Impermanent, but still a goodbye

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Despite being born and raised in the Bay for my entire life, I did not have my first chance to visit the UC Berkeley campus until I was 16.

I was taking Advanced Placement psychology the summer before my senior year, and the only building I frequented was the soon-to-be-demolished Evans Hall. Before long, and even now, I regarded it as the epitome of college Gothic — easy to lose time in, easy to get lost in and visibly … striking. I also became well-acquainted with the route that wound past Valley Life Sciences Building all the way to the Downtown Berkeley BART.

Coming to UC Berkeley for college had not been on my radar, so my freshman year was spent in awe of the picturesque campus, walking to and from lecture halls with a friend and going to Golden Bear Cafe. My best-known buildings were Dwinelle and Wheeler halls, despite being exposed to other parts of the campus in the spring; and in my second semester, I became obsessed with the Yali’s Cafe in Stanley Hall.

During the summer, I took a course on campus and commuted every day. UC Berkeley felt like a ghost town, but I felt I didn’t mind — there was something about being able to explore campus, undaunted by a stampede around lecture halls or rushes at GBC, that appealed to me.

On what felt like the hottest day of the summer, I took the bus from North Gate to Downtown Berkeley BART just to escape the sun. As we drove down the east edge of campus — past Soda and Cory halls, Foothill, the Greek Theatre, Haas, Memorial Stadium, rounding the corner around International House — I felt a sudden fondness for my familiar, unfamiliar friend.

By sophomore year, I had learned my distaste for long treks to Soda Hall, which deterred me from attending 8 a.m. labs. I had a class inside VLSB for the first time, and I had spent enough time in Moffitt Library to determine that it was my favorite library. I had created some good memories there.

I thought I would have the rest of the year to continue to do so.

Halfway through the spring semester, we switched to remote instruction, and I shuffled off back to my parents’ home.

Stranded in my childhood bedroom for nearly 18 months, I watched my peers who had been able to move back to campus for the fall semester enviously. But, at the end of the semester, came hope: It was highly likely that class would be going back in person for the next school year — my senior year — and I was determined to return to campus.

I hadn’t been completely isolated from campus for the period of remote learning; once or twice, I had managed to convince my family to drive past campus, and once or twice, I had managed to persuade people to come visit and stomp around campus with me.

Still, returning to campus this fall had felt like seeing a high school friend after a year away at college — after you got past the initial disconnect, it felt like nothing had changed but also like you were slowly watching your friend transform into a stranger.

I was happy to be back; sitting in an actual lecture hall wasn’t as surreal as I had thought it would be. There were points if, when I thought too hard about it, my mind would boggle — we’d spent the last year and a half learning on Zoom, and now I was back in Dwinelle. After several days trickled into weeks, then into months, sand trickling through an hourglass, life back on campus became normalized — until the days started quickly trickling away.

Now, with roughly a month until I graduate from UC Berkeley, I think about the prospect of not walking across campus every day. At first, I know I will be relieved to return to my childhood bedroom, for a change in scenery, but eventually, that relief will turn into nostalgia and then mourning for the experiences I won’t have again.

It won’t be a permanent goodbye because I don’t plan to leave the Bay and my family for at least a few years.

The first few times, I know visiting campus will be a wound reopened; only a few short years ago, I was killing time in that library, sitting in a classroom in that building or walking on Sproul Plaza with my friends.

Then, as time puts distance between me and my time at UC Berkeley, the good, bad and the ugly will become tinted with rose, until I remember everything with the same nostalgia as I do for high school. I will revisit campus and I will consider the current students with fondness, even as they rush across campus for midterms or slow-walk with friends, thinking about when I was one of them.

So, when I leave campus in May, with no planned return for the fall, it won’t be a permanent goodbye — but it’ll still be a goodbye.

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected]