The In-Between

Launching into Limbo

You have now entered the In-Between.

No, this is not some alternate reality where almost-but-not-quite-dead people spend their final, zombielike moments. Nor is it the 4.5th dimension, where you can travel through time, but only sort of. The In-Between I’m talking about is stranger than any paranormal universe and more treacherous than a warped space-time continuum. Well, maybe not.

You have now entered your summer break of college.

I have too! In fact, this is my first one. And the truth is, I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that returning home after a year spent away has already triggered a palpable sense of betweenness, a feeling of limbo that I can’t shake. It’s the In-Between, and we, Golden Bears, are the In-Betweeners.

What struck me most about my initial transition from high school to college was its unidirectionality — a clear forward progression that siphoned me toward the future. I went from here to there, from Larkspur to Berkeley, from family to friends, from childhood to a hazy and precarious semblance of adulthood. I know it doesn’t sound all that clear, but there was an undeniable air of certainty to it. Put simply, I had moved on.

But my journey back home this summer through the tangled thicket of the In-Between has not been nearly as clear-cut. A year after going “from here to there,” I now find myself inevitably funneled right back here again — “here,” of course, being my parents’ house, because nowhere is this state of summertime uncertainty more apparent than when you move back in with your family.

It’s funny how, after living with your family for 18 years, home can become so foreign so quickly. For many incoming freshmen, their parents (and maybe a sibling or two) are the only housemates they’ve ever known. That was my experience, anyway. Over those 18 years, the four of us formed routines that were welcoming and comfortable, as home should be. But naturally, this honed symbiosis did not exist in Berkeley, and so I spent the year adjusting to the colorful company of new floormates.

Honestly, who knew there were so many different ways to brush one’s teeth? Some of my friends use white toothpaste, others prefer pink, and the brave ones opt for black. Some keep their lips closed while they brush, and others just let the paste stream down their chins, as if they lose all control of their mouths the moment the brushes touch enamel! Jaw-dropping, really. Here at home, my family’s methods of self-care now pale in comparison. After all the wizardry I’ve witnessed, how can I possibly reassimilate into such an unimaginative hygienic environment?

But seriously, those kinds of living habits are trivial, quickly accommodated and just as quickly forgotten. The real change I experienced when stepping through the doorway of my house on May 18 was a tangible emptiness, one that did not exist there nine months before.

During my year in Unit 1, I had never really been alone. When my roommates left, it seemed there was always a friend in the next room or down the hall. There was constantly a voice to be heard, and a moment did not pass without somebody, anybody, making their presence known. I liked it that way. I enjoyed the communal aspect of it all.

My roommates and I always made it a point to keep our door open, inviting the noise and activity of the hallway to spill into our cramped but lively new home. I knew I could always count on a companion or two or five, unless I was on the toilet (and even then, the dormitory bathroom also turned out to be an unexpected place for socializing).

After those nine months of uninterrupted interaction, home came as a rather sudden culture shock. With my sister still away at college, my dad at his office and my mom in and out of the house much of the day, I’ve had hours to myself. Before leaving for Berkeley, I wouldn’t have minded that. In fact, I used to enjoy time alone: It was a chance to embrace solitude.

But the dorms have since spoiled solitude for me. Not in any bad way, necessarily. They just changed my state of mind, to the point where a big, empty house has become kind of unsettling. Eerie, almost. As if there has been a fire and everybody has already evacuated, but for some reason, I still haven’t heard the alarm.

Despite my expectations for adulthood, my time at Unit 1 this year resembled the revelry of childhood more than anything else. Rather ironic, don’t you think, that moving back into my family’s house made me feel older than moving out did. I certainly didn’t expect it to be this way. But the constant connection I experienced at Cheney Hall was a wonderful, exciting, fleeting reality that, in retrospect, felt startlingly childlike, like some sort of hyperacademic day care — minus the diapers, of course. There was an enthusiastic juvenility to our 35-person utopia, one that I don’t think can ever be replicated, not later in life and certainly not here back home.

I miss it already.

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]