Asoulin: Space and Place
Making room to say goodbye.
This column is featured in the 2017 Commencement & Reunions Issue.
Space and place, in geography, are not interchangeable terms.
When I first walked into the offices on the second floor of Robinson Hall on a visit to Dartmouth in 2011, I walked into a space—a frantic, messy, chaotic one filled with students putting out a newspaper. I met the then editor-in-chief and I walked away with the impression that she ate, slept and generally did all her living in those offices.
On Thursday, I walked up the steps of Robinson Hall to finish my last contribution to this paper after four years of doing a lot of work, and a lot of my living, in these offices.
I found the door to the editor’s office locked.
Instead, I opened a window to the porch and crawled out onto it.
I have frantically written stories two hours past deadline on this porch. I have watched three out of four Collis Green Key concerts perched on the ledge. I’ve laughed here. I’ve blasted Motown and danced on the deteriorating wood porch boards. I have cried, heartbroken, on this porch. I have brought many of my friends up here.
“Trust me, it has the best view,” I would say. “And you can creep on everyone’s conversations below you and in the office.”
I have lived on this porch, in these offices, and through that living they have become my places. And I am struggling to say goodbye.
I’ve found myself putting off final tasks—dropping off my thesis at the printers, studying for my last exam, writing my last column. I’ve picked fights with friends because that way it might be easier to leave them.
At Dartmouth, I found many of my people. Friends who love me even when—and perhaps especially when—I falter. And I faltered often. No matter how hard I tried to predict or deflect it, I could not avoid failing. There was no detour around heartbreak. No shortcut out of crippling anxiety. No way to evade sadness over missed opportunities, and lost friendships and relationships.
Sometimes I’ve needed to slog through it all.
I spent a lot of time at Dartmouth feeling like I did not deserve to be here. My freshman fall, I planned for the day I would be told to leave. Surely a mistake must have been made.
In my four years, people from every corner of campus and all levels of conventional “success” have echoed my freshman fall concern with “I’m not good enough” and “I don’t belong here because ‘x.’”
I have been consumed by anxiety here, and I have watched friends drown in it.
And sometimes through that pain I could make meaning. Other times, I found that I could not make something beautiful out of my pain. It was just plain ugly. And in those moments my friends and family often saw in me the wonder I could not.
My failures did not make me, by definition, a failure—a bad person, a lazy person, a cruel woman or a bad friend.
I am not less worthy because of my missteps.
I am tied up with many people, many places, and many institutions—Dartmouth being one of them.
They affect me, and I hope I affect them.
But my worthiness does not depend on any one of them. I make it out of the complicated web of my life.
After Sunday afternoon, some of these places will fade back to spaces for me, while others will morph into new places as I change. The people I love, the people I admire, the people I tolerate and the people who I struggle with will no longer be lounging on the Green, studying in the 1902 room, reading in Sanborn, grabbing margs at Molly’s, canoeing down the river, skinny dipping at formal, putting out newspapers at 1:30 a.m. five times a week or sneaking out onto roof-porches.
They will be in new spaces, making them into their own places.
Dartmouth will never be my place the way it is in this moment.
And that breaks my heart. I cannot avoid it, put off the pain or pretend to not care.
It is also beautiful.
Being open to that pain is the way I have learned to say goodbye.
I have built room in myself to hold the chaos of the newsroom, the granite of the White Mountains and the depths of my friendships.
And I know I will expand to hold more.
Rebecca Asoulin ’17 is the former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth.