Oberlin, after the freshman honeymoon phase, was never an easy place for me to exist in. (I don't think it's easy for anyone - and if it is, possibly you're doing it wrong.) I've always had a lot of feelings about it. So, in my final semester, because writing is an astoundingly effective coping mechanism and god knows I need those, I kept a written log of whenever a feeling particular to fourthyeardom washed over me; they ended up ranging from panic to melancholy to confusion to determination to frustration to anything, really. The interesting bit is, now I can track the general course of my feelings... and it's not quite what I expected?
Phase 1: acute awareness of impending loss
I. I walk around Oberlin in awe now - I've come full circle. I've left the starry-eyed first-year behind and grown into a galaxy-eyed fourth-year, painfully aware of what this place holds that binds me to it. Every street corner has ghosts. I love my ghosts. Fiercely. I no longer burst with love for possibilities and newness; now I burst with love for that which is about to no longer be mine. Is there a word for that in some language?
I spent the entire first half of the semester dreading everything about graduating. I couldn't fathom what it would be like and I didn't have concrete plans for the future, so all I could see was everything I stood to lose. Which was a lot. I'd also ended a two-year relationship at the end of winter term, so I spent a lot of time appreciating how wonderfully supportive my friends are, and that didn't make me feel any better about the prospect of leaving them all.
II. Just realized February is gone. Just mistyped the date with a 2012 at the end. Just caught a glimpse of myself hurtling toward a lot of unknowns. I'm scared and alone in my room, trying to do work on a Saturday night. I need someone to bundle me up and take me on a midnight walk through the empty streets.
Something about me: there's always music playing in my room. I DJ my feelings.
III. Kings of Convenience is my summer music in the most gut-punchingly nostalgic sense of summer and the most heart-destroying sense of music. I listen to it and get homesick for something I can't quite put my finger on. "A song for someone who needs somewhere to long for / homesick / because I no longer know where home is," as the lyrics go. Perfect for that sweet graduation terror that laces a little tighter around my ribcage every morning.
It's so Scandinavian in a way I can't explain - something about the sparse, quiet arrangements. Like Ikea for your ears. They make me miss the long Norwegian summer days of my childhood.
Which is bollocks, 'cause my childhood only ever had long summer days of the Danish variety.
...I DJ them even when they don't make perfect sense. And, of course, I DJ them when they make terrifyingly perfect sense. When there's a chasm opening up in my future and everything shameful and painful I've lived comes rushing up to fill it. I DJ that dread.
IV. I'll think I'm doing really well and then suddenly, I'm me again. Every iteration of me. I am only ever a palimpsest of myself; I can see everything that's ever been written into me.
Phase 2: So. Done. With everything. So done.
And then, over spring break, some kind of switch flipped, and I was suddenly ready for the next step. Even if I didn't have plans set, I had ideas, and they were all exciting. I wanted all of them.
V. I have a list of assignments that need to be finished before I graduate. Eight assignments. The eight last assignments of undergrad, and they're all fascinating and fun, and I don't want to do a single one. I am far too ready to shed the deadlines, the painfully packed schedule, the tired eyes, the late nights and ragged mornings, the stress knots traveling through my shoulders and into the rest of my body. I have a text file on my computer called "small ways I can tell Oberlin stresses me out" in which I log the physical toll that my life as a student takes on me. That list is not a short list.
I am so ready to self-determine.
In other words, senioritis set in. Set in hard. Every once in a while, the endless not-spring would lift for a day or a weekend and I would become a small sun-seeking animal, totally incapable of doing any work whatsoever. That annoyed me, because I actually very much dig all of the work I do, whether for classes or otherwise, and it would've been nice to give it the attention it deserved - but I really couldn't help it. Marinating in academia just stopped holding any appeal for me.
VI. The weather is blustery. In spring. It's wrong and stupid and I'm so done with winter that I refuse to wear shoes, even if I have to carry wool socks with me to put on when I get inside. I want my last scraps of Oberlin to be sun-suffused and blindingly idyllic! I'm over this wind-whipping-the-bare-trees crap. Get it together, spring. Come on.
That sounds par for the course as far as senioritis goes, and that's what I kept telling myself, but it was still disconcerting for someone who's always done well in school and loved that particular kind of knowledge-gathering. The closer the end of the semester inched, the more I turned up the knob on my self-care. Being kind to myself, reminding myself that it was okay to struggle, and taking lots of breaks and naps became a matter of (academic and personal) survival.
VII. Some days I need to hear the reminder that I do have small successes. That I still wash my face every night even though I often start nodding off over my work. That I'm stretching almost every time I do my reading. That I am stronger. That there are people who really do seem to like me, and I've earned it. That I get up at eight every morning, even on weekends, but I let myself sleep in until nine if I need it. I am being a real human with a real schedule doing real things, but also I'm taking care of myself.
