I received a text from my mom confirming that the check-up went well, and the mass in my dog Bosco’s stomach wasn’t cancerous. Two days later, I was studying in Frist for my psychology midterm the following day when a text from my mom popped up on my computer screen next to my notes about eighteenth-century mental institutions. She texted my sisters and I that the doctors were putting Bosco down because of internal bleeding. She asked me to FaceTime her to say goodbye.
I immediately sprinted from Frist to my dorm room, leaving my computer and backpack behind. I called my mom on FaceTime and started crying when her teary-eyed face appeared on the screen. It is very hard to see the people you love cry. She moved the phone down so that I could see Bosco, who was lying there still wagging her tail like she always did when she was happy. However, her lackluster eyes told a different story. A part of me wanted to keep her forever, but another part of me felt selfish for letting her live in pain for so long. I’ll never forget the cracked words that left my mom’s mouth, so real and yet so unbelievable all at the same time. “Bosco’s gone. She’s gone.”
The feeling in my room changed. The room in which I felt safe even with the door taped. The room in which I held pre-games with teammates. The single in Walker Hall I once hated and learned to love. Suddenly the room where I had been secure became the room where my dog died. This was the first time I experienced grief, and it was here at Princeton, thousands of miles away from my family in Texas. Living away from home was never easy for me; my homesickness followed me into December of that freshman year. I can’t count how many times I fell asleep with my mom on speaker, finding comfort in her voice, her laughter, even her coughs. Eventually, I found myself actually enjoying things here instead of just getting through them. Princeton became my second home within a few months.
You don’t have to be homesick to miss home, and you don’t have to be unhappy here to feel lonely. I think everyone has had a feeling of loneliness here, with a simultaneous longing for home. When Bosco died, I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt because I hadn’t been with her in her last few months. I realized then that Princeton really is a bubble. It is easy to forget that there is this whole other world going on, outside of campus. Sometimes the bubble can be comforting, providing us with security, free laundry, late meal, and other valuable resources. However, sometimes the bubble isolates us. Time seems to stand still here. When my parents visit, they somehow look ten times older. When I returned home for fall break this year, I had a house. When I returned over winter break, I was living in a high rise, all my clothes packed up in boxes. However, when I step off the Dinky onto campus, everything feels the same, just how I left it.
Some days I love being sucked into this Princeton dimension. Staying up late in Firestone, surrounded by many other students who are in the same boat. Walking back to my room at midnight without feeling the need to look over my shoulder. And yet, some other days, I realize I haven’t called my mom in a week. I have no idea what is happening in the news. I am not keeping track of all the money I am spending so casually with my prox.
One of my teammates spent Easter with her grandmother, and a few weeks later, her grandma passed away. I walked with her to practice that day, and she broke down in tears as we crossed over Streicker Bridge. She told me how hard it is to listen to her parents cry over the phone. How she cries every time she leaves home, even though she looks forward to going back to school. I think that when we return to this bubble, this amazing, comforting, isolating bubble, we know that means we must leave some things behind.
Winnie Brandfield-Harvey is a sophomore from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.