There's No Place Like Home
This weekend, I went outside for the first time in months.
Sometimes I like to think of Hanover as an old prostitute parked along a cul-de-sac of the Connecticut River. So that the simile will stand, imagine time slowed, a day holding the seasons. During the last hours of twilight, before night eclipses the long shadows that pass through the alleyways between hills, she puts on her pearls and red dresses, gold-leaf earrings shaped to the westerly wind in a flourish of innocence and color. Those who happen by her in their youth know who she is, know why she is here. But they are drawn in by the illusion, and sometimes they forget to keep walking.
Dartmouth has her ugly sides, as is true for all institutions. It is easy to associate all that is contained in a beautiful thing with beauty itself. I know too many who fall into the trap. The College's cold veins run from disaffected laboratories through the opaque coronary walls of Parkhurst and sterile residence halls; it is more than physical. Late at night inside the dark tunnel of the stacks, you can almost feel the void coming up to meet you. She asks: You gave me money. Did you really think it would be more than a school?
The Dartmouth bubble can be a void that slowly drains of meaning. It is where work eats your soul, faceless masses crowd into dining halls and sweaty bodies move under the sanguine lights chanting to the beat of primordial rhythms. We forget each other. Our headpieces are stuffed with straw. But a few days on the outside, and you see it in a different light. Everything is beautiful again. If you fill up yourself you can fill up the bubble.
The first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem. The second step is running away.
Everyone remembers Trips. They're a cherished tradition and a good time. They are also a show; a show, perhaps, put on by those who sincerely love this school. But the welcome extends only as long as the program. It does not belong to those for whom it exists. It is an introduction to the bubble, not an escape.
There are ways to exit the bubble; you don't necessarily have leave the campus. I'm convinced that anybody who wears a smile around here has found a trapdoor of some sort. Over Halloween I went on an overnight hike with Cabin and Trail for the first time since freshman fall; it was a brief trip with friends and I didn't think much of it. On Saturday, we were at the Lodge for closing weekend, beating carpets, digging ditches and screwing light bulbs off of trees. It was solid work, but I'd never seen so many cheerful people. At dinner, I talked to an alum who'd been coming to closing weekends for 10 years, and I kind of got it. There was no show. I had taken a piece of the iridescent sphere, wrapped it around myself and pushed off. I was outside the bubble, and in the process I'd been filled up with meaning. Somebody was wearing Max's wolf costume from "Where the Wild Things Are," and it all made so much sense.
There are other ways, I'm sure. Some may lead to the innards of the Hop where they, too, put on strange clothes and forgo speech for song. Others lead to distant lands. I intend to find them. Once you uncover the first door the others seem to open up for you. You feel inducted into a clandestine society of escapees, only there aren't any secrets, and no list of membership. Go on, keep walking. Fill yourself up so much that others can breathe the air.