It has happened a few times, due to my desire to maintain a connection to the student activism movement. My statewide student association, New Jersey United Students, (and I still consider it mine, being one of the founding members) holds its monthly meeting at a different college each month, and this month it was held at Montclair State. I graduated in August 2013, and have found, in that almost-year, that all the old times come rushing back whenever I set foot, tire, or thought on that school. The amount of times I drove my Subaru Forester onto campus, music blasting (SRC, Floyd, or more recently, Excision), and paced about trying to decide whether to go to the gym or the radio station, where to find people I know or where to be alone, to do and to think extraordinary, earth-changing things….it feels like it must’ve numbered in the thousands.

Every calm sight, every building with that red Mexican roof and stucco walls, the smells in the hallways and elevators, the familiar faces of workers walking around, still doing their work, it coats my perspective with a dreamy glaze: remembrances of various Students for a Democratic Society meetings (and all the accompanying drama), Student Government meetings (and all the accompanying drama), other student organization meetings like MSA, NAACP, ICC…Board of Trustees meetings, meetings with professors, with friends, seeing fellow DJs at the radio station, doing my radio show, hanging out at Cafe Diem….events like rallies and candlelight vigils, the one or two times SDS held Tent State University, sitting at the literature tables, the times I stared at girls and once or twice got stared back at. Toting books around that had nothing to do with class, writing papers in the library at Umpteen in the morning, with a head so full of caffeine that it almost sprouted another brain. Running into friends walking or running around, working on their own myriad projects, doing the same urgent but cool things I was doing, seeing the same potential around them, the same fear disguised as hope disguised as fear.

If I stay on campus for too long these days, I tend to want to sit and stare out at what used to be my homeland, or my kingdom; at the very least, my world. I can feel it continuing to exist without me, continuing to spark young minds into action or submission, ideas built up and then destroyed, reinforced or countermanded, briefed or lectured. I can see the struggle in their eyes, only it is not yet the struggle for a world free from oppression; rather, it is just to get from one day to the next and to see a future unfolding within that step. It is just to see something of themselves in their actions, enough to be able to do them “for a living,” so they can avoid the terrible prospect of having to leave themselves behind and do something unpleasant for the rest of their lives.

When I stare, and see and feel what I lost through overcoming it, or completing it, there is a part of me that wants to be back immediately. Maybe I could take a graduate class or two, or try to get a job there. Then I would belong again, then I would be back where I belong. And then I think, “No, Mark, you’ve graduated, you’ve moved on, you’re doing other things, bigger things in the real world. There’s nothing wrong with staying in academia indefinitely, but you made a decision not to do that. You decided you wanted to be in ‘the real world.’ And now you have to live with that decision.” It’s sobering, but I am able to see the positive in it. I wanted to be a participant in reality, not an interlocutor to it, and that’s what I’m doing, slowly but surely.

We must “live with” every decision, whether to buy the winning lottery ticket, or to choose not to have children, or to leave college, or to marry the person we love. Some decisions are easy to live with, because they are so incontrovertible to us. They are almost non-decisions. If I buy that ticket and win a million bucks, or marry someone and am eternally happy, I am not likely to have difficulty with whether I made the right choice. But if I choose not to have children, and then find out later that I am no longer capable of having them, well…..That might be a harder decision to live with, to coexist with in a calm way, in a way that doesn’t bother me or keep me up at night, or compel me to try to find other decisions I could make that might help erase the poor outcomes of that one.

I somehow didn’t expect Montclair State to become this to me: a dreamy, out-of-time place so loaded with feelings, thoughts, and memories that it will never again be just a place to me. It is so filled with the remnants—wisps, traces—of what make me who I am today, just like the friends I made there. They met me as I was becoming the person I am, and grew with me. I guess that’s what makes college friends so special. When I talk to them of important things—things that revealed themselves to be important while I was in college—they understand. When I talk to them of history—which sometimes seems to extend only as far back as when I became a student there—they understand because they were there.

When I visit Montclair State nowadays, I’m right back there again, where I understood everything, and it makes my life as it is now harder to understand, makes it seem strange, foreign, frightening. That’s why I don’t think I should visit MSU too often; It makes me sad, like I want to be there all the time. One day, I might act on my impulse to go back there, and then all the versions of clarity, self-sufficiency, “adulthood” I’ve been working on would be replaced. With what? I don’t want to know. It’s too tempting. I must assume the past is over with, and behind me.