It doesn’t hit you at first, especially during winter break. At that time, I could easily write it off as “I just didn’t sign up for a J-Term class this year,” or something similar to keep the truth from setting in. Simple, oblivious denial.
The thing is, when people talk about the five stages of grieving, denial is usually the first one. It was easy to deny the truth, at least until the truth jumped in front of me like a deer in front of a car.
I had graduated. I was no longer a St. Kate’s student. The feeling of loss was so overwhelming that I couldn’t do anything else but sit and stare at the poster of the three Harry Potter stars that I had taped to my bedroom door when I was thirteen. That was ten years ago, back when I had nursed a huge crush on Daniel Radcliffe. It seems that things were much simpler then.
My dorm room is empty now, as I vacated it over a month ago. My clothes are hanging in the closet in my childhood bedroom and folded away in drawers I haven’t really used since high school. Things like posters and picture frames that used to adorn my walls and desk are strewn haphazardly on the floor. Books I read during college courses that I kept are intermingled with titles from my childhood; I have to admit, I didn’t see A Series of Unfortunate Events becoming shelf mates with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
I have never been one to contemplate the past for too long; after my dad died and I started at St. Kate’s, I tried not to think of the past, unless I had to write a reflection paper or use an example for a class discussion. The present was a little bit better, as it meant I could focus on what was happening in front of me. I was a student at an amazing university for women; I was studying something I loved, surrounded by a few close friends and becoming involved with on-campus activities. The last thing on my mind was the future.
But then my friends graduated, and as my day to walk across the stage approached, I clung tighter to the present, wishing it wouldn’t change and I could be a student forever. But then I woke up one morning in December, walked out to the common area of the dorm room I shared with three other women, and saw a diploma case on the table. It was time to face the music, metaphorically speaking.
My responsibilities these days consist of looking for a job that will support me through the first wave of student debt repayments, my first apartment, and the ability to buy my own groceries when the time comes. Sometimes, my eyes find the diploma case that now rests on my dresser, or wander over the garment bag that houses my academic regalia, complete with cap, robe and hood. Just last week, I found my old choir gown in the back of my closet, hanging between an old leather jacket of my dad’s and a high school sweater I had worn when I was seventeen.
We all change, when you think about it. It doesn’t matter who we were when we started, because we evolve as people throughout the course of our lives. But that’s the best part of living: no matter where you’ve been in the past, you always remember who you were.
Maybe the past isn’t such a bad thing after all.