Never Go Back to Your Alma Mater

My sister-in-law has followed in the footsteps of my wife and myself and chosen to go to the University of Georgia. She enrolls in the fall, which means that the summer is orientation season — and that means that my wife and I got the chance to go back to our old Alma Mater to stomp the grounds a bit and reminisce.

(Actually, the wife and I were never enrolled at UGA at the same time. Just another quirk of our relationship.)

And it was great! Just being in the place where I spent so many years, the memories came rushing back like a lost puppy seeing home. The Fine Arts building where I stumbled across the stage. Sanford drive, where I was nearly mowed down by cars daily.

But I kind of wish I hadn’t gone.

Going back to your Alma Mater is a little bit like looking up an ex. You do it out of pure curiosity, with the purest of intentions. Just want to see what they’re up to, what they’ve got going on. But it can only end in depression.

First of all, the college is seeing all kinds of new people, all of them young and beautiful and reminding you just how old and decrepit you’ve become. But you expected that. You were prepared.

What you maybe weren’t prepared for is just how far the college has come since you’ve been gone. There are shiny new buildings all over the place, and the old eyesores have been torn down or renovated. The football stadium has had a sprucing up. Hell, even the buses are so clean and sparkly you just can’t help but wonder what a ride would be like.

But these things are not for you. They’re for a new generation of students: your time — you old codger — is past. Your old flame went and hit the gym and sexified itself and now you’re like, damn, I’m missing out on all this? What about the good times? Don’t they mean anything? Can I just sit in on a class or two?

And you leave eaten up with jealousy and frustration that you can no longer have this thing.

Or — worse! — maybe the gloss isn’t so pervasive and all your eye is drawn to, instead, are the old and busted parts. After fifteen years (help!) it’s the same sad old hill leading up to the dingy science buildings. Same old vomit smell one street up from the main street from downtown — the whole street. Same old not-exactly-operating-on-a-timetable-compliant-with-the-real-world bus system that makes you feel like you have to walk everywhere, paired with the murderous hills and lung-gumming humidity that make you break into a sweat if you so much as look outdoors.

Outside of the surface stuff, not much has changed. And was it really so great? And, holy cow, I spent four (okay, fine, FIVE) years of my life with this college thinking times were grand?

Don’t get me wrong; the visit was lovely (outside, of course, of the fact that our daughter, as expected, wouldn’t allow my wife a moment’s peace, let alone a night’s worth of sleep). But we look back on the past with rose-colored glasses for a reason. Going back messes with all that. Maybe you come away with some perspective, but sometimes, perspective is the last thing you want.

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