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This must be the place

art theplaceI awoke to yelling outside.

“Everybody get up, get up! It’s time to graduate,” the obnoxiously inebriated voice bellowed from three stories below the dorm room window. The guy was still drunk, and still awake, though most of us partying around campus the night prior had only been asleep a few hours before we got up, grabbed our cap and gown, and headed to the quad for the commencement ceremonies. 

It was May 2007, the present and unknown future, that I stood in, now a freshly minted graduate, two degrees in-hand, with Sallie Mae soon-to-be knocking on my financial door. My eye creaked open in the tiny twin bed. The girl lying next to me was still asleep, a picturesque soul, who I think is a teacher in Upstate New York these days. I slowly woke her up into the day. My two best collegiate chums rose from their beds in the other corners. The school had let the seniors back on campus for one last week, and by the looks of it, would be cleaning up the aftermath for at least another week.

Head for the nearby communal bathroom. Brush your teeth, wash your face, rid yourself of any evidence that would lead your parents to believe you did anything but study in your four years at Quinnipiac University. Bodies like zombies staggered up and down the hallways, all trying to muster the energy to get their shit together before they were thrown into the “real world,” as they say. 

It was hot out, around 90 degrees. Too hot for all-black gowns and dehydrated figures sporting them. I decided against the full suit underneath, in favor of shorts, sandals and a T-shirt. I was sitting way in back, in an open aisle underneath the only shade at the end of the alphabet. Sucks to be up in the “A” through “M” section under the scorching Connecticut sun, as seen by a handful of folks running off during the ceremony in search of the closest bathroom. 

Soon, I was handed two pieces of paper. One read “History,” the other “Communications.” Four years of all-nighters, exams, finals, boozing and girls, forgotten nights and lost inhibitions, a ball of constructive chaos culminating into a pair of items I’d eventually hang on my wall somewhere in Idaho, in New York, in Western North Carolina, gathering dust with nobody really taking notice of them and of their value in my life. 

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Celebratory drinks were to be had with the parents at some nice Italian restaurant in New Haven. We saluted to the past, and to the next step, which, in hindsight, was a lack of job opportunities amid a worldwide financial crisis only a year or so down the road. But, at that time and place, everything still looked pristine and for the taking. 

I was the last to leave our house the next day and also had the furthest drive back to my hometown. My other roommates were long gone, and there I was, alone in a silent home, one whose sticky floors and punched-in walls still stunk of cheap beer spilled during Friday night keggers and Saturday night after-parties from the dance clubs. 

I packed the back of my 1998 Isuzu Hombre pickup with four years of photographs, textbooks and vinyl records. Pictures of ex-girlfriends, freshman year shenanigans, and of cronies I never thought I’d ever (but did) lose touch with, foggy memories I still dust off from time-to-time. 

As my flip-flops stuck to the kitchen floor with every step, I grabbed the last of my beer from the fridge and threw it behind the bench seat of the truck. Pulling the last of my bedroom furniture to the curb for disposal, I looked back at the old house, creaking with a sigh of relief, at least for now, from the destruction within its walls at the hands of millennial offenders looking to take over the world once they were unleashed onto it.

Merging onto I-91 towards Western Massachusetts and Eastern Vermont, my childhood bed lay at the end of the trip home. I still didn’t know how I felt about the whole thing. I spent four years trying to escape from my adolescence, and yet, there I was, back at square one. I’d tasted freedom, here and abroad, and now I must head back to the starting line, with no destination in sight, once the 12-pack behind the bench seat was gone, once the boxes were either unpacked or thrown into the barn attic “for safe keeping” (where they still reside).

And nine years later, the images of those last days at the “Q” flood my field of vision, especially when I find myself alone, in my truck, driving around the back roads of Southern Appalachia. It is a song coming on the radio that sparks something in my subconscious — a face, a situation, a landscape, and a purpose of youthful intent. 

I can still smell that cheap beer, and still feel myself peeling my flip-flops from the dirty floor. I can still hear the voices, loud and excited and boisterous, who now stand in front of classrooms, on Wall Street, in front of patients, on the forefront of tomorrow, and everywhere in-between. I think of them, and wonder how they’re doing, and if they also take a moment to step back from the hurtling force of “here and now,” to remember where it all began, and just how fast time flies. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host a “Craft Beer Week” party with Porch 40 (funk/rock) and PMA (reggae/rock) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21.

2 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host The Russ Wilson Trio (jazz/swing) at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21. 

3 The new documentary “The Sad & Beautiful World of Sparklehorse” will be shown at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, May 26, at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.

4 Mary Ann Enloe will discuss her life and memories of Haywood County at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 24, at the Hazelwood Baptist Church in Waynesville.

5 Local reggae/rock act PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) will host an album release party for its latest record, “Through the Spaces,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, at Innovation Brewing in Sylva.

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