first Newark Deli & Bagel breakfast sandwich on a cold December day. Soon enough I was wrapped up in the passion of new love, visiting my friends at other schools and admiring what they had, but knowing deep down that mine was better. Sometimes I would lose myself in class just staring out the window and admiring the campus’s attractiveness. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Its personality was great too, full of weird squirrels and curbside wannabe preachers and hordes of drunk students walking down Cleveland on any given Saturday.
Of course we had our moments when the relationship was tested. Loud boys in fraternity basements could be annoying, and I couldn’t ignore the various administrative issues. There was that period of time junior year when we were on a break and I had a wild fling with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad for a semester. And then senior year rolled around, and with it came agonizing anxiety and panic attacks, forcing me to abandon my love earlier than intended for a long winter break.
After four years together full of both good times and bad, UD and I decided to go our separate ways on a hot May day. The breakup was mutual; we were both ready to move on. Or so I thought. After a summer apart in which I was fully on the prowl for the next hot thing, I came back to a UD for what I thought would be a civilized and pleasant visit. It had been a few months and the separation hadn’t been dramatic; surely we would be on good terms.
Stepping out of my car and seeing that gorgeous red brick again made me feel things I had thought were long gone. We were reunited and it was all so familiar to me, but it was no longer “mine” and that made all the difference. I’ve been replaced. That would be just fine with me if I had probably moved on with my life, but I really haven’t yet. I’m still stuck in the life I used to have, while UD is too busy welcoming the younger models of myself to care.
So, I wish I could say that I acted with maturity and grace, able to look back on my time with UD with fondness and nostalgia. That would be a lie. Instead I cried to a cheese pizza, begged for closure while on a walk down my favorite tree-lined street, and looked with disdain upon my replacements. Oh well – I’ll make sure we see each other again, when I have a serious job back home to talk about and toned legs to show off. YOU’LL SEE, UD.