Meet Me in St. Louis (Part 1)
Last weekend, I went back to St. Louis for the first time in three years. It’s my college town: four years of growing up, navigating the space between childhood and adulthood, four years of breaking myself apart and putting myself back together again. I did not grow up in St. Louis, but it is the first city that I ever truly felt at home in, the first city that I both knew and loved.
But life happens, and my life took me elsewhere and I eventually ran out of reasons to go back. Most people who made the city home for me no longer call St. Louis home either. The only reason to go back home is for your family, and my family has never been in one place but spread across the country, across continents.
So when, every three years, the WashU Swim & Dive family calls everyone home, we make every effort to go.
And it felt like home the moment I landed. I knew which way to turn, where to grab a taxi. I knew the turns of the highway and the exits to take, the names of the roads, even the patterns of the traffic lights and crosswalks. It was uncanny—at once completely familiar but entirely strange.
I walked onto the bleachers above the pool deck halfway through the current team’s first home meet against SLU. It was unsettling to not enter through the locker room, overwhelming to see so many faces that I loved but hadn’t seen in so long, all in one space. It was jarring to be with these people I loved, not on deck or in the water, but rather in the space of spectators. It was like watching myself three, five, seven years away.
To be honest, I’m still working through everything that came up last weekend. I thought this would be an easy letter to write, but it’s by far the hardest. There was a lot of love and joy and the feeling of being safe, but there was also awkwardness and loneliness and feeling like a fish out of water. It was a homecoming, but also a reconciliation of the 18-year-old me and the 21-year-old me and the 25-year-old me and all of the other mes inbetween. The weekend was at once entirely predictable and entirely surprising and I’m not sure what to make of that yet. It was a literal returning, but you can’t really go back, can you?
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
I want to talk about the smell of chlorine and muscle memory. I want to tell you about holding my best friend’s hand and the coffee shop I used to go to. I want to show you how I managed to pack five pairs of shoes for two days but no tampons, and then I want to show you how my best (male) friend went to Schnuck’s and bought my preferred brand and size while I was flying in. I want to play our old (terrible) music for you and I want you to dance with me. I want to sit with you in front of the Richter paintings and tell you how I watched them dance one summer. I want to take you to the places where I had first and last kisses and where I fell in love. I want to tell you about how 4 years can simultaneously open up and collapse in 48 hours.
But I can’t find the words right now. So until then,