Returning to Western Carolina University was like going back in time. A group of us planned a trip for the 2008 Homecoming Weekend in a year that marked 10 years since we were freshmen.
I hear ghosts on that campus. Not necessarily of those who have died. But the sounds of our pasts. The ghosts of the younger versions of ourselves. We came face to face with memories from our college days and were intensely reminded of how much the university shaped the versions of ourselves that now exist.
I saw the younger me there. Sitting at "The Bricks" between classes and sometimes skipping lectures on exceptionally beautiful days. Pretending not to see Rickey, the attractive new junior college transfer, walking down the street while I strategically sat where he would be sure to see me among those who congregated there daily. And then trying to appear nonchalant as I waited for him to walk up behind me and gently tug on my hair or tickle my side. Racing with him to step on the small plaque below the Alumni Tower. Seeing him saunter up the steps to the second floor of the University Center (UC) to visit me while I worked at the Student Information Desk. Photocopying our hands on one of the Xerox machines in Hunter Library. Opening a greeting card card while we ate Wendy's takeout on his bed in Leatherwood Hall after he took me to see Hannibal for Valentine's Day. Refreshing the university's live web cam over and over again in my dorm room while he made different, silly poses under the nighttime flood lights of the Alumni Tower.
I saw the younger me laughing at my best friend when she split her jeans while performing her trademark impersonations of Michael Jackson in the UC's Club Illusions or when she accidentally fell of a coffee table during her rendition of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart". Making silly videos while we were on RA duty in Scott Hall with Tokii's alter ego "Ms. Sue Ella" and BJ's uncanny "Bernie Mac"; cheering for Monique and the WCU Dance Team during halftime of a basketball game; playing pool with Jessica in the old UC Game Room; going to Reid Gym after dinner in Brown Cafeteria to watch the football players play basketball; sitting at "The Bricks" with Shameika, Tosha and Dominique; waving at Toya and Kori passing by in his truck; asking Daphne for her "excess cheese"; the comedic antics by the "Prop Boys"; cooking out during Valley Bally Hoo or Spring Fling; giving tours to new students at Orientation; 2am-SportsCenter, "do-da-do-da-doo", and aimless car rides and walks with Jon, Pat, Dunstan and BJ; water gun fights in the summer; stomping through piles of leaves in the fall; sledding on Dodson Cafeteria lunch trays in the winter; accepting flowers that Rickey would pick off the UC Lawn in the spring.
The memories were all around us despite the vastly changing landscape of the campus. Helder Hall, where I lived my sophomore and junior years, is gone. A landmark of my past erased and replaced by a state-of-the-art cafeteria - complete with Starbucks. There is no where to relive my memories of Rickey sneaking a bowl of Tokii's Waffle Crisp cereal and then astonishingly proclaiming that he had been looking for a cereal like this his entire life. Or Tokii dancing in her bathrobe. Or Jonas and Jarvis, before they transferred to UGA, bench pressing and curling Kamata in the hallway or asking a muffled, inaudible question and then yelling "Heeeyyy!" in your face. Or surprise birthday parties in the study. Or taking group naps. Or the night I stuck some forks in the third floor microwave ... you know, just to see what would happen. Or the snowball fight in the lobby. Or photo shoots in the hall. Or Kevin driving through the Helder parking lot in his Nissan Sentra with the stupid window tint (sorry, Kev, but it's true), giving Terrence his debit card and telling him that under no circumstances was Terrence to allow Kevin to spend anymore of his refund check. It's only funny now if you know what Kevin does for a living.
Those versions of all of us are there in Cullowhee, wholly defined by slices of time that exist one on top of another and are buried only by the passage of itself. Even if you weren't mentioned, you know who you are. Michigan was for you.