Over the last four years, I’ve spent at least half of my time walking — to and from class, 30-minute treks to the Daily Cal office, late-night trips to buy ice cream.
I like the bus, but I’m partial to a long walk with my headphones in and the city moving around me. I love walking in Berkeley so much so that I’m often a little upset when I finally arrive at my destination.
Not all of my walking has been enjoyable. As a freshman and sophomore, a lot of it involved anxious pacing or attempts to escape somewhere so I wouldn’t have to cry in front of my roommates. My first year and a half of college, I desperately wanted to drop out. I felt lonely and worthless, having a breakdown on the phone with my mom nearly every other day.
I romanticized high school, daydreaming of all the time I spent huddled behind my laptop, glued to my bed. I convinced myself that I was happier then, when I could control the boundaries of my world, mistaking comfort for happiness.
The anxiety I had lived with most of my life, manageable from within the bubble I had crafted for myself back home, was now unavoidable. Living on my own necessitated that I move out into the world. There was no home to escape back to at the end of the day, no momentary solace, because back at my dorm were just two more strangers for my anxiety to contend with. I wanted nothing more than to leave.
Two and a half years later, I want nothing more than to stay.
The particularities of how things improved are boringly obvious (therapy, making friends, getting involved in clubs). But in short, I started moving.
I allowed myself to exist beyond my room, to move across the space of the campus and city, not softly and cautiously, but deliberately. I started giving myself permission to be stupid in front of others, to laugh obnoxiously, to admit I wanted friends. Forcing myself to move opened the space around me and spread my college experience far beyond the reaches of my comfort zone.
Contrary to high school, none of my memories of Berkeley are stuck in one place. When I try to think of the experiences that have defined my time in college, so much of what comes to mind are seemingly benign moments of just walking and thinking. The people and things that have been important to me throughout my four years at Berkeley can’t be found in just one space. They aren’t just with me in the moments that I see them — they’re on my walks home, in early morning runs, in mindless pacing around my apartment. They exist beyond their physical boundaries, carried with me past the moments I’m with them, conversations and jokes replayed in my head and buried across the terrain of the city.
All of the hallucinatory late-night walks home from the Daily Cal office, still laughing about something that barely makes sense, are etched into the space between Hearst Avenue and my apartment. The image of Saoirse Ronan’s mascara-stained face in “Lady Bird” has followed me down Shattuck Avenue since I stepped out of the theater in November 2017. The uphill trek to Evans Hall is lined with memories of Russian class and our attempts to come up with increasingly ridiculous questions for our instructor to avoid doing work.
In four short years, Berkeley has strangely come to feel more like home than the city I was raised in. When my parents come to visit, I show them around with the arrogance of someone who has lived here their whole life. Back in my hometown, I am uncomfortably aware of my own body, detached from the space around me. In Berkeley, my feet have met the city’s sidewalks so often, the soles of my shoes worn down so as to fall comfortably into place with each step. My thoughts and memories are mapped across the city, so tied to the space around me that when I’m back in the house I grew up in, they feel a little less solid, a little less real.
For someone who is generally inclined toward cynicism, it is strange to know that I love a place while I’m still in it. I thought I would have more time to say goodbye to Berkeley in the only way I know how — a long walk around the city and campus. I feel cheated out of a goodbye, doubly so because I spent the better portion of my last semester with a broken leg. I miss walking, not only for its convenience, but because I feel incomplete without it, my memories not fully processed or lived in.
It is hard to let go of something that feels so intrinsic to the person I am now. I don’t know how the places of my future will compare, if my memories will fold into the landscape as they have in Berkeley. Regardless, I am looking forward to one last walk around.