From the August 2003 day that I loaded my Plymouth Breeze with clothes and dorm room essentials for the three hour drive along Highway 14 to the one in May 2010 when I packed my professional belongings in a box and walked out of the 815 Medary for the last time, I’ve never spent more than a couple of months out of Brookings. Even while in Idaho, I made an effort to visit every few months. In some aspects, Brookings has become more home to me than Pierre.
This weekend, I went to Brookings to see an old college friend and reunite with this city that I also consider an old friend. Like much of experience in readjusting back to American life, it feels the same yet so different.
I often view this town as two different places: College Brookings and Post-College Brookings. In college, my life took place on campus and various businesses downtown, but post-college, I ventured beyond Sixth Street, Main and Medary. Not much changed within city limits, but the person during my first bout in Brookings was completely different than my second. I came to Brookings as a recent high school graduate with the vision that I’d be married in a few years. I left to explore the world. Everything from my taste in music to my political and religious beliefs changed during those seven years.
Now, Brookings is a morgue for past versions of myself. There is the coffee shop Jeremy and I met regularly to make plans for The Collegian and that I later retreated to scribble notes and ideas for the creation of ThePostSD.com. The bar that was my favorite in college and the bar that became our escape post-college, which my friends and I still consider out ultimate tavern. The apartment on Medary, Nicole and Faculty. The streets where I ran to run away. Each corner is another memory and another stepping stone to the life that I have now.
When I moved back to Brookings from Idaho, I felt like a failure, like returning to your college town is worse than going home. I feared that by returning to Brookings I would become some sort of has-been, someone who couldn’t let go. Worse, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to leave again.
However that year, before I moved to Sioux Falls and commuted for work, was one of my best. At the time, I had strong friendships and a job that I loved, and deeply miss now. I realize now how important my second go in Brookings was. Just after the one-year mark of being back, I applied for the Peace Corps and began developing ThePostSD.com, two things I am not entirely sure would’ve happened with another town backdrop.
Going back at this point, when the dream that cultivated in Brookings has shattered, I see both versions of my past self and remember the hope that I held. And no matter what I thought then, I now see that I had a darn good life in both instances.
Brookings is part of my past, but in a very fond way. It’s nice to visit and smile at memories, but it’s not a resting point. It never was.