The internet (and every spring, my Facebook newsfeed) is flooded with bucket lists related to Athens/Ohio University.
Steal an Athens Brick. Spend a day kayaking at Strouds. Hike up to Bong Hill. Sneak into the Ridges at night. Get a picture with a horse cop during one of the fests. Attend #NumberFest. Eat at Casa. Eat at Salaam. (Basically eat everywhere because let's be honest, everything here is delicious). Spray something on the Graffiti Wall. Pull an all-nighter at Alden. Try a group fitness class at Ping. Etc. Etc.
The list goes on and on. I lived in Athens for five (!!!) years, and admittedly have not done everything on these lists... nor do I really want to, in some cases. But as my time in this beautiful little college town came to an end yesterday afternoon, for real this time, the nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks. What if this is the last time I'm going to have a seasonal quesadilla at Casa Nueva? What if that last order of Mac n Cheese bites or Zucchini Sticks at Union Street Diner was my last? Will I ever again feel the breeze on my face as I bike down the path by the river? Should I have gone for it and had that extra champagne slushy at Broney's? Will I ever find another place that has 50 cent slices of pizza on a Wednesday night? Or a tofu bowl served at the same place you can buy a cannoli?
In all honesty, I'm not counting down the months, weeks, days until I'll set foot on Ohio University's campus again. I'll almost definitely be back, but I'm not in any rush. I may even walk in my own graduation next year, though based on the fact that I missed my undergrad graduation to be in Rwanda and that I'll still be living in Germany in April 2018, that chances of that happening are somewhat slim. I was fortunate enough to have an extra year in the small town that raised me and ushered me into adulthood, but when I started drafting this post, I just wanted to leave.
I never really had an Athens Bucket List, or followed one online. I never stole an Athens Brick, though a former roommate once drunkenly picked up a regular/blank one for me on her way home (it was returned to College Green the next morning once we figured out why there was a muddy brick in our dorm room). I've only been to Bong Hill twice – once when students wanted to get some drone shots of the area and again with friends in May. I have never been interested in sneaking into the parts of the Ridges you're not supposed to go to but where everyone I know seems to have been. I don't have a photo with a horse cop, though I have asked nicely and been allowed to pet them on multiple occasions. I didn't attend a #NumbersFest because I never wanted to spend the money and am not drawn to muddy crowds of intoxicated humans, but I have made my way up and down Court Street on the weekends only to find myself a bit too groggy in the morning to be as productive as usual. I have never been to RedBrick and never plan to go.
I have, however, eaten my weight and then some at Casa, Salaam, Bagel Street Deli, Fluff, Brenen's, and both diners. I have gone to the Union and to Jackie O's on a Tuesday night after class. My freshman year, during the three weeks or so in which I worked for Backdrop Magazine, I helped spray paint the Graffiti Wall to promote the magazine's fall release. A few months later, a few Post editors snuck me into Tony's to have my first Hot Nut (and to this day, Tony's is one of my favorite bars in town). I have pulled my fair share of all-nighters, and I have gone to bed super early so I could wake up at 5am to participate in conference calls with people several time zones away. I have been to the Science Café in Front Room and to open mic nights both on and off campus. I once drove out to Uncle Buck's Dance Barn to see the Bob Stewart Band play a set. I have fallen asleep in my hammock at Emeriti Park and sunburnt the right side of my body in the process, only to attend a work dinner that evening and receive quite a few quizzical stares from the waiter at Salaam. I have welcomed international students into my home, and have been welcomed into theirs when I made it to their respective countries. I have cursed the world when my umbrella blew inside out AGAIN as I walked home during a torrential downpour, only for the sun to come out the moment I opened my front door. I have spent enough money at Donkey Coffee to cover a year's worth of textbooks (if not more), and it is in this small college town that I started drinking actual coffee instead of my usual hot chocolate.
Everyone's experience in Athens is unique. I came here wanting to be one person, but I left as someone entirely different. And that is OKAY. It's wonderful, in fact. At first, I wasn't open to change, to potholes in my path... but now I embrace change as the next adventure in my life. When I spent a semester in Ecuador back in 2014, I loved loved loved my time there but I also couldn't wait to get back to Athens. As many of my friends graduated and went off to start their new jobs and fellowships last year, I wanted nothing more than to also get the hell out of that small college town, even though I had signed on for masters degree program and was already taking graduate-level classes. This past year has been mostly amazing – as I got to show my grad school cohort around Athens and tell them why I loved it here so much and why I ultimately decided to stay for an extra year, I rediscovered a place I already called home (or as we call it here, hOUme). They say "home is where the heart is," but this past spring, my heart was anywhere but in Athens. I felt stuck there, like I wasn't moving and wasn't going to get out soon enough. But as my days in this magical place weaned and I started counting them down on my fingers, I couldn't help but wonder if I was actually ready to go. I drafted several versions of this post before I actually left Athens, one of which was scribbled onto some scrap paper as I sat outside of Scripps Hall in the middle of the night, crying about the uncertainty of my (to an extent) hyper-planned future. Was I really ready to take on the outside world?
(Update: I was totally ready. It's just hard to say goodbye to a place you've called home for so long, even if you are moving on.)
One more drink at Ciderhouse. One more meal at Casa. One more day trip to Hocking Hills. One more cannoli at Fluff. One more trip to the dining hall (thank you underclassmen, for your extra swipes). One more afternoon spent agonizing over what to make and which beads to use at Beads and Things. One more sunset on the green. One more Zumba class. One more [insert your favorite Athens-based activity here].
Athens is a special place, and I will always hold it dearly in my heart. But like so many others, it's also just another stamp in the passport of life (ick, that was cheesy... but true). Athens is where I learned that it is okay to change my mind about the big things, where I learned a lot about what I like and a lot about what I don't like, and where I have come to expect the unexpected in my everyday life. Don't get me wrong – Athens isn't always as amazing as we all post about on Instagram. I've come inches away from failing exams and yards away from failing classes, I've screwed up assignments and projects, I've cried in front of my professors (3 to be exact, which is 3 more than I ever wanted to cry in front of), and I've wanted to wander off into the woods and never come back. But that's perhaps what makes this place so amazing – the fact that I have continued to rise from the ashes of my wrongdoings and mistakes, always coming back and trying harder to succeed for myself and as a role model for my students and mentees. The fact that two groups of students, entering their junior (!!) and sophomore years, think of me as their teacher gets me every time.
This was originally going to be my first post, on my 23rd birthday and the official start of this year of blogging and other challenges, but I sort of cheated leaving Athens again and went back yesterday to take one of my professors out to lunch. This time though, it was a more permanent see-you-later. I didn't expect to have set foot on five continents by this point in my life. I never expected to go to grad school until a few months before I applied. I didn't know I would pick up a second major in undergrad and be working on a third language at this point in my life. I do know, and it has been reaffirmed time and time again, that I wouldn't be who I am or where I am without this little college town. And for this, I am forever grateful.
Until next time...