This week Godzilla, my eldest child, began at university.
The same university that my husband and I went to.
The same university my brothers and my brother-in-law went to.
The same university my husband and I met at. Where I started post-graduate studies while pregnant with Godzilla. Where I have worked on and off for many years, taking children to lectures with me when they were too sick to go to school.
The same university where I still feel a sense of homecoming, of comfort, of excitement, and of deep longing to learn every time I set foot on campus.
We walk around the campus looking for Godzilla’s lecture theatres, labs, and tutorial rooms. I am delighted to find that I still know where most of them are (even the ones over in the School of Physics, which I haven’t been in since 1987). It feels like introducing him to an old friend, pointing out her greatest qualities, and some of her pitfalls. But it’s also like discovering together the changes she’s made; the new hat, the feather boa, the splash of colour from a new Graduate School of Education, the blush of the fancy Business School, that distract from the sagging wrinkles of buildings in need of updating and overburdened car parks (parking lots).
An odd sense of disquiet descends. At once familiar and alien, this place that has been so much a part of my life, my milestones, is now suddenly more foreign. A lover who’s left me behind to move on to younger models. It’s as it should be, of course. Universities are living entities, imbued with the essence of their current crop of students and faculty.
They’re also repositories for the past, for traditions and memories, for stories and adventures. So, I weave together the stories of my university, our university for him.
We walk around the rugby oval his father spent New Year’s Eve 1990 circumnavigating in search of me, while I was holed up in the bathroom of my friend’s apartment across the road, spewing the contents of my stomach into the toilet.
I point out the offices of the social club where I was first treasurer, and then secretary, the social club that his father and I met through.
We find his lecture theatres, and I give him landmarks to find them again when his classes start (no, the SSLT is the one opposite the Japanese gardens and koi pond, near the Arts carpark).
We sign him up at the university gym and I show him the squash courts my brother and I spent so much of our time at, the basketball courts his uncle practically lived on, the gym where I learned to box. We talk about how there used to be enormous, constantly churning containers of ice cold Staminade in the foyer, about how that was the part of the squash game I’d look forward to the most.
We walk past the labs my eldest brother inhabited for more years than either he or I care to remember, where his PhD research was conducted, where I rarely visited him for fear of cramping his style.
I deliberately, carefully don’t take him to the bench where his father first asked if he could kiss me. I don’t show him the cafe (since converted to offices) where we would regularly go for lunch. I avoid the chemistry labs that still trigger a tightening of my stomach more than 30 years on.
Stories should always have some element of mystery, and options for inserting your own narrative.
We linger, a little unnecessarily. Him, nervously. Me, wistfully. In the silence, I bestow the mantle of future narratives to him. It’s his turn to create the stories.
Image credit: By User:Orderinchaos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18899453