In real life, the gates clanged shut behind me more than two years ago. After graduation, my friends blew out of Rhode Island like ships propelled by a fierce wind. I snagged a good job and stayed. But I decided that in order to be happy staying behind I needed to build a new life for myself, one fully independent of Brown. In many ways I succeeded, spending the past two years avoiding Brown like a deadbeat ducks a bill collector (except that my tuition bill is paid in full).
Now I find myself embarking on a second tour of on-campus duty. This time around I'm an employee, and while I'm excited about my new job, I'm confronted by memories of college life at every turn. They remind me that I can't turn back time. They make me wonder if life will ever be as sweet again. They have turned my homecoming into something of an out-of-body experience. You see, while I walk across the College Green I can picture ten different versions of myself, all existing simultaneously. Over there on the lawn I'm playing football with friends. There I am again, leaning up against the trunk of that elm reading Don Quixote. And over there on the steps of Sayles Hall I'm flirting with a future girlfriend for the first time.
A week after my return to Brown I stood on the Green and watched the class of 2005 snake past me during Opening Convocation. Seeing that seemingly endless parade of eager faces as they were greeted by the cheers and applause of professors and fellow students only reinforced the feeling that I'm now on the outside looking in, that universities exist solely for students with everyone and everything else pushed to the periphery, like on one of those spinning amusement-park rides. I longed to be back in the heart of things, to have all of Brown's resources at my fingertips and to revel in the freedom that college offers to explore new ideas and imagine a boundless future.
In some ways my first few days back felt like a distorted rerun of my first days as a student. Arriving for my first day of work, I was plagued by many of the same insecurities I'd had when I'd arrived at Brown in the fall of 1995. (Only this time my mother wasn't here to ease the transition.) I asked myself, "Was this the right decision? Will I succeed? Will people like me?"
My first day back was largely consumed by a new-employee orientation program. In between a campus tour (which lacked only a backward-stepping student guide) and free lunch from the Ivy Room, we were stuffed with information about health benefits and retirement-account contributions. We pored through folders filled with countless pamphlets, community guides, and forms - more forms than I remember filling out as a student. Later I posed for a picture for my new Brown ID card, grimacing when I saw my off-color photo with the words "Faculty/Staff" underneath. It took a few more days to be completely absorbed by the Brown bureaucracy, as I established an e-mail account and a network password. I felt comforted that at least some aspects of life at Brown hadn't changed.
Back at the Convocation procession I watched excited first-years fling themselves at President Simmons for hugs and photos. She shook their hands and asked where they were from, building their confidence without letting on that she, a first-year president, was nervous, too. She admitted as much a few minutes later in response to the jubilant applause that followed her introduction up on the stage. Well, I thought, at least I'm in good company.
Zachary Block is the BAM's staff writer.