Back in (Orange and) Black

The night before I left to visit Princeton, I was deeply anxious to make my return to Old Nassau. I thought of when JCG first came back to visit Princeton to see me, two years ago, and I remembered how troubled he was by the still-fresh memories of his graduation only months before. I was bracing myself for the moment when the harrowing feeling that life at Princeton was going on without me would wash over me, or worse, drown me in my 5 days there.

I reached the Princeton NJTransit station at noon on Wednesday (much to my disdain, the Dinky remains a slow, infrequent bomb shell of a shuttle train). I had planned to meet my gracious hostess, LL, about an hour later and to sit at Starbucks and work on things for my professor at HBS as I waited for her. But as I walked up University Place, I couldn't bring myself to cut through campus to get to Nassau Street--I restricted myself to the periphery of campus, feeling like it was somehow hallowed ground that I couldn't touch anymore without becoming overwhelmed by a painful nostalgia. But avoiding campus proper didn't prevent the sadness from seeping into the cracks. When I passed by the Princeton Sports Bar, Winberie's, and even Hoagie Haven, I remembered May 10th, the night of my senior fantasy arch with my a cappella group. It was the night I felt like I was on top of the world, before the feeling had hit me that the marathon of my Princeton academic career was over and I had very little time before graduation to fortify old relationships and stick the new ones I would begin to generate feebly over the coming weeks.

As I walked through campus later that day, I was afraid of being recognized by people with whom I'd taken classes or whatnot--would they think I couldn't let go of Princeton? Or worse, would they think never managed to graduate and got sucked into the "taking time off" limbo from which a surprising number of students suffer?This irrational thought surfaced when I saw two highly pretentious  seniors I knew having coffee together. One was a guy who made my introductory Chinese course an exercise of putting face to palm (he'd taken Asian languages before and was one of the three precocious freshmen who made my CHI 101 section very frustrating). The latter was in a few of my other language classes who was constantly aloof and always looked at and treated me as if I were an untalented, undeserving waste of hers and Princeton's space. It turns out these two annoying people are close friends. I am not surprised in the slightest.

But after a lunch at Olives with LL, a meeting with my old thesis adviser (followed by an invitation to an East Asian Studies Department fall party), and then dinner at the best old place of all, the International Food Co-op (where MG '13 kindly catered to my condition and made gluten-free chocolate cake for dessert), the anxiety and fear went away. Thursday was even better, especially as I ate, drank, and made merry in the evening with the acabellas of Wildcats and acafellas of Old Nassoul (and went to the bent spoon two times in one day). Friday has gotten off to an excellent start with gluten-free pancakes at infini-T and meetings with my professors from Latin American history and Arabic literature courses.

They tell you when you graduate that Princeton (or whatever college you attended) is always your home, even when you've up and left and gone off to bigger things--and sometimes, if you're lucky, better things. I'm glad (or maybe 'relieved' is the more appropriate word here) that at least in this visit, it's been true.