I don't have the supplemental essay I used to apply to Oberlin anymore. Apparently I deleted the download off my computer, and I lost the document when my high school google account closed, but I can remember parts of what it said. I know it focused on the impression I had of the physical space of Oberlin when I got to visit. I know I was excited about how the campus looked conducive to memory-making, looked like it was set up for people to socialize. I know that even before I knew them by name, I had noticed some of the structures that have, indeed, become meaningful to me— the gazebo in Tappan, the koi pond, the bench swings, the sundial outside the AJLC, the tables and chairs in South Bowl.
A lot of Oberlin students don't get the chance to visit campus before committing any year, and this is especially true in the midst of the pandemic. Taking a virtual tour of campus is a great option, and I do recommend visiting if you can. Still, even as someone who got to marvel at Oberlin's campus in person before committing, I could never have guessed what walking through campus as an Oberlin student would really be like. If I was doing that right now, there would be a dialogue in my head that no tour guide, virtual or in-person, could ever impart to you.
This is where that inside joke comes from. This is where I made bread with people I barely knew.
My own time at Oberlin maps out my view of the campus. The bench swings are never empty; the sight at hand is never full. Much more so than anywhere else I've ever been, the memories cling to the landscape. They overlap and seep into each other, they percolate into the soil, they melt into the walls.
This is where I finished a research paper at 1am. This is where they put whipped cream and chocolate syrup in my hot chocolate without me even asking for it and I grinned for like thirty minutes.
I've asked a few of my friends if they have similar memory dialogues as they pass through campus. All of them have said yes.
This is where I put up posters. This is where she kissed me. This is where I swore I'd never eat Agave's sweet potatoes ever again.
I can't give you a fleshed-out view of campus from a neutral perspective. Each place I could describe to you might have a completely different purpose and feel to it for the next Obie over. For everyone who knows it, the campus looks different from its map. What I can do is give you a sense of how it looks to me.
This is where I had that epiphany about why I go on so many walks. This is where I learned what United Fruit Co. did in Guatemala.
Of course, a walk through campus in my eyes doesn't look the same as it did a year ago, and it won't look the same a year from now. There is this emotional geography that keeps unfolding.
This is where they put the music so loud you can feel the beats vibrating through your chest. This is where a hard conversation made me so nervous I could barely talk.
When heavy things happen, or when joyful things happen but for one reason or another the memory turns heavy later, I have to remind myself that the associations I have with one corner of campus are not the limit to what is possible there.
This is where I held my best friend through a breakdown. This is where I bombed that audition. This is where I got a text that made me start shaking.
The wind blows through here. The dust clears out. The seasons shift, the semesters change. The sunlight is in constant flux. Smells and sounds take over a space, then leave nothing behind. Other people make other memories. This place is not just my experience of it. Or, at the very least, this place is not just my experience of it so far.
This is where we held meetings outside over dinner. This is where cuddles and lowlight abounded.
I'm not quite sure why place and memory seem so much more inseparable to me at Oberlin. Maybe it has something to do with eating, studying, organizing and socializing within walking distance of where we sleep. Maybe it has something to do with the size of the campus, the way it's small enough for the memories to stay relevant and large enough for them to stay distinct from one another. Regardless, the campus is peppered with living stories that resist being mapped.
This is where I used to go to "do homework" knowing fully well someone would come in and distract me. This is where my favorite class was held.
If you get the chance, ask an Oberlin student about their associations with the 'Sco, or the lounge in their hall, or the terrace behind the Con. You can get a sense of aesthetics from a first impression or a google search, but someone who knows Oberlin knows the textures it embodies, knows the sound of the pulse coursing through it.
This is where they heard my seal laugh for the first time. This is where time doesn't exist.