I had started a Happy Jar in January, and that was of some help. Every time I was elated, I'd take a second to record it on a slip of paper, fold it up, and stick it in there. The jar filled up steadily with things that kicked my joyfulness into hyperdrive - things like finding out a crush was reciprocated; kissing someone; the Dandelion Romp; impromptu jams that went really well; getting a scholarship I really wanted; etc. I can't remember what all I've put in there, but having that physical reminder of my joy sitting on my windowsill helped me - and still does. It reminds me to make space for gratitude and love. It reminds me just how privileged and lucky I am. It reminds me that I'm not failing at making a life for myself.
Phase 3: everything falls apart and I'm in denial
VIII. I just finished my ling major. Not sure how to feel? Is it the exhaustion that's dampening the elation I should be feeling or ?
I don't think anyone has quite the relationship I have to my major. I created this major. This is my baby. I poured precious free time into this thing, I researched ling majors at other colleges, I scoured the Oberlin course listings, I met with professors, I drafted and revised and drafted and revised, I refined my idea of exactly what it was I wanted to do with my education and prayed like hell that Oberlin would let me do it. No Obie has ever done my major before, my IM in Linguistics with a concentration in the ethics of language documentation and revitalization. No one, anywhere, at any institution, has taken the curriculum I have. This major. Is my baby. And it's... gone?
Then it was over. I turned my last assignments in early. The sky was a glorious, searing blue. I had a week and a half of stressless, friend-filled bliss ahead of me. Unfortunately, by that point, the pressure of finals had already overtaxed my personal resources so hard that my emotions had shut down to the bare minimum of functionality; I was still experiencing brief ups and downs according to how my day went, but I could tell there were depths there that my brain was wisely choosing not to plumb. The full extent of my elation and despair both were shut away.
IX. Well. Undergrad is done. I feel... something. Probably tired.
I think I just realized that I'm leaving Oberlin.
Can I just say that whoever invented finals - a few short days during which you are expected to pack up your worldly belongings, take your leave of your entire support system, and produce, at speed, your finest work, which will then determine your grade for that semester - had an unusually cruel imagination? And also, as my friend Hayley said, "This is stupid. Why did they create a place where all your friends live for four years and then make you leave? It doesn't make any sense." And on top of that, as my friend Aries said, "leaving Oberlin in the summer is like ditching your bride during the honeymoon."
X. It's probably telling that, in this moment, I am reaching out to the friends who are very close to me and know everything there is to know about my feelings lately, who I trust and love. The people I love, really. I am reaching for love.
Phase 4: ???
XI. I have left. I am obsessed with the poetic image of burying myself.
I still have no idea how to take my leave of Oberlin in its totality. I can handle saying goodbye to individual people pretty well; on some level, I have a rock-solid understanding of the fact that life and everything in it is temporary, and I'm pretty decent at welcoming new joys into my life and letting familiar joys go when it's time. I have no idea how I got this skill, but it's useful, and it means I can comfortably tell my friends that, more than being sad to leave them, I'm excited to get their letters, skype their faces, and find out where life takes them. (Don't get me wrong, I am sad. I'm hella sad. I miss them all so much already. But that will pass and the excitement will remain!)
Oberlin, on the other hand - that's a different matter. What is Oberlin even? Is it the institution? The place? The buildings, the grass under my toes, the grounds I tended, the rooms I lived in, the spaces that I may as well have lived in (Hales)? Is it the people? The ideas? The experiences? It's the sum total of all of these things, and that's why it's impossible to properly say goodbye. You just can't.
So here I am. Stuck in a sort of emotional no-man's land. Feeling emotionally drawn and quartered. Pieces of heart in Ohio, pieces of heart nestled on the shoulder of every one of my friends, wherever they've scattered to, pieces of heart with my family in Alabama, pieces of heart already flying ahead to my beloved next home in Nova Scotia.
I don't understand how to exist outside of Oberlin anymore.
I don't know what I expected, emotionally, from my last bit of time in this place that holds so much of me, but I guess I was hoping I'd handle it better?
I don't know how to end this post, so I'm just going to leave two pictures here: the first one, I've posted once before, in a post about how excited to see all of my friends again for my second year of college. It's a picture we took at a bonfire in Tappan during our first year. The second, we took in Tappan, at Illumination, having all finished our fourth years, fully and fearfully cognizant that this was our last night in Oberlin together. There is so much history in these pictures.
My friends, I love you. Godspeed.
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November 30, 2023