I can’t look at the pictures yet. I know exactly which ones I love most: PC and Ellie resting on the grass on our first day home, a blurry Andrew pointing at the camera on his birthday, Allyson grinning widely with orange-painted cheeks at House Olympics. When I think about our lives in Quinby, I’m reminded of what we’ve lost, and I’m overcome by a deep, unrelenting sadness that knocks the wind out of me.
I’m unsure how to hold this pain that stems from having to leave Quinby House prematurely. All things considered, I know that my Quinby-based sadness is trivial and that I have much to be thankful for. I have my health. I have a safe home to return to. I have two more years at Bowdoin ahead of me. Amid the horrific pandemic we currently face, I’m privileged to be able to mourn the loss of a non-necessity, and I strive to acknowledge that privilege. All things considered, this pain is insignificant.
And yet still, I hurt. I hurt in a way that I never expected to hurt over a College House. It’s a pain that leaves me breathless. It’s a pain I carried as I drove to Brunswick to collect a year’s worth of memories, as I said physically-distanced goodbyes to my housemates, as I packed my car and left alone.
This pain sits inside of me and forces me to confront the terrifying reality that I’ve lost a life defined by joy and community and have gained a life defined by solitude. I’m far from alone in confronting this reality, but it’s frighteningly easy to feel alone in this moment; to feel that past, cherished experiences are all I have. And as of now, I still hurt, and I will for some time.
I leave part of myself at 250 Maine Street, in its nonsensical layout, in its worn chapter room. On days when I felt wholly alone at Bowdoin and would fight tears on my walk home, I found comfort in telling myself that I could exhale the moment that I crossed the Quinby threshold and was reunited with the housemates I love. During this time of pandemonium, I want nothing more than to find that same relief in returning to that space and to those people, but that space is no longer ours.
I feel haunted by the time we’ve lost. I don’t know how to let go of the fleeting hope for a spring together and the broken expectation that we would have more time to shape our collective experience in our House. I’m in “terra incognita”; our lives in Quinby have been stashed into the recesses of ‘what once was.’ I mourn the experiences we never shared, the memories we never created, the words we never said.
I fear that I’ll describe Quinby and my life there with this abrupt ending serving as a ‘but’ to my statement. I still feel that we deserved more time, and it’s nearly impossible for me to feel grateful, but I can only hope to one day remember this year through the moments that make clear why I feel this pain so acutely. Quinby mattered and loss stings. To preserve my sanity, I have to hold onto the moments that stand out.
It’s a Friday in November, and I’m back. The party we are hosting is nothing more than an abject failure, a near total no-show. The presence of a handful of first-years momentarily boosts morale, but for all intents and purposes, our basement is empty. Eva and Lauren, our dutiful E-Hosts, wait upstairs for party-goers who will never appear. Considering the sparse crowd, tonight, we’re playing what we want. And we want Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” The song’s iconic synth floods the room. We few remaining Quinby residents begin the “Dancing On My Own” experience slowly; we dance half-heartedly until the building energy is irresistible, and we give in completely to the heartbroken anthem.
Just as the song swells to its phenomenal, explosive chorus, Lauren and Eva burst in to join the moment. Our E-Hosts have abandoned their sworn duties, but as Eva explains, “if nobody else is coming, who cares?”
And so, alone in the basement, Quinby dances. Regardless of how absurd we look to the few remaining first-years in our home, we dance, laugh and sing along with wild abandon.
I hold onto this moment now. I hold onto the door swinging open and the two young women running to join us. I hold onto the lights illuminating the hundreds of names spray-painted on the basement walls.
This moment serves as a reminder that yes, we were here. Quinby was once ours and we knew it and we loved it and we mattered to each other and Quinby mattered to us. I take a breath, I shut my eyes, I hold on. For a moment, the dust settles, the world slows its turn and it’s almost like I’m home again.
Blaine Stevens is a member of the Class of 2022.