It’s Friday morning. Graced with early move-in access, my dad and I cruise onto campus in a rented Chevy Tahoe. He waits in the car while I run to retrieve my new, shiny prox from the orange tent outside New South. I jump back in and we make our way as close to my new dorm room as campus roads can take us. It’s located in a different part of campus from the past three and is by far the biggest yet.
Dad and I: We’re a well-oiled move-in machine. It’s our fourth time doing this dance, and we’ve finally got the rhythm, tempo and steps all figured out. We know what time of day Walmart is most likely to have futons in stock. We can estimate with astonishing accuracy how many hooks and nails it will take to properly hang a full-length mirror on these hard-as-bedrock dorm walls. We no longer need to use the GPS to find the local Target, and we’ve figured out the best ways to convince the attendant in the booth on Elm Drive to let us park on campus for more than a measly 20 minutes.
After a couple hours of move-in labor — Dad hard at work on the futon assembly process, me hard at work attempting to stuff more clothes than anyone should ever own into these drawers — we’ll take a break. I’ll pick up sandwiches from the Wa — mustard on his, jalapenos on both — and we’ll catch our breath on the picnic tables behind New South.
We’ll talk about the first time we ate sandwiches in this spot, just three long years ago, when I was buzzing with the kind of excitement that only a freshman who just arrived at college can feel. That time, I would take breaks from my sandwich to text one of my new OA friends. “You have friends already! Look at this!” my mom would exclaim, proudly and maybe a bit sadly too.
This time, my back-to-school excitement is shadowed by a twinge of sadness that I can’t quite shake. Just when Dad and I have figured out all the secrets — we chuckle quietly at the freshman who seems to have brought his entire extended family with him to move in — it’s time to give our final bow and pass the baton to the next family driving up Elm in a rental car.
But for now, I’ll revel in the beauty of the routine — the one my dad and I have created and the many ones I’ve built in my time on this campus. It took a few years of settling and shifting to get here, but now I’ve finally found my own, perfect Princeton: the one that knows me just as well as I know it. It’s got my patterns and quirks down pat; it expects to see me crossing a dewy, empty campus to go to breakfast each morning, buying gummi bears in the C-Store whenever I have a few too many papers to write and wearing my winter coat well before my peers even think about breaking out theirs.
This place may be watching me, but I’ve been watching it too: I know what weeks in the semester will be the toughest, where the snowfall looks the prettiest on campus and what emails to respond to, despite the burning temptation to ignore them. Princeton and I have entered into the soft and woolly stage of our relationship: All is perfectly familiar.
On Sunday, I’ll hug my dad goodbye and watch him and our well-practiced routine drive off to the airport. We’ll be doing this again, I know. Next time, the Bed Bath & Beyond will be in a different zip code. I may have a landlord, a stove and a bed larger than a twin XL, but I know we’ll be doing this again.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/13/31072/