2 weeks

My study abroad blog, it began two years ago to chronicle a life in foreign worlds. Back in Chapel Hill, I haven’t been updating it, but with 2 weeks left until graduation, I want to chronicle my simple and beautiful days every day for two weeks. Since I’m starting a day late, I’ll begin with yesterday, Monday.

I wake up on the couch in the study room to the sound of maintenance men in the hallway, startle up. Long night and it was unexpected falling asleep there; I creep upstairs to where my roommate is sleeping. I curl on the blue couch to work. She wakes, gets ready, slips out with an, “I love you, have a great day.”

I prepare to go to my afternoon volunteer job. In the sun, I wait for the D bus, two cop cars nearby dealing with a car accident. I sip my coffee. When I arrive at my job down Franklin street, the Chapel Hill Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, one of my favorite  residents who spends his Monday afternoons on the porch greets me. “Hey there, you! How was your Easter!?” It’s been a week and we have news to catch up on. I sit on a white rocking chair beside his wheelchair and talk to him in the sun and breeze. I go inside to prepare for the bells choir activity– a music therapy where a community member comes to work with the residents; she gets them to move their arms and dance by shaking bells to tunes from a gray CD player. I see another beautiful resident in the hallway on her way out the door, another favorite. I ask how she is– “So happy, I can’t say I’ve ever been better, ms. volunteer, I’m so happy, so happy to see you. Just so glad to see you, ms. volunteer.” She keeps smiling and hugging me. “I’m just going to go to Whole Foods and sit outside and play cards,” she tells me, showing me her deck and inviting me along. I long to go with her, sit in the warm day, play cards all afternoon, but I have to decline. Her joy, though, leaves me smiling and I am filled with that intangible beauty that reminds me how wonderful this simple, glorious life is.  With this smile, I help move residents to the afternoon activity, play bells with them, and at the end of my two hours there, I take the resident who earlier was sitting on the front porch to his room, negotiate his wheelchair so he can see the TV and make sure it’s on the right channel. I remind him it’s my last day and, there, thinking about how we’ve enjoyed such company together, how I’ve fed him and helped him play bingo because he has no ability to use his own arms, how we’ve shared calm days and conversation, how he always tells my supervisor I’m his favorite volunteer. I say,  “Thank you for letting me know you.” Someone told me that once, and I thought, what a nice way to say goodbye. Thank you for letting me know you. Be there. Thanks for sharing some small part of my life. I leave, help one last resident move to her room, sign out. My supervisor hands me my evaluation form but first reads it to me: “Caroline, I said you’re excellent, wonderful, very dedicated on Mondays– a joy to have around. Lots of smiles and enthusiasm each week.” I want to say, it’s easy to have the smiles, be dedicated, have joy when there are people around you who rejuvenate you. She hopes more volunteers from UNC come to help here and not just for a class. Spread the word, she says. I will, I promise, glowing with her kind words and evaluation– people are so generous and beautiful. “Shoot an email!” She reminds me to stay in touch as I leave.

At the bus stop, I run into the same student I’ve been waiting at this bus stop with for the entire semester. I laugh when I see him, take out my ipod, tell him, we’ve been waiting at this bus stop together for a semester, sharing nods of acknowledgment and smiles, what’s his name? We talk about his voice lessons– the reason he comes down here and waits for the bus– and his major, my major, our life plans (we’re both seniors) and I get on the F bus. He says he’ll wait for the D bus. At University Mall, John my friend and co-worker from the Inn gets on per usual, riding it from his job at Spice Street to the Inn. When I call his name, he sits with me and we laugh and talk about the normal drama of our lives before I stumble out at the Battle Lane stop and head home.

My mom brings me a few things I forgot at home yesterday on Easter; I kiss her through the car window outside my dorm. I go to my forensic psych class.

At some point, I realize I’ve neglected the suite thread on Facebook; I go online to post a quick reply to someone– just to show I’m alive. This thread is between my 8 best friends and suitemates from freshman year (including honorary suitemate Sherene); on this thread, for 4 years, we’ve written each other daily to talk about life and events; these are 4 years of messages, trivialities, laughter, break-ups, new relationships, deaths,  life, successes, and funny youtube videos. The thread begins with the bold subject line “NEWMAN,” the fish I won the first week of college, who we had a death scare with but who pulled through and kept me company for a year until he died of separation anxiety the following summer,  a good fish, immortalized in our subject line.  The thread is the one constant in 4 years where we’ve all grown and changed so much. The thread captures our life together, pieces of it, and connects us. Thousands of messages.

