On a Tuesday night last fall, I made the fatal error of believing I could effectively read my chemistry textbook while lying down on our common room sofa. Soon I was in a quantum mechanics–induced stupor, half-asleep with the pages of Oxtoby 7th Edition spread across my lap. With my eyes closed, the familiar setting of the suite faded, allowing the background noises of campus to come to life. I heard the arrhythmic drips of an earlier rainstorm that had been reduced to a few raindrops falling from the windowsill above. From Battell Chapel came the solitary grandeur of a late-night music rehearsal, an organ without a congregation. The paths of Old Campus resonated with a revolving set of humanity, conversations fading into earshot before dropping suddenly like a submarine lost on a sonar. I tried to make out the voices of my suitemates returning from Bass, but the discussions of tonight’s problem sets and tomorrow’s trips to Woads could have belonged to any student.
As I listened to these irregular melodies of voices and noise, it struck me that college can be a rather lonely place, especially in that first semester when I felt adrift among people who didn’t know me and a campus that didn’t yet belong to me. My dorm felt familiar, but only in the way a hotel room does after a weeklong stay. It certainly wasn’t home. Home was the place where my family lives, where every floorboard is infused with memory and the decorations aren’t hung with Command hooks. I didn’t miss home, or least not enough to want to go back. I was ready to leave the house I’d grown in, ready to be in a place that was new, surrounded by people whom I hadn’t known since before I could do long division. But if it wasn’t homesickness, I’m not sure quite what to call this feeling. Maybe it was just the nagging sense that I was living in a two-dimensional place, like if I panned out, it would be revealed that I was on a soundstage on the set of a sitcom in some studio lot in southern California.
I guess I spent my first weeks at Yale feeling less like a college student and more like the star of a poorly-scripted cable show about a college student. The spaces I inhabited looked very much like what I had imagined college would be like: the quads, the dorms, the lecture halls, the frat parties. Yet these real-world spaces felt no more real than the images I had pictured back in August when I was busy buying shower flip flops and imagining what life at Yale would be. The Gothic architecture felt no more authentic than it did in the admissions pamphlets. When Google Maps auto-labeled Farnam Hall as my home based on the reasonable observation that this is where I spend each night, I felt like crying, because to accept this as home would mean accepting this hollowness as reality.
But as I lay on the sofa that night, the soul of this campus began to reveal itself through sound. I listened to the symphony that students unwittingly composed through the melody of their voices and footsteps and thought of the endless variations that are performed each night of this routine. It felt unexpected and special, like a secret shared between me and the campus that lay two stories below my open window. This is the first memory I can recall making alone here, one that cut through the shallowness of those first few weeks.
Here was a beauty that couldn’t be found in admissions pamphlets, a beauty that I could rest in and feel just a little bit more at home in. That’s what I was seeking at Yale, but by simply listening, it ended up finding me. And when I feel that sense of home slipping between the cracks of undone work and latent self-doubt, I hold this memory up to my ear and listen for the symphony of Old Campus to break over me like a wave of belonging.
Elizabeth Hopkinson | firstname.lastname@example.org .