God, I love this place.
It’s the one thought that whispered in the back of my mind as I chatted with my best friend and navigated the car around another bend in the mountain. We were heading home — at least, back to the place that we had called home for four years — where we had exceeded our academic expectations, formed lifelong friendships, and made irreplaceable memories.
The small trunk of my car was filled with boxes of books and business cards, our bags for the weekend spilling into the backseat. A playlist of every artist from The Bangles to Imagine Dragons to Coldplay crooned from the stereo, but we were too far gone in our nostalgia to pay attention to the music. To our left was a wall of rock, occasionally disrupted by strips of houses and highway. To our right was a fast blur of trees and water: the sunlight made the mountains come alive with the vibrant color of fall foliage — beauty before decay — and the steady river guided us forward, the water dancing with specks of light.
I really, really love this place, I kept thinking.
We were traveling up to Lock Haven for homecoming weekend, where I would be giving a book reading with three other alumni authors. I’d received an email in the early summer from my former creative writing professor, and though I’d been back to the area since graduation, this would be my first time on campus in eight years.
Eight years. Twelve years, if we want to be technical, since I first stepped foot onto that campus and knew I would call it my school. I probably should have bemoaned my youth and made a dozen “man, I feel old” comments, but, really, it felt good. I felt good.
I felt like everything I’d done and been through had brought me to that very moment in my life, and to celebrate with friends and mentors in that place that once allowed me to pursue a passion was something incredible and somewhat magical.
As it turned out, the event turned out to be one of the best experiences of my career — and one of the most memorable weekends of my life. On Friday afternoon, I reconnected with former professors and was introduced to other LHU alumni authors: Jared Conti, Jade Heasley, and later in the weekend, Deb Daniels Lerew (pen name Leta P. Hawk).
We discussed the writing craft and life after college with a poetry workshop class in what turned out to be one of my favorite events of the weekend. It was both humbling and a source of pride to realize that, once upon a time, we were all there — sitting at those very desks, dreaming of what our futures could be with simply a love of writing and a drive to succeed. I didn’t know then where my life would take me…I knew what I wanted, of course, but life has a funny way of changing your dreams or, at the very least, leading you on a different path to accomplishing them.
It’s so strange to put myself back in those students’ shoes and be where I am now — not even with the writing, but in life itself. For all of the uncertainty I felt about my future, for all of the dreams that I never thought possible to accomplish, for all of the experiences — good and bad — that would be waiting for me…I wish I could say to myself then what I know to be true now:
Don’t stop. Don’t be afraid. Because life keeps going.
And so did the weekend…After class, we headed over to the library for the book reading and signing. I was nervous to be reading in front of a larger crowd, but once I stepped up to the podium, and upon spotting some familiar, supportive faces, the nerves turned to excitement and that excitement turned to ease. I can’t describe the feeling I’m carrying with me even now, a few days later — I was doing what I loved, in a place that felt like home, with professors and mentors who have always been supportive and encouraging. That happiness is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe.
The rest of the weekend flew by in a blur of readings and reminiscence. Friday evening was spent at the alumni reception catching up with my favorite professors, laughing with old friends, and getting to know the other talented authors. On Saturday morning, after another book reading, we toured the campus and walked familiar, forgotten hallways, getting lost in our own nostalgia.
People are always saying that your home is where your heart is, but there are so many places – no matter how close or far away or temporary they may be – that we get to call home throughout our lifetime. School and traveling and the neighborhoods where we grew up – these places all add up and become a part of our experiences, a part of who we are. Maybe we’re lucky that way, that we get to belong to so many places…Maybe we’re lucky that we get that choice.
As the weekend drew to a close and we said our goodbyes – as we drove away from town and back along the river and through the mountain pass – one promise resounded:
I’ll come back home again.