Last Friday night, I begrudgingly left my couch, bidding farewell to the slice-and-bake cookies and small group of friends amassed at my off-campus residence, to make the trek to Reed House. Underclassmen are often surprised to learn that I lived there—after all, I don’t play Frisbee and I stopped paying my Outing Club dues after my first year. Though my tenure as Reed House proctor afforded me some distance from housecest and Thursday night beer pong, I still drank from the Skippy pot and was a proud Thomas Brackett Reed devotee.
Although I’ve been back since living there, this was my first time returning as a senior. Embarking on my final semester at Bowdoin, I was prepared for a wave of nostalgia, alienation and reflection provided by my upperclassman status.Turning onto a dimly-illuminated Boody Street with some former housemates, I felt the energy and anticipation that I experienced the first night I stumbled upon Reed my freshman year. We passed the self-designated bouncers at the front door, too cool to be bothered by X’s on the back of our hands—besides, we weren’t going to drink their beer anyways.
Once my glasses unfogged, I beelined to the living room to shed some layers. That first stop in my homecoming tour brought back fond memories of late nights reading and eating gelato on the couches. It also unearthed not-so-fond memories of the gendered dynamics of house meetings, where men shouted over female residents in spirited debates over whether or not an exclusive party email made for an inclusive house. Female residents not-so-jokingly referred to the “Reed patriarchy” as my fellow male housemates’ voices and bodies took up the majority of the house’s space.
After reflecting for a hot second, I gathered two friends and we headed to the basement, carefully descending the steep stairs slick with spilled PBR and sweat. Through the strobe lights and mass of bodies, we scouted out an empty corner. Partly protected by the lighting and not feeling the need to impress anyone, we shed our inhibitions and began to dance as only three washed-up house alumni could dance.
College House basements are notorious breeding grounds for sloppy hookups, yet we Reedies always claimed that our quirky basement possessed a different charm. We lived under the illusion that our space was different because we blasted “Stacy’s Mom” and “Mr. Brightside” while Outing Club leaders played beer pong in their underwear. And I partially believed that illusion.
As we gyrated and flailed, I noticed two women dancing and making out—a relatively uncommon sight for a College House basement. While there were many more heterosexual pairs throughout the house, I fixated on this couple. Perhaps my observations only served to fetishize this spectacle of queerness. Or perhaps this provided my queer self with a sense of comfort and happiness, for I never felt comfortable expressing my sexuality in those spaces.
After grinding on each other for several minutes and working up a sweat, we headed upstairs to pee. En route to the second floor bathroom, a friend and I poked our heads into her old room. While the layout had changed, we found some familiar faces, and we made small talk with current and past residents while taking pulls from a communal bottle of liquor (the upper floors of College Houses seem to follow a slightly modified alcohol policy). As people cycled in and out of the bedroom, I noticed that some of my former housemates had already become well-acquainted with current residents, with arms slung around a few of them.
I finally made it to the bathroom, where I casually eavesdropped on a couple of women from my stall. In that bathroom, one of the few residential spaces not regulated by a gender binary, I recalled towel-clad small talk with housemates. I also remembered extended conversations at the beginning of the semester about making the bathrooms gender neutral. Later, this morphed into heated discussions as female residents chastised men for peeing all over the toilet seats.
I was reminded of the path that my housemates and I used to follow on a typical party night—a restless waltz in search of friends, snacks, beer and oftentimes potential (if unsuccessful) hookups. Retracing that circuit two years later, I guess I expected something different. Reed was still the same—crunchy sophomores in flannels and aloof upperclassmen who rarely showed their faces moving throughout the house, flirting and dancing and talking and reproducing the same gendered dynamics and spatial organization that I lived and loved two years ago.
While I had always felt somewhat carefree in this environment, a comfort granted by my position as a white male, I felt even more carefree this time. Reentering this space as a senior, I felt a certain detachment and realized that I held power as an upperclassman in this space. As sophomores, my housemates and I always viewed the older alumni with reverence, and now I moved throughout the house with the egotistical assumption I was now this mythologized senior.
I felt simultaneously at home and foreign, re-encountering the same vignettes, though faces and furniture placement were somewhat different. I returned to my quaint off-campus house, leaving behind the stench of beer and unfamiliar familiarity of the house that I had once called home, critically reflecting with fresh eyes dewy with nostalgia.