Berkeley is the only city in America where the winter and summer sky are the same cold blue. I was reminded of that fact at home over winter break, when I was out for a walk along the side of the road. I remember feeling so far away from Berkeley as I looked up at a sky with the same gray color as the asphalt at my feet. The sky is always blue in Berkeley. And at sunset, the cold blue dissolves into the warmer colors of childhood like melting pastel crayons made to be held by small hands in the smaller grades of K-5. If I’m sure of anything about this city after four years, it’s that people like to take pictures of that sunset.
The thing is, I don’t care much for the sky or the weather in Berkeley, although I’m fairly confident they will be the first things I recall and the easiest to convey to anyone who has never visited. What really mattered were all the little events that went on below that sky. The moments I’ll forget in time, if only because I can’t possibly remember everything and I’m better off letting go of some of it anyway. So, before these memories disappear, before I forget what I ought to say goodbye to now, here is my goodbye to this city.
Goodbye to the dormitory I stayed in freshman year, the one that was so far away I’d leave 20 minutes early for everything, including the laundry room. I used to count out the 100 steps from the bottom of the hill to our fourth-floor suite and then immediately grab a new shirt. Goodbye to the poster above my bed that said, “Finish Your Beer There’s Sober Kids in India,” and the bucket hat I kept in my closet for sunny days. But now that I think of it, I don’t want to say goodbye to that view, and not only because every concert was practically free from our balcony above the Hearst Greek Theatre, but because I could never have felt that high up anywhere at home.
Goodbye to that first lecture, at which I waited in my seat with knees jittering for the professor to quit fiddling with the microphone. I can still hear the scratchy sound in my voice during that first discussion section. Was it embarrassment or puberty? And what about the tingling that enveloped my sides on that first Friday night? We walked up to a house so boarded up that only a faint thumping penetrated the air. And we drank fire out of little paper cups. A fire that tasted like ethanol with a hint of cinnamon, as advertised. And to this day, I can smell that first Saturday morning. Should I say goodbye to all that?
Goodbye to all the student organizations I joined fall of freshmen year. The ones I thought I had to be in to make friends. I didn’t need all the drama of that crowd: the tabling, the budgeting and the training. More than I want to admit, I came with a mood only captured by the expression, “I’m only here because I have to.” Goodbye to the societies and orders and rows of houses on certain crossing streets, with their pendants and songs, composites and house projects. We spent idle afternoons on lawns playing country club games. Only the paddles, rackets and clubs were swapped for beer and more beer. It was never really about all that, though some of it was fun. What mattered was the family we made together — and the recruitment T-shirts.
In saying goodbye, I am reminded that for every little pain, there was a little joy, the two as inseparable from each other as the cold blue sky and the warming Crayola sunset. But this goodbye demands more than a recollection of feelings accumulated under a colored sky. We are saying goodbye to a stage of life that can never be recaptured again, no matter how many times we return to this city. It’s the goodbye we made, quietly or even without notice, as we put away the training wheels on our first bicycle. We can ride this bike now, for better or worse; goodbye to the driveway and hello to the open road.