This piece is part of a September series about coming back to Ann Arbor for the fall. Writers share their experiences with culture over the summer, what they missed about Ann Arbor and what has changed in the city upon their return.
Each year I expect everything to have changed completely when I return to Ann Arbor for the fall. Yet each year, as I merge off of highway I-94 with suitcases and school supplies in tow, my expectations are never met. The city has the same street signs, flashing red lights and corner stores as it did in months prior. Every fall I return to things just as I left them.
My house is the same as it was when I left. I come home to a porch full of people talking with one another, laughing at a joke I’ve been absent for during my summer travels. I feel a bit distant from the closeness of the housemates who have stayed together during the warmer days of the year. Yet, they still greet me with their familiar smiles. Soon enough, it feels as though I’ve never left.
When I walk into work to pick up this week’s schedule, my manager shakes my hand hello just as she shook it goodbye in May. We’re still serving the same special drinks. Even the moody old woman who always files complaints is there asking for a refund on what she ordered. Perhaps the only thing that’s different is the new coat of paint on the walls. But even that is pretty much the same shade of red, just a bit darker.
My friends are also the same as they were before. We laugh at the same inside jokes that we always have. We still like to hang out at the same spots and eat in the same restaurants as we usually do. My friends look just as they did when we left school, only maybe a bit more tan. When I greet them they are alive with stories about the past four months, eagerly waiting to tell me everything I’ve missed while we’ve been apart. I want to tell them every single detail of my summer, too. When I try to relay my stories to them, I find myself growing frustrated. My words don’t seem to do my experiences justice. So much happened over the short period of time that we’ve been apart. The summer feels like a wonderful blur that has left me a different person than I was before.
As Welcome Week wears on, I can sense my mind drifting away from the dreamy allure of May, June, July and August. Soon enough, it’s caught in the swing of university life. I feel myself shifting to the person I was before I left for the summer. I begin to doubt that I’ve even changed at all. To my friends, I worry, I probably seem exactly the same.
I want to feel comforted by the routine familiarity of my surroundings upon returning to school. Yet, my stomach is unsettled. Perhaps it’s because I somehow expected Ann Arbor to have changed just as much as I did over the past four months. Maybe these feelings are simply a result of the natural progression of getting older. I’m an upperclassman now. This is what it feels like to be confident in the city I’ve lived in for the past two years. This is how it feels to no longer want to impress those older and with more college experience than me. I should be happy with how smooth everything is going. Yet, what should feel comfortable just feels downright unsettling.
When I was a freshman, I had wanted so badly to feel comfortable in Ann Arbor. But now, I can’t help but strive for some sort of obstacle to overcome. I turn off my cell phone and walk a route I never have before just to see if I can get lost. I know the campus like the back of my hand, though, and I get to my destination in no time at all. Maybe I should be grateful for the confidence that comes with familiarity. But it is only human nature to desire what we can’t have. And right now, all I want is to be uncomfortable.