I spent 15 months at Salem and that’s when you round it up, making that one August and both Mays whole. That’s not even a year and a half and so as graduation approaches (one month from today!?) I am beginning to wonder how to move on from this place, and not because it’ll be hard but because it will be so unfathomably easy.
If I could go back, I would make a different choice but in the end, I don’t regret it. Is that possible? In my world it is. Salem gave me gifts: two jobs I love, an internship I have learned a great deal from and hate to leave, Spain, lovely moments in coffee shops, an opportunity to study and learn, fantastic Spanish professors, women’s studies classes that pushed me further towards my passion, a chance to spend some time with my dad’s side of the family, to discover a part of the country I hadn’t been to before. I won’t forget these things, I needed them, but Salem never really gave me peace.
My soul has batted against my ribcage since the moment I stepped foot here. At registration that long ago August day, I wore a blue shirt covered in daisies. “oh, how fitting!” the woman who checked me in said. I smiled back but my daisies weren’t for this new place, they were a sign of solidarity of where I began, of Cottey. My soul has cried for that place every since I brought it here, banging against my bones screaming let me out let me out let me out. let me go back to my home, to the person I was there.
And all I could do was bend over in pain and whisper: we can’t go back, not if we want to go forward.
And you see, my soul never understood that. It still doesn’t, all these hours later, but it forgave me. It knows I am right.
And so we moved on. We slowly settled here. I found joy in a group of people who have big hearts and strong beliefs, beliefs I only half agree with and so it was the first that kept me there. I loved the smell of coffee, I explored and walked and made a small place amongst this home of bricks. And then I left and I came back and things weren’t the same but being alone isn’t hard anymore and I have come to almost worry about it being taken away. All of the things I listed before, all of the gifts Salem has given me, I won’t forget but despite my spot in the library, I have always lived on the edge because I didn’t start here, and I can’t forget where I am from.
So move on. You said you moved one, you say, and you’re right. But I came to Salem broken and my heart only broke again and so I couldn’t find the end of the hallway in all of the darkness and when the light turned itself on (or did I turn the light on?) around April of my junior year, in so many ways it was too late.
So I settled. I have settled for the piece of Salem I managed to grasp on to and smile at all of the wonderful gifts I have been given and I am content.
But I am not at peace because I am not at home.
So how do I say goodbye? What do I tell these brick walls and the people they hold? What should fall off my lips?
I know what I should say: sorry. sorry I compared everything about you to Cottey, sorry I thought you owed me something, sorry I didn’t push myself–but I can’t apologize for something I couldn’t stop myself from doing in the moment due to the bang bang banging of my angry soul against my bruised ribs. So instead when I walk across that stage, I will give thanks.
I will feel joy but I will not feel sadness. I will feel pride but I will not feel bitterness. I will give thanks to this place that took me in, a lost angry wandering soul, and gave to me even when I didn’t want a thing it had to offer, who let me take my time, who taught me things despite the fact that this Cottey woman thought she knew the world.
Maybe I’m being harsh on past me, with my eyes filled with perspective but that’s not the point. It never has been.
The point is that in order to say goodbye to a place you never really belonged all you have to do is open your mouth and utter the word.