Closing the Chapter on College
College is over. It ended several weeks ago. I'm not sure at what point it ended for me - or if it even has.
Maybe it was at lunch after I turned in my last take-home final. We were sitting in La Casita restaurant when I confessed that I would miss thinking about my classes.
``Yeah,'' said Brooke. ``I wonder what I will think about now.''
We all paused in silence, our bean burritos in midair. Then Brooke got this frightened look on her face.
``That'll be weird, huh,'' she said. She took an enormous bite of her burrito, a bite that sent guacamole gushing out the other end. Heather and I laughed. With that opportunity, we changed the subject.
We finished class on Wednesday, and my parents arrived on Friday for Colorado College's graduation weekend. When I showed them the house where I had lived with three housemates and a parade of guests since the beginning of September, it suddenly took on a new personality. I knew it would. They had heard tales of our unkempt bungalow and thought I was afraid to show them the place. It was still a mess except for the kitchen floor, which I had spent four hours scrubbing on my hands and knees the previous afternoon. No, I didn't care about that; I just didn't want our life on North Wahsatch to end.
As my parents stepped over open boxes and piles of clothing in the living room, the afternoon light on Robin's braided carpet suddenly looked different. The house was no longer the house where I had spent a year of my life, and where I'd first learned how to soak sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil and garlic before putting them on pasta. Everything had changed with a quick glance. Everything was suddenly spoiled, and that made me sad.
In many ways, I won't fully realize that college has ended until next fall. Then my job in Maine as a sailing instructor will end and I will begin to search for a more permanent position. This will be the first fall when I don't have to (or should I say can't) run through the Worner Center to grab a demi-loaf on my way to class or spend hours in the library looking for a misplaced book on femme fatale imagery in pre-Raphaelite art.
No, this fall I won't watch the aspens turn yellow on the slopes of Pike's Peak as I jog along Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs. I won't talk to Andy Brown over the fence about our Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and the latest hole they've dug. Nor will I have to listen to Lionel's agitated grunts as I fill in his hole. These are the things I will miss.
Most of all, I will miss the backyard of our bungalow. It was never much more than a weed patch with a lilac bush in the northwest corner and three volunteer ash trees along the southern fence.
It took us a while to discover it. Robin and Emily had purchased two chaise longues on one of their outings to search for used furniture at the goodwill stores. The chaises sat unused until my friend Krista came to visit in October. I returned from class one day to see sunlight streaming in from the back door. I wandered out to find Krista basking in the sun, reading a novel. I plopped down beside her.
``This is a great yard,'' she said.
``I think this is the first time I've ever sat out here,'' I replied, squinting at my reflection in her mirrored sunglasses. From where I sat, I could see the granite tip of Pike's Peak through the turning leaves in the neighbor's yard.
``You should get a barbecue or something,'' she said.
One night after Krista left, Robin made salad Nicoise. She decorated the plates with imported olives, new potatoes, string beans, and cucumbers. She also put a big clump of tuna in the center and doused the salad with a special dressing she had made.
When Robin handed me my plate, I suggested we eat out back. Robin and Emily sat in the chaises. I brought out my camp chair, and together we formed a semi-circle opening toward the west. The sun had set behind the mountains, back-lighting the Colorado Front Range. When we finished, I carried the plates into the kitchen and returned with blankets. We then bundled up and talked about our lives until the sky turned a deep azure.
Soon winter came. One evening, I looked out the pantry window at the backyard to see if it had stopped snowing. There on the patio was our soup pot.
``Hey, Robin,'' I called.
``Yeah, what's up?'' she hollered from the kitchen.
``Come here for a second,'' I said.
A squirrel scurried along the top of the fence.
``I'll be there in a minute,'' she called, her voice muffled by the noise she was making. ``I am looking for a pot.''
The squirrel ran down the fence and tip-toed through the snow. I turned around and looked at Robin crouched on the floor.
``Let me guess,'' I said. ``You're looking for that soup pot.''
Her head popped up from behind the cupboard door. She peered at me. ``You're kidding, right?'' she said.
``Afraid not,'' I said, smiling. "You've got a squirrel out here eyeing it.''
She got up off the floor and joined me at the window. ``Hey, hey!'' she rapped on the window. ``That's my bean soup you're eyeing,'' she said to the squirrel. ``I made that the other night and set it out to cool,'' she told me.
``I bet it's cooled off by now.'' I smiled at her. ``Mmm, bean gazpacho.''
After Christmas, Jeanna moved in. With her came the trampoline on which she practiced snowboarding maneuvers. She duct-taped the edges of her board and clamped it on to her boots. Then she'd shimmy to the middle of the trampoline and begin jumping. In midair she'd twist her body; she and the board would rotate 360 degrees.
The trampoline suddenly became our new focus. By now the chaise longues had seen better days. They lay abandoned in the corner of the yard. When weather permitted, we sat on the trampoline instead. One afternoon as Robin was jumping, she spotted two pigs in the yard of our next-door classmate, Andy Brown. When Emily and I returned from the grocery store, Robin was sitting on the couch smiling strangely.
``What's up, Bin?'' asked Emily.
``Our neighbors have pigs,'' Robin said.
``Whaaat?'' said Emily.
After we put our perishable groceries in the fridge, Emily and I walked next door. As we opened the gate, we were greeted by two pigs looking up at us. When Andy saw us, he asked, ``Want a pig? You can have the bigger one.''
So on Valentine's Day, Lionel, the bigger one, came to live with us.
As the days got consistently warmer, our lives moved outside. Soon the pigs had dug tunnels between the two yards. As they passed under the fence, Andy, Schutz, and their housemates passed over it. In the afternoons after class, we'd all be out in our backyard reading, chatting, cavorting with the pigs, jumping on the trampoline, or basking in the sun.
After spring break, the lilac bush bloomed. That barbecue grill Krista had mentioned finally appeared. Emily picked it up at a goodwill store. Then the neighbors suggested we have a big party - both houses together. So, we dismantled the fence. That night after a barbecue with our ``intimate circle'' of friends, we entertained some 400 people.
NOW the trampoline is gone. Jeanna disassembled it last week and loaded it into her Nissan Pathfinder. The pigs are gone, too. They no longer run around the kitchen trying to finagle from one another bits of Robin's cooking that escaped off the counter. They went with Jeanna to her family's ranch in the high country of Colorado. Early one morning when we couldn't sleep, Schutz and I filled in the pig hollows and reassembled the fence. The barbecue - which Emily will take with her to Ohio - and a white plastic chair are the only things that remain in the backyard. We will leave the chair; maybe that way the next tenants will discover the yard sooner than we did.
We had our last barbecue on the evening classes ended. About 20 people sat on the trampoline, eating, bouncing, and listening to music. I lay on the side of it, studying the silhouette of the Front Range and the corrugated puffs of clouds. I watched the way Cassidy blinks: It makes him appear to be thinking more than he probably is. I laughed as Larimer did one of her crazy dances in the middle of the trampoline. I smiled as I heard Val's deep, raspy laugh. Those are the things I will miss the most, those everyday things.
Heather sat next to me.
``Open your mouth,'' she said, feeding me a forkful of cheese enchilada. I chewed it and tried to smile at the same time. We watched the others. Heather turned to me, her eyes focused on the light from the top of Pike's Peak. She said, ``In case you were wondering, college is over.''