Friday, April 24, 2009

Black Benches

It’s 3:28 in the morning, and I’m sitting on a black metal bench, facing Nassau Street with Firestone behind me.

Unable to sleep, I wandered through the campus for a few hours, listening to late ‘80s Korean music on my iPod while walking past the first wave of students making their exodus from the Street. Somehow, I knew that I was going to write about the black benches in front of Firestone even before I saw them.

Walking from Aaron Burr Hall on the first day of class last fall, I felt small, squeezed in between the stores on Nassau and the gigantic library to my left. I sat on one of these benches, carefully avoiding spots littered with bird feces. It may have been raining a bit.

It was all too absurd. Me, in college. In four years, expected to make something of myself and seize my place in the world. Behind me was this insanity called Princeton, in front a city that seemed a million miles away from home.

I never sat on the benches after the first day; oddly enough, people don’t really sit on benches at Princeton. Whatever the case, I’ve come back after a year of college. While there is, again, a flood of emotions, I feel different.

On that first day of freshman year, I thought of everything in terms of how different it was from home. Certainly, I didn’t fully know what “home” meant. The word was a jumbled collage of images: high school orchestra concerts, my Dad’s beat-up red truck, the park where my friends and I first got plastered. The place between Nassau and Firestone was simply a border between two unknowns.

But sitting again at the same bench I occupied less than eight months ago, I sense that Nassau is smaller. I recognize most of the stores – Twist and Panera Bread stand out. Firestone, sitting tall, grey, and empty in the background, is not the monolithic, unfriendly edifice it once was.

The boundary between Princeton and Nassau, the invisible line that separates school from the city is not what it once was. It’s confusing. Is Princeton my home, or is it a place to enjoy until I go back to my real home? Is Nassau the “real” world, or is it simply a collection of restaurants and clothing stores? Where is my home? Is it where my family lives, or is it where my bed and Econ book is? In one moment, this border is frightening, reminding me that in three short years I’ll be in some far off place called “job.” But in another moment, I see that the world is in fact just a small town, full of places I become more acquainted with every week. I’m no longer certain that the gap between the campus and the city is real.

This in-between place has become a part of me. I am the boundary. My mind determines what the city means, what the campus means, and what the bench I’m sitting on means. What’s more, my mind is changed by the campus and the city as I live new memories and experience new images to keep in my collage for later days. Things are still, as ever, confusing. But now, I have a connection to the place around me.


Anonymous said...

"My mind determines what the city means, what the campus means, and what the bench I’m sitting on means."

your opposed to.... Oh Prince writers and existential musings....

celticfury said...

enjoy the emptiness and the quiet, because at such times and in such places any boundary, internal or external, can be redefined.