On Getting Older

The wife is sleeping, and Andy is supposed to be sleeping, but I just finished warning him for the second time to stop playing and lie down. Daylight savings got the best of all of us, I think. it’s really one hour too early for his nap, but he’s been particularly difficult today and we are glad to be shed of him for a little while.

If that makes me sound like a terrible parent, I’ve come to grips with this notion and determined that I am in all likelihood a truly ghastly father. I love how childless people turn into absolute Pharisees about that sort of statement–until they have a bipolar, attention-gobbling little tyrant of their own.

Now I’m on the couch and the cat is pawing at my arm, looking for some attention. Seems like everybody needs something in this house. I think I’m swinging into a low; I’m feeling broody, especially touchy, and in general dissatisfied with pretty much every facet of my life. She’s pawing my arm again, but I just don’t have the energy or inclination to make her go away.

What brought this on? A lot of things, but I think today is all about visiting my old college campus yesterday.

I was in town, and I thought that I should swing by. I haven’t really seen the campus in a long time. I think it’s been two or three years since I was last there. It was a lovely fall day, and I always think campuses look their best in fall colors. There seems to be a general consensus that college campuses are at their most romantic in the autumn. Why is that? Most of us come to college not in the fall, but in the spring of our lives, and I was no exception. Maybe it is because we look back on college during our autumn years, and everything is suffused with the golden glow of a past we barely remember correctly, enabling us to feel all warm and gooey about it. The present is baffling, the future is threatening, but the past, ah, is comforting.

So why the long face? I was struck by how much had changed, both at the campus and in myself.

My foot was and is sore from a walk day before yesterday, so I hobbled around campus in my jeans and Blizzard t-shirt, looking somewhat the part of a student but definitely not feeling it. My back teeth have been giving me trouble, and the dentist mentioned a bridge, a term I didn’t think I’d be hearing until much later on in life. There I was: sore foot, rotten teeth, aching back, revisiting the place where my body reached its peak. I saw some familiar sights, such as the arbor where I read the Melville poetry that seemed so very important at the time. The library was pretty much the same, as were the buildings on the original quad.

But I saw more change than comforting familiarity. Whole 3-story dorms were simply gone, replaced by a single stark cinderblock wall, surrounded by raw red clay and screaming orange safety netting. The casual ability we have today to simply erase buildings has always disturbed me. One of the 100-year-old admin buildings on the front drive disappeared one spring day back when I was a student, and I remember being startled that all that was left to mark its existence was a single copper pipe standing rootlike above the level, hay-covered soil, the tree to which it was connected ripped away by some unseen giant.

If I could put one big sign over the whole campus, it would read, “Pardon Our Progress”.

Other buildings seemingly sprouted out of the ground, three or four of them where I remember a parking lot or a cool, soft stretch of grass before. Other buildings had strange growths on them; the geology building seemed to have an attractive tumor on its eastern facade, the brickwork not even bothering to match the venerable color of its host organism. Trees had gotten taller or been erased; the scruffy little rock garden between the social sciences building and the library had utterly vanished, replaced by a strange tortoise shell construct of rocks in the ground, scribbled on by students with sidewalk chalk and a progressively diminishing ability to spell.

It was about this point, as I limped onward of the familiar sights of the old quad, that I realized that I didn’t feel as though I belonged there. I was an interloper, even though I was an alumnus, and both Uncle Sam and I had shelled out quite a bit of money to this institution. Maybe that’s what set off my mood; all around me was proof that the college I knew was going away, demolished and replaced, building by building. And I certainly wasn’t the same person I used to be. Married, a child, a teacher—I am quite literally everything I thought I would never be at my age. Son of a bitch, I never even conceived of my thirties when I was a student there! Both within and without was undeniable evidence that I was old, and was only getting older. So I limped off back to the car, past the familiar and foreign sights, feeling the sudden need to get back to where I now belong. That’s probably why I’m in such a state. Facing the loss of one’s youth can be a sobering look across the ever-deepening chasm between who one was and who one is…

Or maybe I just forgot to take my meds today. Yep, I did. Shit.

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