When I moved out of my bedroom, first to the guest room then into a dorm here at Princeton, I was ready. Well I should say that until I had to pack all my shit up in boxes and drive it to my uncle's in New York, I was ready. Ready to get the fuck out of my noisy house and the hollow city where I lived the first eighteen years of my life.
At that time I didn't identify as being "from St. Louis." Neither of my parents is from St. Louis. To me, it was always a place to be in between the times when I was really living, the times when I was in New York with my grandparents, or in Chicago with my girlfriend. I never really felt at home in St. Louis, until I moved away.
The first house my family lived in was near the end of a row of all but identical two story houses. Across the street was a playground infamous for solicitations of sex scrawled on the inside of the tubular slide, and littered with detritus like the hypodermic needle my four-year-old brother stuck himself with while playing "doctor." We launched Estes rockets at dusk, and drank from the fountain just past the pond frequently in the news for its toxic water.
We then moved to a bigger house, in a suburban part of the city. We were near another park, a nicer one. Bordered on one side by highway 44 and on another by a steep, ivy-covered hill that led up to a historic reservoir. One time we found a child's toy jeep in an alley and took turns riding it down the hill until it was in pieces. When a big sycamore blew down, my brothers, some friends and I dug tunnels in the roots and came home covered in dirt.
Coming back home after being here in Princeton, everything about St. Louis was familiar to me. The brick facades and vinyl siding of the postage stamp houses, the DONUT shops, abandoned buildings, and cobwebs of one-way streets together felt like me, I recognized myself in the aesthetic, linguistic and physical landscape of my hometown. Walking around my neighborhood in the long light of late fall, St. Louis glowed.
This feeling of recognition was thrown into sharp relief because here, at school, I don't feel that. I don't recognize myself in the landscape of Princeton. Although it is often incredibly beautiful, I feel removed from its beauty as if I were looking at a postcard.
Moving onto campus was an unbelievably exciting time for me. I couldn't wait to start the next chapter of my life and absorb the wealth of experiences that Princeton has to offer. Exploring campus with some new friends I was struck by the beauty of Chancellor's green. The high stained glass windows, wood inlay floors and dozens of carrels still seem the physical manifestation of scholarship.
By showing me the imperfect beauty of St. Louis, moving to Princeton released a great weight that has tugged at me my whole life, but it has in turn also generated an incredible fear within me. A fear that the iteration of myself, which was proud to be a product of St. Louis, will slowly cease to exist as Princeton becomes my dominant influence.
Princeton's immaculate lawns and quite footpaths are often at odds with this former iteration of myself. I made vows not to compromise my own values yet I have at times enabled the intolerance of my peers. And in this way my fear is made even more horrible, because I feel helpless to halt this transformation.
In my second week here at school I remember saying that I had "just raped that math problem." I caught my breath. I couldn't believe that I had just said that. Using such a vile term as a positive adjective literally sickened me. It was at that moment that it dawned on me, and as it did I grew more and more horrified. o my roommates, this phrase was not only benign; it conveyed an exaggerated heterosexuality that the group seemed to demand. I realized that I will change and that there is nothing I can do to stop it.
In this last semester I have gone through many conversions, and I continue to transform in a way that feels out of my control. I now live away from my family, am a college student and have come to love St. Louis as my home. But I also have a deep fear of another inevitable transformation that is already under way. As my experiences shape who I am, I hope that I will always have St. Louis to remind me of who I was.