Returning to Ann Arbor one last time

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 5:14pm

Eli Rallo

Eli Rallo Buy this photo
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I remember the first time I went home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving freshman year. I was so young, so breathless and I hadn’t ever fallen in love — with a person, any midwestern city or myself.  If you told that baby faced 18-year-old whose dorm walls were covered in light pink decorations what would become of the next three years, she would first sob, and then she would kiss your hands. I remember accidentally referencing going back to school as “going home” that first Thanksgiving, which either put a dagger or planted a bed of flowers in my mother’s chest — maybe a bit of both. But that’s just it — it is home. Perhaps not so much in address or birthright, but in sentiment. 

Freshman year was the first time I stepped foot into 420 Maynard St and walked into the newsroom of the Daily, a place that will forever hold my heart in its hands. It’s the early evening I met my redheaded best friend, whom I’ve never wanted to experience life or walk into Panchero’s without ever since. It’s the year I spent sitting across from my roommate on pink and gold coordinated bed sheets recalling tedium of our first classes and the terror of placing trust in the hands of people you only just met. At once, three years in my past feels simultaneously like yesterday and one thousand years ago. 

Three years later, I arrived here in August for a fourth and final time. As we pulled off the exit for Ann Arbor, my best friend and I held hands in the car and fought tears. We were home again, one last time. 

Life and Michigan circle around us in fascinating ways. We realize that nothing, not even a campus this large, is really so gigantic. Everything gets smaller. We’ll know someone’s hands and then we’ll unlearn them. We’ll walk into a class to learn about stats, but walk away learning about life. We learn that luck can be very large and very small. We fall into things for a reason — classes, mass meetings, people, coffee dates. We fall out of things for very similar reasons. The gift of Michigan is that every closed door bears something new right behind the next, right around the corner. This campus has broken my heart twice, afforded me the ability to travel to South Africa to study theatre, fractured and mended me. It has told me that my purpose on this earth is to be a writer; it has given me opportunities and late-night pizza.

This place, for me, is home. It is traveling across the world and meeting a Michigan graduate at a wine tasting, it is the “Go Blue!” we will utter to strangers for eternity, it is 8 a.m. lectures in ten degree weather, it is the memories of our decrepit senior houses, Greenwood Avenue, flights to DTW and strangers who became soulmates. And because home can be a sentiment, an emotion, a tickle in your chest as you walk down familiar streets — we’ll always have this shimmering zip code to come back to, for forever.