After my forensic class, I go to our final formal Project Dinah meeting–I am thinking about how beautiful and amazing a year we’ve had with so many empowering and successful events: our 1st ever violence awareness week, survivor photography exhibit campaign, rape free zone, all new female O event, amazing speak out, take back the night, benefit concerts, networking nights, film screenings, self-defense seminars, awareness picnics. Chelsea cries; Sherene, she,and I share our final words and love as Seniors; we have a 3-way hug in the doorway holding onto each other at the end.

Afterward, I go to Christina’s senior documentary project screening: a celebration of the collaborative multimedia effort where a group of UNC students traveled to Mexico over Spring Break and shot intense, gentle, real and beautiful stories about different people living there. From a woman working in a dump to a group of indigenous people living in white tents in protest outside the Mexican government, the stories were powerful. Short and sweet, aching. Reframing Mexico is the name of the project and they are launching their website and all their multimedia on Cinco de Mayo. Look for it. They truly inspire me. I hug her and feel such pride and love for this beautiful friend of mine.

I pop out afterward to meet a group in the Union to work on our final project; I see Matty Fox who tells me the EVE scholarship exec is having a meeting upstairs. I love those meetings, though I’ve only attended them a few times; the amazing life and energy of the students in that room has always made me feel like Eve’s spirit and the Carolina Way are so alive and well in our community. They celebrate and share and show me the type of people and peers Chancellor Thorp talked about in his Herald Sun article this week– Carolina students who live and dance and do good work.

By the time I’m finished with the group project, though, it’s 10pm and I go back to the room to write a paper and I pull an all nighter. Watching the morning rise is still beautiful, even when I’m tired and stressed.

In the morning, having not slept, I brew coffee, eat my Kashi, run to my psych research lab through the arboretum and the rain to Davie where my group presents on our PostSecret study. The entire project we’re presenting is  awesome: the past 3 weeks I’ve been working with this great group of 3 other individuals to create original research and conduct the study–then we ended up having significant findings on emotional contagion effect on the Internet– and yes, I love my school. The creativity and knowledge is always enough to inspire.

The sun has come out by the time I make it out of class. I walk out of my way to go to the sundial outside the Morehead Planetarium where the scent of the roses after rain is heavy in the humid air. I soak it up, go back to Kenan, finish my paper (finally), and go to class.

There, I write prose while simultaneously taking notes. I have to write and read some prose for my poetry class at 3:30 and hadn’t done it yet. I churn out a long single-spaced page of potential, something about a trailer trash love affair, but it’s got a few nice lines. When it gets bad, we do that, wonder why we fell or trusted. But it’s a useless question; we are a generation of lost people who graffiti sentiments on railway trestles in some weird search for intimacy but at the same time consummate our love in alleyways and bathroom stalls.

I print it fast in the UL after class, meet Evan at the ATMS, get in the car; Becky, Alisha, and I sit 3 across in the backseat, drive the long beautiful roads out and out into the countryside to my professor’s house; our windows are down for the spring air. This is a special occasion, going to his house, this is a celebration and a goodbye, our final class after a year of writing honors theses together. With the peaceful countryside around, in his living room, we summon the chi, which our professor calls the writing muse, line up facing the windows and together say a long meditative “om” to center ourselves. On the table, we have cheeses, the last asparagus of his harvest cooked (overcooked, he apologizes) on a nice plate, wine, brownies. We sit in the living room reading prose in the light of so many windows; the beautiful and insightful Lady Jane sits with us, an actress who shares her thoughts on what we’ve written. The day and class is so beautiful. At home again, later, tears spring to my eyes for our class, the end of it, and for Professor Seay who sustained us through a year of writing with peppermints and green pen marks on our poems. Once he even brought his fingerpuppet collection and played them until we were laughing so hard at him wiggling his fingers and making voices. Tomorrow is our honors poetry ceremony to receive our cords. It wasn’t about the thesis or the gold cord, in the end.

Finally, I take a nap, the all-nighter is getting to me. An hour later I wake up, finish some poetry, read an email from my big brother where he sent me a beautiful youtube video of an old man asking for equal rights on LGBTQ marriage; it makes me cry. I go to sit outside at the abandoned house for the spring night; on my way out, a woman is icing cupcakes in the Kenan lobby and the smell fills all the hallways; an RA has left cookies outside her room for her residents.

After it all, I come back upstairs and write about how this is two weeks– how I’m trying to slow things down and notice them as they end. Here, every step is appreciated. Carolina, my soul.

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