This is going to be a much different post than the rest. This will be more about my self discovery from this trip than it will be about the actual location, which is kind of the point of this whole thing anyway. Self discovery. I'm sure most people have never heard of this town but it is a super small town in Pennsylvania with the closest city being Harrisburg. This is where I went to college. I traveled back there the beginning of June for alumni weekend. Well, I didn't specifically go for alumni weekend; I went because it was the 20th anniversary of my college acapella group The Syrens, which was definitely the highlight of my college experience. Being that my cousin and I had the same alumni weekend and our colleges are an hour apart, we decided to embark on this journey together. I took a bus down to Philadelphia from Massachusetts to meet up with my cousin so we could drive down together. At the time of me arriving to her apartment, before we left on our trip, my phone dropped out of my hand and broke. So there I was, faced with having to go through this entire weekend, at a place I managed to avoid for the past 11 years, without a properly working phone. Every attempt made to get a phone before arriving on campus, did not work out. It was like the universe would not allow me to get a new phone. Therefore, I have no pictures of that weekend except for a couple that I got from other people.
Anywho... Why had I been avoiding going back to my alma mater? So many reasons. For one, I was forced to go to school; I really didn't have a desire to go to college. I was made to go to this particular school because they gave me the most money out of the schools to which I was accepted. Once I was at said school, I wasn't allowed to major in music. And on top of everything, the school was a complete culture shock because it was predominantly white. I had always grown up around every type of person you could imagine, and to go somewhere with majority white faces was so uncomfortable. I didn't even like the culture shock I felt being in the section of Philly my family is from, where it's just black people. I need to be around everybody. So this was completely new, and it was the first time that I realized that there were different kinds of white people. I didn't think too much about race before because I grew up in such a diverse city, but many people that went to this school were people who had never interacted with other races before, had never even seen a black person in real life. This is where I had a white guy shout out his window at me "Macy Gray!" because I wore my hair out in its natural state. Unfortunately, all of this totally changed the way I dealt with many white people outside of my hometown, from there on out, which I am just in a recent years beginning to shed. So basically I was scarred from this college experience, and never had any intention of returning. But I loved my acapella group, and they were the only people I ever kept up with after college and had little meetups with over the years. I had thought about going back to school the year before for my 10-year reunion, but since I had a few deaths in the family and had other things going on, it just wasn't the right time.
Moving on, once I got into Carlisle, the town looked exactly the same. I feel like the only thing that changed was maybe my college campus, which added a few new buildings, but the town itself was still quaint with little shops and boutiques and small restaurants. I didn't stay on campus like a lot of people because I had no intention of reliving dorm life, so I stayed in a hotel a little ways out. Immediately upon stepping on campus, I saw old friends. I didn't see anyone from my year because obviously they would have come the year before, so there were a lot of class of '09 friends and acquaintances that I did see. Upon stepping out of registration, I surprisingly saw an old friend who graduated the year before me, who was the very first guy I ever kissed. Yes, I had my first kiss in college at the end of my freshman year. He actually was the very first person I even met on campus when I was just a prospective student visiting my older cousin who also graduated from there in '04. I kept seeing him throughout the weekend everywhere I went, which was interesting.
To be honest, I totally did feel myself regress being back there. I felt so out of place like I did when I used to live there. It was like this painful merging of who I am now and who I was back then as a teenager and young adult. So the first half of the weekend was pretty difficult for me, and I was thinking that I would never do this again. However, somewhere along Saturday afternoon, there was a shift where I felt like "present me" again and I came to terms with the past and I felt okay. I realized that I didn't have to feel comfortable in every space. You don't always need to be comfortable.
But where I did feel good was in those spaces with the people that I had chosen to be around during my college years. So I felt good when I was at my DCF breakfast (Dickinson Christian Fellowship), and I felt good when I went to the spoken word discussion, and I felt good when I was with my group rehearsing music. And also with "first kiss guy", who is the only person that I've ever been intimate with that I would actually just kick it with. And I saw my older cousin because, unlike me, she's totally obsessed with the school. When she started in 2000, she was one of maybe 10 black people on campus. By the time I started, there was maybe 5 times as much, but being that she grew up in white environments, it wasn't so abnormal for her like it was for me. So I saw her and my other cousins (her husband and daughter), and that was also nice. I partied with her and her '04 friends later on Saturday night. It was then that I felt like, you know, maybe I would do this again. Even though a lot of the college experience really pushed me into completely uncomfortable, foreign spaces, I grew out of that, like you always grow out of being uncomfortable.
I ended alumni weekend by waking up for 9 o'clock yoga in front of Old West, which is the building that we all walk out of when we graduate. It was beautiful being on the lawn outside of this historic building, doing yoga in the morning with like 5 other people who dared to wake up that early. I actually did everything I wanted to do that weekend in terms of the events on campus. The one thing I was super bummed about was when I visited the house that I lived in for my sophomore and junior years. It was Umoja House which means unity, and that is also a space that I definitely felt super comfortable in when I was in college. My housemates were a mixture of beautiful people. I lived in that house with about 20-30 other black students, white, east and south Asian, Indian, Jewish, and Latino students. So I was really disappointed to see that the house was now designated for fine arts. Also, it would have been nice to go to my church there, which was a big part of my life that kept me grounded in college.
I actually ended up catching a ride with "first kiss guy" on Sunday, and he drove me all the way to cousin, which was super sweet, and he made sure that I got a new phone, which was also super sweet. It was so weird but also normal at the same time; it didn't feel like I hadn't seen him in over 11 years. It took me a few weeks to process that weekend because it was this merge of my present reality with the reality from 10 to 15 years ago. I walked around that campus and around the town on Friday and it was like, oh yeah, this was real. I did live here for 4 years. I'm not sure if I could recommend necessarily just vacationing in Carlisle. I had things to do because I was on campus and had scheduled activities, but like I said, there are little shops and restaurants that are actually pretty good. It's a super small town, so there really isn't frequent public transportation, and it doesn't run on the weekends. Harrisburg is the closest city which is about 35-40 minutes away, and it's not like Harrisburg is a particularly happening city. But I will say, that I did have the best martinis when I was out with the Syrens at The Whiskey Rebellion. If you can find a decent apartment to rent or get into one of the decent hotels before they're booked up (they fill up really fast when there are college events happening) then it would be a nice place to have a little getaway I suppose. They do have some decent restaurants, like everyone goes to Fay's for breakfast, which can get really packed if you're not there early enough. They have famously delicious, massive pancakes. I literally only went there once which is kind of blasphemous for any Carlisle citizen or Dickinsonian. I actually haven't gone to many, if any, of the places that everyone at my college went to regularly. But that's just me, marching to the beat of my own drum.
After my cousin and I returned to Philly and had recapped our respective weekends, her mom called and asked us if we had broken through our trauma. We both looked at each other. The thing is that we both had never actually processed those experiences as being traumatic at the time, but going to these really small, white, private liberal arts colleges was for us, and definitely changed the way we felt in society as black women. But the great thing is that we both did have breakthroughs that weekend, and we both did move past our trauma and reconcile with it. I was actually able to feel some type of Dickinson pride surprisingly. I mean, it is quite a unique experience that not many people can identify with.