I am going to leave Duke. I am going to leave this place, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow over the newly opened plaza, and as surely as Penn Pavilion will serve mac and cheese. There is no escaping this hard fact. Sometimes, it is not even a fact I want to escape. There have been enough early morning walks to Perkins and awkward smiles across the plaza to weary the brightest person. And there is something tantalizing about the future, a new city brimming with the hopes of a thousand other young people, just like me. What I am resisting is the passage of time. In the beginning, I remember thinking that four years was an infinite stretch, that I would be in Durham forever. I met seniors who seemed clothed with a understanding of the world that I did not have, and I felt that it would be impossible to become them. Now, each day passes and I crawl into bed, sharply aware that there are a finite number of days left in this place. Has anything been so bittersweet?
I cannot stop the passing of time, so I let the days go by, and try to feel every moment as vividly as possible. I try to go back to the beginning of it all, but the girl I was feels so distant and young that I cannot grasp hold of her. In the fall of 2012, the era of gentrification had not quite encompassed Durham, and our FACs told us that it was dangerous to walk around at night. There were less restaurants and still less bars in this town that I had committed myself to for the next four years. I wore bright yellow jeans and a shirt with dots on it, and people introduced themselves at bus stops to me, and everything was alive and vibrant. It is disconcerting to realize how little I knew about the world. I had thrown everything to the winds and come to Duke, brimming with the warm certainty that my ideas of the world were perfect. But I was to realize, with painful clarity, that I knew nothing. I knew nothing, when I first caught sight of the rising spires on Chapel Drive and let out a gasp, for what school would have such a grand and distinguished landmark? I knew nothing, when I joked in front of DSG that I was Asian and therefore knew how to take care of money, and was met with a stony silence. I knew nothing when I cried in a bathroom in Perkins, full of a young misery that stemmed from too many sleepless nights. I was to learn, about good friendship and bad friendship and the unconscious split that occurs when the people you love spread across the world and you may never see them again. I was to learn about oppression and fear and anger.
But most of all I was to learn about how little I did know.
Sometimes, I want to go back to the nineteen year old girl in the yellow jeans and shake her. I’d say, oh boy, you have no idea, or be ready for the rest, or please stop wearing your hair like that. Or perhaps I’d say nothing at all. Would I have decided to come here, had I known how much was ahead of me? My pride wants to say yes, but I know better. I would have run in the other direction,
Somehow in four years, I have grown up, in a fumbling path full of mistakes and wrong turns that might have been avoided, but were not. Somehow, I have lived in places that I would have otherwise flicked through in travel magazines with unseeing eyes – Mumbai, London, New York. Somehow, I own three pairs of leggings – even if every thing else in wardrobe has turned to black and white. Somehow, I have laughed hard over grilled cheese in the Div School café.
I have loved this place and I have hated it. How do you say goodbye to a place that has imprinted itself forever on your soul? You start with the small things. This chapel, sharp and outlined and the smooth face of the moon beside it, this table in VDH dedicated to George Grody. This bench in the Duke Gardens, where you can sit and watch the ducks float. This Korean food truck, and the smell of brewing coffee in Bella Union. And then you move on. This person, who started me on Game of Thrones. This person, who I laughed with as we drunkenly pushed tatter tots into our mouths. I am leaving, and I cannot stop it.
But how can I be gone, when I see the small shadows I have left behind? In the chip on the wall of my old dorm room, in the imprint of the steps leading from the BC to the Chapel, in the headphones I left in Wilson Gym, in the third duke card I lost and could never find again. Perhaps, a year later, some freshman will find it lying beside a bench in the Duke Gardens. They will, in their innocence, post it on in the All Duke group. I will not respond – because I am not here, not in person, not anymore.