A few weeks ago, I was back on my alma mater’s campus. It was the second time I had been on campus since Mike died. The first time was for a college visit with my niece. Our time was booked with professor introductions and tours and admissions counselors, so there wasn’t anytime to think about things – other than telling stories about how much fun I had in college. Then, whoosh, we were off to the next campus.
This time was different, though. I was there for an alumni board meeting, and the weekend activities (like a Friday night dinner to celebrate the graduating seniors) were ones that Mike usually attended with me. It would be my first time solo.
Admittedly, I procrastinated. I stayed at work late. I shopped at the outlet mall on the way. I didn’t get to campus in time for Friday’s dinner. On purpose.
It was about 10:30 when I drove onto campus. It was dark and quiet. The air was chilly and brisk. I could see my breath a little with every exhale. I put my luggage in my room and went for a walk. There was somewhere I needed to visit.
I walked to the reflecting pond and sat down on one of the ice-cold metal benches surrounding the pond. I watched the fountain in the center and listened to the tinkling of water hit the pond and the hum of cars as they drove by. I pulled my coat close and buried my nose in my scarf.
It was here that Mike told me he loved me for the first time during my senior year.
The tears flowed free and fast, thinking about the last 17 years (holy cow, 17 years!). Standing here in 1995 when he and I went for a walk as friends and came back to the dorms something more – “there’s this girl…” he said, “and it’s you…” In 1996 when he graduated. In 2001, just before our wedding as we were passing through the area. In 2004, when I first joined the alumni board. In 2005, pregnant with Ethan. In 2007, introducing Ethan to the campus. In 2009, homecoming. In 2010, walking around campus as a family of four for the first time.
I realized in all the time that the campus – and this spot – have been part of my life, I’ve never sat at the “reflecting pond” and reflected, until that night. I spent almost an hour out there, until my bottom was numb from the cold steel on which I was sitting and I couldn’t feel my nose.
I walked to the Grotto and lit a candle for Mike and for my dad. I said a prayer, then walked back to the dorm and got ready for bed. The next day would be a long one.