Sophomore year of college, my roommate Hillary Brewer and I decided to take our relationship to the next level… and get a hamster.
It seemed like the perfect kind of a pet for the broke, irresponsible, still-wet-behind-the-ears college students that we were, and the kind of lifestyle that we were living.
A lifestyle that I can’t share all of the details of, but that I will say included copious amounts of gin and seltzer (flavored). The Roots. Samantha Reba. The phrase “Cheers, Gov’na!” Beds pushed together. Legs crossed, Indian style on the floor, on beds, on the grass. Leah Heffernan. Chinese food. Laughter. College sweatshirts with the hood up, indoors. Empty water bottles. Rosy cheeks. A whole lot of love.
Olive, our hamster, was loved by many. There wasn’t a single visitor to our room who wasn’t immediately enamored with her. She was a very special hamster.
When she died that May, we held a funeral in the woods behind the basketball courts. Kind words about her were exchanged and together, we said goodbye to our furry little friend. We found a rock with a flat side, and placed it on top of the freshly-filled hole in the ground where she lay. In all its puffy-painted glory, the rock read “Here lies, Olive: a free hamster.”
A few weeks ago, coincidentally nearly two years after Olive’s passing, I found myself awake before sunrise on a Sunday morning, and decided to go for a walk. I ended up in the woods behind the basketball courts; wandering, but with a purpose. The rock was gone.
This year, my senior year of college, I was asked to select and fundraise for the 2013 Senior Class Gift, a task that seems much easier than it actually is. Not solely because my partner, SaKarra Fite, and I found ourselves unable to please everyone or unable to find a gift that satisfied the wishes of faculty, staff and students. Or, because it was difficult to select a gift that was exactly what the university needed, amidst a long-list of necessary improvements.
Not solely because of the general unwillingness of most people to donate money to any cause, no matter how sentimental or how close to home it may be. Or, because of my peers’ general sense of apathy towards all things “FDU.” Although, all of the above were obstacles.
One of the biggest criticisms against the proposed (and ultimately selected) idea of creating a scholarship, for a well-rounded recipient from the 2014 class, was the gift’s intangible nature. Many thought that without a physical gift, there would be nothing for alumni to come back to, to remind themselves of their time here, of their legacy.
The thing I most often find myself wondering (even now, as the Class Gift has already been chosen and plans for its deliverance are well underway) is how exactly do we leave behind a legacy?
How does one make the intangible tangible? Is there truly a statue, a wall, a fish tank, that can encapsulate what I, what my peers, have experienced these past four years?
As I subconsciously searched for Olive’s headstone, it was then that I realized how much we rely on physical things to remind of us of what we’ve experienced, as if the memories were not enough. Somewhere, in a place far away, I still have birthday cards from my 15th birthday, my prom corsage, notes I passed in AP Literature, wristbands and guitar picks collected from high school band performances, ticket stubs from inconsequential films like “White Chicks” and “Cloverfield,” clippings from high school newspapers that no longer detail the news, but instead, history.
Even now, in the room that I can call my dorm for only a few weeks longer, there are saved playbills from past FDU theatre productions, pamphlets from two Club Fairs ago, favors from formals and semi-formals, teddy bears won by former loves at carnivals, temporary tattoos from last year’s Fourth of July, a sorority bid long-since accepted, tokens from this RA program or that, post-its that say, “I love you.”
But really, for what? The carnival has ended. The music’s off. The curtains are closed. We’ve all walked home, we’re all sitting back in our rooms with our legs crossed Indian-style. We’ve all moved on.
Or at least, some of us have. As the sun is rising on this Sunday morning, I’m taking a stroll through the past, going through a pile of treasures that mean absolutely nothing to everyone but me. I look at these things, and I remember the carnival lights. I remember sitting in the dark auditorium. I remember the stolen kisses on the Mansion steps, and in deserted dorm hallways. I remember the laughing, the fighting, the running and the playing.
We as a generation are absolutely obsessed with documentation, and I’m guilty as charged. Some say that this is a loud cry for attention, as if with every upload, every update, every Tweet, we are shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” What I’m wondering now is if we are actually whispering, “Remember me! Remember me!”
To leave behind a legacy is to not be forgotten. But as I look at the seemingly meaningless assortment of knick-knacks that I’ve probably held onto for way too long, I wonder if the goal is to never forget.
The proof that we don’t experience things the same way lies here, in this pile of stuff.
For a long time, I’ve wondered if I see through my eyes what the rest of the world is seeing through theirs. I wondered if in a given moment, especially the moments that I wanted to count the most, the people I was living through it with were feeling what I was feeling.
Sometimes, I learned that was not the case. Sometimes, you really aren’t seeing through your eyes what someone else is seeing through theirs, you’re the only one feeling something. It sucks.
You’re alone in feeling the beauty, or the love, or the potential of a certain moment… and sometimes, the realization of how alone you are can be devastating.
Unless, that is, you’ve been fortunate enough to know the people that I’ve known, the same people that have been by my side for the past four years.
Just like there isn’t a statue large enough or a wall wide enough to encapsulate the college experiences of 400 seniors, there is no word to describe the opposite of loneliness.
Literally, there is no word. Even Merriam-Webster has yet to find a word that describes how my best friends have made me feel, a word for the safety and the warmth and the constant support that they have all provided me with these past four years.
There isn’t a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if there was, I would say that it means what I’ve found here at FDU, with Hillary, and Sam, and Leah.
We don’t experience things the same way, and college is one of them. We joined or we didn’t. We studied, we drank or we didn’t. We found “the one,” or went home with one or we didn’t. Looking back, we won’t all see the same thing.
I’ve realized that the way I see things, even if it’s not what everyone else is seeing, is absolutely beautiful. Because when I look at the past four years, all I can see is my three best friends, who were always feeling what I was feeling, and still are.
There isn’t a word for the opposite of loneliness, but I hope that it’s what all 400 of us have found here. In a campus this small, I know it’s hard to feel physically alone. But if you didn’t make the kind of friends I made, you may have felt alone.
Truthfully, I can’t think of a better class gift than giving someone a chance to find what I’ve found here: love. Love is never being alone, because love is feeling that someone is always there, even when they are not.
Maybe there won’t be a physical reminder that we were here or of what we accomplished. But to me, that’s okay. The ghosts of our pasts will always be here, laughing and fighting and kissing and playing.
And when I come back next fall for Phi Sigma Sigma’s founder’s day, or for Homecoming, or to finally present a deserving junior with a check for $5,000, signed by the Class of 2013… I will see them, and I will wave to them.
No one else sees what I see.
And that’s the point.