The compass box I gave Nick for one Christmas—I haven’t seen that box since we started dating—was unearthed from under his bed and settled near the door. A mass of his Penn State hoodies was shrunken in a space-saving bag near the mini fridge.
His TV is still in its place—we are watching The Hobbit, one of his favorite movies, and both our laptops are on the coffee table in front of us. He is on Buzzfeed, and I am doing some of my freelance work. All is as it should be except for the mound of packed things my peripheral vision is catching. I purposely stare forward in the hopes that I trick myself into believing this isn’t real.
My apartment just a few blocks away is exactly the same except for my roommates’ missing things. I hadn’t touched my room in over a week. It looks exactly as it did during the last week of classes. Syllabi are still taped to my walls and dozens of tops are hanging in my closet. I have juice in the fridge and a chicken breast on the counter ready to make. Tacos tonight? Maybe pasta. I’ll figure it out later.
Last night was our final stay in Nick’s home since sophomore year. We made Napoleons here, we entertained all our friends here with endless fried chicken nuggets and homemade biscuits, I watched my first episode of Game of Thrones here and we spent countless nights watching over the DP Dough plaza, laughing at the drunken people walking by. Sometimes we were those people.
Even though I’ll be here until Thursday, this feels like my last day here. Almost all of my friends have gone back to their respective hometowns or on adventurous trips abroad. Very few students remain in town, or at least that’s how I feel. With Nick gone, I imagine myself sitting in the dark in my apartment feeling the urge to move back home 12 hours early.
And that’s the thing about this place—you have four years to make it yours completely before it slips out of your grasp. For me, I felt this about a half hour into my graduation ceremony. Here I was, mindlessly ushered into this huge life event, occupied by the selfies my friends and I were taking with our caps and the hilarity of the nomenclator’s frustration with the constant cheering he severely warned against. It hit me right in the middle of it all, quite literally interrupting a heavy laugh, and it felt like a train right in my stomach.
I woke up from the illusion I had created—that I was still with my friends, that we were just doing something else together, that we just had to walk across the stage and then things would be normal again—and I realized that I needed to be aware. I needed to feel the BJC’s air conditioning on my neck, to hear the sound of my friend’s fingernails running over the edge of her program, to see the look on my mom’s face as I glanced up at her in the audience—she was so proud of me.
It still ended in what felt like a single moment, and here I am almost a week later, after all the youthful freshmen and thousands of apartment-dwellers have packed up their things and returned to wherever they are now.
As we were falling asleep last night, I almost mentioned that it was, in fact, the last night here together, but, almost in desperation to have the last bit of our old routine, I stayed silent.
I have only hours left in this apartment. Nick is still on Buzzfeed, I’m answering emails and all is as it should be—until we pack up the car and find our new normal.