The distinct vibrations of musical energy came from room five; the day’s selection was a little-known, early 2000’s R&B song “Welcome Back” by Mase. Although we would go on to be bombarded with homework, the sentiment of being welcomed back to school from Thanksgiving break was comforting and appreciated.
I did not feel this warm invitation back into a community until coming to Chewonki. Recently, I went home unexpectedly for the weekend to attend the services of my great uncle who had been a grandfather figure in my life. The services were the day after we returned from wilderness trips. A couple of classmates, a teacher and I skied out from the cabin we had slept in the night before and drove the three hours to Portland so I could catch a bus home. I was feeling apprehensive and gloomy, unaware of what the weekend would bring but knowing it would not be easy emotionally.
And yet, I was able to leave the small bus station with a smile. As supportive as they could be, my travel companions, (two girls I had befriended over my time at Chewonki), offered me all their snacks, including a beloved Milky Way ration, so I wouldn’t be hungry during the six hour ride. It had been an emotionally confusing fortnight that somehow made its way full circle. The same girl who had sat on the dirty floor with me two weeks prior when I was a blubbering mess of tears in the phone booth having first heard the news of the death, stood smiling and waving goodbye as the bus pulled away from the station.
Upon returning to campus 3 days later, I was feeling emotionally raw, trying to process the happenings of the past 72 hours as I looked out the bus window at the winter bleakness of New England. I was tired despite ample opportunity to sleep and was ready to crash on my bed when I got back to campus. As Route 1 turned onto Chewonki Neck, the coniferous tree-lined road comforted me in its familiarity. After a day of travel, I was on the final stretch. My embarrassingly bright magenta suitcase bumped along the gravel that made way to wooden boardwalks on the path to my cabin.
“Annie!” someone yelled. I was struck by the energy of the call because I felt all of mine had been drained from me. Suddenly, three of my classmates had embraced me in a tight group hug. The feel of their arms seemed to seep my grumpy, travel-induced exhaustion. Standing in the center of campus, I could feel the sun’s warmth on my back. My suitcase seemed lighter as teachers greeted me with hello’s! and welcome back’s! The hugs were continuous throughout the afternoon, a fierce physical reminder that I mattered and I had been missed in the short time I was gone.
“Check the journal” I was told. I looked at the book containing sign-ups for campus events and random notes for the semester, expecting to catch up on what I had missed, but was touched to see a whole page dedicated to me. A compilation of colored marker messages in different handwritings, “Annie’s back today!” “We missed you Annie!” I had jokingly told my cabin mates not to bond while I was gone so I would not miss anything. “The cabin was not the same without you,” the group of six who made up South Hall told me.
As I settled into my covers that night, the cabin warmed by the woodstove, the soft breathing and occasional sleep talking of my cabin mates provided the soundtrack for the realization that in this world of 7 billion people how lucky I was to feel like I had a place.
Annie, The Thacher School, New Jersey