This week has been ridic.
Super crazy work, a trip to Chicago, and a road trip to St Louis all packed into five days. Too much time in the car, too much sunshine, too much beer, not enough sleep. Despite the insanity, it was a super fun weekend. Got to see some people I haven’t seen in years, see family we don’t see nearly enough, eat some great food, drink a fantastic amount of beer, get Kyle just drunk enough to dance with me. It was wonderful. But what surprised me was the part of the weekend that impacted me the most was the part that took the least amount of time.
It was the stop off at our old college.
We were on our way back up to Chicago from St Louis, and Decatur was on the way. Two short hours, then we’d get back on the road. I didn’t know how this visit was going to affect us. You see, Kyle and I left college four years ago on somewhat of a bad note. Long story short, Kyle was beginning to discover that things work differently in the real world than they do in academia, and no one wanted to hear it. And I was discovering that as a BA I didn’t have the faculty support that the BFAs did, and if no one was going to give a shit about me or my development then I was done trying to please them. We both graduated, but we definitely flipped Millikin the bird as we drove away. So going back after four years, I knew that our reaction was going to be extreme in either one way or the other.
The first and most important stop on our list was lunch at our favorite college haunt, The Winery.
Walking into that dive bar felt…just fantastic. Once my eyes adjusted to the lack of natural light, it felt like coming home.
Sure, they have fancy new red booths. The ceiling tiles have been replaced so they’re white now instead of yellow. And there’s four beers on tap instead of only two. But the essence of The Winery was still the same. It was mostly empty at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, save a few bar flies. The only food they serve is still burgers, wrapped in wax paper and deliciously greasy. And the place is still lit entirely and exclusively with neon beer signs, making the place look the same at 2pm or 2am.
If I squinted my eyes, I could almost see our best friend Katy curled up in our booth, waiting for us to down a pitcher of beer with her after our 11am Friday class.
I have not missed much about Decatur, but I miss The Winery every day.
The other important stop on our homecoming was a walk down Main St, ending at our first house to see if the place was still standing.
First there was The Vaginery, (so named for the majority gender of its occupants and its location across the street from the Winery,) where one of my best friends lived for a few years. I was also mugged on the sidewalk right in front of it, but that’s another story for another day.
The infamous 1009. The guys that lived there were wild. The parties that took place inside were both trashy and epic. The place was a complete and utter shit-hole. And during one party the porch actually collapsed. We were completely shocked to learn that it still has occupants. I spent a considerable amount of time in this house, both hanging out and getting shitfaced. I may have once played strip poker in the living room, and we once tried to set the porch on fire (pre-collapse) by dropping matches in empty Everclear bottles. (It wouldn’t catch.) The theme song for this house was Wonderwall by Oasis, usually played on the guitar by a guy named Willer.
965, where the guys from 1009 moved after the porch collapsed. The guys were still insane, the parties were still epic, and the place was still a decrepit hell-hole. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I may have done more than one early morning crawl from this house to my dorm room.
Home & Prairie, so named for its location at the corner of Home Ave and Prairie Ave. Another collapsing slum occupied by theatre students, most from my class. This house’s theme song was Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, sung at the top of our collective lungs with profanities strategically sprinkled throughout. Unlike the other party houses, this particular shit-hole holds a special place in our hearts. For it was in that house during a Halloween party that a very inebriated Kyle approached a very inebriated me sitting on the kitchen counter and uttered the words that stole my heart: “Hey, Dietrich, you wanna go home with me?” Two years later, we were married.
And finally, my favorite house in the whole damn world: 912. This was the house Kyle and I lived in senior year. It was technically two apartments, an upstairs apartment and a downstairs apartment, but we lived in it together like it was just one big, weird house. We never had the big blow-out parties like the other houses, as we liked our shit to remain unbroken and unstolen, but had friends over pretty often.
Sometime around October, our landlord quit paying our water, so we quit paying our rent. We squatted in the apartment for the rest of the year. Also, we stole the refrigerator from the downstairs kitchen, which we’d turned into a kegerator and is still sitting in our living room today.
When we left the house, (which we left completely trashed,) we locked and bolted every door, took the keys with us, and stole the doorknob. The doorknob had been a point of contention, because I’d asked our landlord a billion times to replace it. The knob used to fall off the little post that connects the knobs, but the part that fell off was the outside knob, so then I’d have to pull out my letherman and sit there trying to grab the post inside the hole with my pliers so I could turn it enough to get the door open. Basically, I had to break into my own house once a week, and it was annoying as fuck. So out of spite, we took the doorknob. It’s sitting in a vase in my living room to this day. We thought for sure we were going to come back to find the place bulldozed, but to our surprise, it was not only still standing, but proudly with a fresh coat of paint!
We’re still not sure how the new owners got inside, but we did notice to our amusement that they never did replace the doorknkob!
This house means so much to us. It was our first house, the one in which our relationship truly blossomed and developed into the couple we are today. We set up our first Christmas tree as a couple in this house. It was always full of laughter and friends. And it was in the living room of this house that Kyle pulled a tiny white box out of the entertainment center and proposed to me. We began our lives as adults and as a couple in this house, and the memories I have of it are tender and sweet. I will always love that house, for it was our time there that gave birth to the life we have today.
There were more stops on our journey back in time, ones that brought back a lot of the simpler memories of college. Walking to class with friends, flying kites on the quad, eating lunch outside in the sunshine. The stories aren’t as interesting and the memories quieter, but each one brought back a smile to my face.
We stopped by the studio black box theatre where Kyle and I helped macgyver a lot of student shows with $6, some flashlights, and a lot of tape.
Old Gym, the crumbling building that houses the costume shop, a dance studio, and a lot of complicated feelings for me. Some of both my happiest and most heartbreaking memories from college were set in that building.
And the steps down to the quad referred to as The Ashtray. This place used to host renegade student shows, Muggle Quidditch tournaments, and countless “jump photo” sessions by a classmate. I couldn’t help make Kyle take a new one of me, for old time’s sake.
What I think surprised me the most about this trip is that how strongly some memories affected me, and how strongly others didn’t. Walking past classrooms I’d once sat it, peering in the window of old rehearsal spaces, I felt very little other than the thrill of being somewhere familiar. But walking down Main St past all the decrepit slums made my heart beat faster and in a few occasions, my eyes well up. Standing in front of the impressive brick hall of my alma mater did nothing to me, but sitting in a dark, dank dive bar put a smile on my face that I couldn’t wipe away.
And I realize why. It’s not the college I miss. Millikin the institution can go fuck itself. (Especially if they keep calling me at work and asking for $365, which, incidentally, is about half a month’s rent so fuck off. ) But Millikin the place is what’s special. It’s the place where I spent time with friends, laughed and felt loved. It’s where I came into myself and began to explore myself as an independent adult. It’s where I had my first drink, learned some of my hardest lessons, made some of my dearest friends, and rose to my some of my hardest challenges. It’s not the classes I loved, but the people I met in them. Not the projects I did, but the long nights around a kitchen table working together on them. And it wasn’t the shows, it was the challenges they presented that I loved.
It’s very easy for Kyle and I to be bitter about our alma mater. We left with a bad taste in our mouths, we have near-useless degrees from a college no one’s ever heard of, we’re balls-deep in student loan payments, and our career paths have strayed significantly from our area of study. (Let’s face it, every moment we spent in Shakespeare, History of Styles, and Biology of Foods was a monumental fucking waste of time.) But for better or worse, my college years will hold a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for those years in Decatur, I wouldn’t have the career I have today, the husband I have today, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
And if for no other reason, I will forever be grateful for that.