Joe Kind, A Guy

by Joe Kind | 10/15/15 6:40pm

I remember my first Homecoming like it was yesterday.

The men’s and women’s swim teams dress up for Homecoming every year, and a few of the freshmen guys and I went to Party City — my first and only off-campus trip my freshmen fall – to pick up our necessary supplies — tights of assorted colors and patterns, plastic leis, stripper bowties and green facepaint for our chests. The look would have otherwise bombed without our Speedos.

I started at McLaughlin with my floormates. The entire cluster was socializing in Occom Commons, under multi-colored lights and banging speakers. We were greeted with ecstatic UGAs and tables of EBAs and red licorice. My floormates and I were in the predictable dancefloor circle, nodding along and taking pictures. I checked my phone frequently, waiting for the cue from my teammates. Eventually I snuck to the River, where I changed into my costume and tights with my teammates. We all walked up Tuck Drive and met up the rest of the class at McLaughlin.

I was initially concerned about the dropping fall temperatures of late October. Surely I would get sick. Surely I needed a jacket. At least I had my teammates, even if we were still getting to know each other. We had a lot to adjust to as first-years on the team, as all first-years do. The time we spent alone as a complete class was a small fraction of the hundred or so hours we had spent together with the rest of the team. We were united, yet still trying to figure each other out. I know I took a long time to get to know my teammates.

Walking down Maynard Street, in front of Richardson and behind the Fayerweathers, with my fellow scantily-clad “men,” I felt a sort of swagger, both uncontrollable and surely temporary (though that’s beside the point). My skin tickled under the strangest combination of judgment and awe. I frequently raised my arms, meeting the high-fives that found me.

Here we all were. Eyes were darting everywhere, trying to comprehend what was happening, while our hips stayed facing forward on the course. Here we were, caught under a momentous wave of bubbling anticipation. Something was brewing under our saunter. I looked around at the faces I had seen before on campus. The bodies I had passed in Baker-Berry and FoCo. We were spewed into this one beautiful moving thing.

Lest the old traditions fail.

We walked up around cars with alumni and athletes, finally arriving at the Green. The bonfire stood above us, its life and death simultaneously impending. The bonfire is finally lit, and suddenly I am running.

I am ensconced in a sea of first-years. An exodus, if you will, except the sea refuses to part. Instead, a whirlpool emerges. Running, jogging, in circles, I am submerged in the heat and the glory of belonging.

I am running laps and laps and laps, and I don’t want to stop. I had decided beforehand to attempt the 116 laps. But this feeling was not premeditated.

I am not a runner, let’s be clear. I am not an endurance athlete. I was surely in pain, though at the time I felt none.

At each lap I had my parents, teammates, and the Dartmouth community. I felt lifted, almost. Running around flames in a hellish haven.

Of course I was not able to physically run all 116 laps — I intermittently walked and jogged the last 50 or so. My parents, watching me and meeting my eyes at nearly every lap, walked some laps with me at the very end. The endurance runners and other crazies had all finished their laps a while ago. My parents were happy to see me so happy. My mom nearly caught hypothermia just at the sight of me, but she remained on the Green for me when most of the (sensible) Dartmouth community had left.

I finished my 116 laps after a good two and a half hours. Baker Tower, shining its bright triumphant green, congratulated me. My parents and I promptly absorbed ourselves into Collis couches and watched our San Francisco Giants win Game 4 of the World Series in extra innings.

Reclining between my parents at this school, I had found the Promised Land. At this point I became certain that I would make it — something that I was not entirely sure of that long first month of college.

Flash forward three years to a very different kind of Homecoming. My parents were not here for the bonfire, crazy as it is, for the first time since I’ve been here. But I am thankful to have established such a comfort here that made up for their absence.

It is a bit unfortunate that my last Homecoming arrived as I was confronted with the realities of my Home-going. (You know I’ve been waiting to use that pun.) But Homecoming is so great precisely because it is a time to press pause on all that, and reset. I looked forward to last weekend, as does most of the Dartmouth community, and for good reason — there is nothing else quite like the Homecoming weekend experience.