Recently, while talking to my father on the phone, I told him that I had already graduated, that I was done with this place. I made this announcement sitting on the back porch of my off-campus house, letting the sun wash across my face, sipping coffee out of a stolen Deece mug. There was silence on the other end of the line. My father had nothing to say. The following day I answered the door to find a bottle of champagne sitting on the porch and a receipt from Poughkeepsie Wine & Liquor, a graduation present.
I, like many others, have not seen my family in months. When the pandemic erupted over spring break, I fled my home in New York City to stay in my dusty house on Lagrange Avenue. My house has been passed down through generations of Vassar students, gaining a reputation as a hot-spot for off-campus parties.
It is needless to say that the house is gross, very gross. This fall, my housemate filled the bathtub with ramen noodles and boiling water for his sketch comedy group (one of the few activities I won’t miss about college). The tub is now not only littered with goopy flaccid noodles, but also worms that hide in its porcelain crevices to eat said noodles. The kitchen has its own share of traumatic events to show for as well: the stinky splattered remains of food explosions that line the microwave, the pestering grease stains which cover the fake marble floors, and the lingering scent of a Joe’s Crab Shack which has persisted in the months following my failed attempt at cooking lobster.
There are endearing parts of the house’s college-ness too. There are the random decorations which adorn the space—hot dog water written in glossy sticker letters plastered to the living room wall, miniature print-outs of motivational cat posters (a la the “hang in there” variety) taped to the bathroom mirror, and origami swans I found floating from the ceiling of my bedroom the first day I moved in. There are the vibrant wall colors—the living room bright pink, the kitchen dark blue, and my bedroom, my favorite, a calm autumn yellow. The walls have been painted over and over again by students, each coat imperfectly done, giving away the colors which laid before it. These days I’ve found myself lying on my bed staring at the white ceiling moldings, counting the freckles of autumn yellow, key lime green, and pale purple paint, imagining all the generations of Vassar students who came before me.
As classes have gone remote, being so close to Vassar has left me feeling farther from my peers than ever before. On the days I leave the house, I bike around campus searching for a pair of familiar eyes peeking above a face mask. Oftentimes, I do stumble upon someone I know—a kid from my political science seminar, a professor whose class I always wanted to take but never got the chance to, a small aging chihuahua whose owner has carried him around campus for years. When I lock eyes with these acquaintances I don’t find the solace I had hoped for. Instead, I’m left with one question ringing in my ears: What are you still doing here? I imagine they are asking the same of me.
Before the world came crashing down, my girlfriend’s professor asked her class, what makes a space a museum? When she repeated this question to me in late February I thought it was dumb. But writing this retrospective in my living room, looking up at the bright pink walls and glossy hot dog water stickers, I can’t help but feel as though my dusty old house is a museum of its own.
This revelation has been paralyzing in its own right. There is something comforting about the fact that another pair of Vassar students will inherit this house: the tupperwares with SMALLENS written on them in large sharpie will hold leftovers of future dinner parties, the pink fairy lights we hung across the basement will illuminate the dance floor for weekends to come, and the scent of a seafood catastrophe will haunt a new group of Vassar students. However, the overwhelming feeling I’m left with is envy.
When I left campus for spring break, I did not know I had danced at my last college party, eaten my final Deece brunch, or sat in my concluding political theory seminar. If I had known, I would have stopped being stingy and put down the deposit for a keg, invited too many people over for dinner to the chagrin of my housemates, gone to office hours to tell my professor that those poems he gave us changed me. But these are choices I can no longer make.
I graduated college the day everyone else left it. Today I am another relic—a stain, a chipped mug, an unexplained crack in the wall—a piece in a museum few will ever see. The story of this house, however, is now mine to tell. And so, to my beautiful, disgusting, home, I raise one final glass of champagne.