Three roaring knocks resonated through the small dorm room. An exhausted glance at the clock showed me that it was 4:30 in the morning. I heard a groan dribble out of the corner of my friend’s mouth. She groggily leaped down from her elevated bed and opened the door thinking it might be some drunken friend who had just found his or her way home. Instead, it was two university police officers fully dressed in their uniforms. Obviously being a reasonable human being, I assumed that my friend and I were being shipped to the University jail for a crime that we didn’t commit. I covered myself with the blanket, peeking over the sheets as my friend and the officers whispered through the crack in the door. I thought they might take my friend and not me if I hid (in retrospect I understand how absurd this was). I saw my friend’s eyes fix on me and I froze. I was beckoned over and my friend moved from the door. My mind was still hazy from exhaustion. The officers asked me to step in the hallway. “I’m not wearing any pants!” I pitifully murmured through the door. It didn’t seem to make a difference as I was repeatedly beckoned out of the room. I slinked into the still-populated hallway wearing an oversized t-shirt and my torn blue checkered boxers.
It wasn’t that I was self-conscious; rather, I recognized how ridiculous the scene must have looked. I was half dressed with tussled frosted tips and drooping bags under my eyes. They were fully uniformed, standing at least half a foot above me and simply staring at my unkempt figure. They took me down the corridor without saying a word; the silence was ghastly. I attempted to concoct some alibi in my head but I didn’t know what I was lying about. As onlookers peered through doors, I began to feel sweat condensate at my temples. I nervously crossed my arms as one of the officers opened his mouth. “It’s your mother,” he said. I could feel my pupils dilate and my arms fall with full force. “She’s worried about you,” the other officer added. My face flushed and a gasp fought to break through my clenched teeth. “When was the last time you talked to her?” I felt like I was standing in the center of my middle school office being accosted for failing to attend pick-up. It was infantilizing. It was seared into my mind that my mother had called the university police on me for my failing to send a text. And of course, I understand and appreciate her worry; I am her only child. This just seemed like a watershed moment at the entrance of adulthood. It was a tale that would be passed down through generations of my family and would perhaps be etched into my tombstone. I am being dramatic, but the neuroses that coursed in my family’s blood had always caused tension between my mother and me. This incident just seemed like an intensification of the time my mother followed me to summer camp by hiding behind trees. I didn’t even know she was following me until a friend’s mom asked me why my mother was behind a bush.
Coming home from first semester wasn’t daunting given that I live just an hour away in New York City. My house was the same as when I left it. The smell of cat clings to the walls and academic papers blanket every surface. Aesthetics are perpetual but there was a shift in dynamic. It was as if I came back drenched in suburbia, like Panera Bread had somehow found itself in my DNA. The return to the subway was the most jarring. Having my body pressed against the door as an elderly woman’s metal cart pushes against my crotch was a new level of discomfort only rivaled at Princeton during the first night of Frosh week at Colonial when awkward hip thrusts surrounded me from all directions. The smell of dry urine, which had no effect on me in the past, began to make my eyes water. The streaked ochre stains that covered the seats seemed to call my name.
Though the return was at times turbulent, coming back was a necessary tranquility. Instead of showering with the fear of developing acute athletes foot, I was able to take a bath until my skin pruned to the point of pain. At home I immersed myself in a luxurious lifestyle to the scorn of my parents. My mother and father were clearly happy that I was home, but I disturbed their new routine. They had immersed themselves in romance and I was a prodigious impediment. There was divinity in sleeping in a queen-sized bed. I rolled freely without finding myself on cool linoleum floors. I drooled freely without the ridicule of my roommate. Nonetheless, something was missing. There is a dynamism to constantly being surrounded by your peers. It is tiring and all consuming. It is an electric void and I missed it. So I was left with the question, how do I reconcile these two worlds? At first, I thought the answer was to return home at least once every two weeks in order to decompress in the comforts of familiarity. But I found myself feeling like I was detaching myself from college life and neglecting my process of acclimation. I then transitioned to the polar state of mind, I cut off connection from home and eschewed communication with anyone who knew me before my arrival on the Princeton campus. Obviously, isolation was not the answer as my nostalgia for home was exacerbated by my lack of communication. I had to find a happy medium. This medium is something that I am still working towards. It is tumultuous and involves campus police and the smell of the subway.