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The Final Say

by Shannon Proudfoot, BA’03

I guess it was when the woman's head popped into view in her ground-floor window and she asked—with a frankly shocking amount of friendliness, given the situation—what I was doing that I zoomed out on myself and realized what a creep I looked like. I was standing in a driveway near the corner of Richmond and Cheapside, taking photos of a rear window on the upper story of a yellow brick house. It was my bedroom window. Or it used to be, when I was a student at Western. The room had been painted a cheerful, buttery yellow then, and my desk and futon were crammed in close enough that I could roll directly from one to the other, which was both appalling and excellent.

I asked the woman whether she knew if students still lived there. She made a gesture that took in all of the house and yard, and said it sure looked like it. There wasn't anything specifically wrong with the place, just a sort of cloud of dirty chaos hovering over it, like Pigpen in the Peanuts comic; yep, students still lived there.

I peeked around the garage. Suddenly, memories came tumbling off some shelf in the back of my brain. My roommates and I once threw a faux-sorority party that was so successful, we found a bunch of our plates half-buried in the back yard the next day, for reasons that are still a mystery to me. Our freezer constantly broke down, so we’d throw our food into a big plastic tub outside in cold weather and hope the raccoons didn't break into it before the landlord arrived for repairs.

Around the front of the house, the five-foot-tall lighted wooden tulips we had, uh, re-homed from a downtown florist (we never gave anyone our actual address after that: “Party on Saturday. The house on Richmond with the flowers”)—were long gone. So was the brick archway that had framed the driveway, until one of my roommates drove a too-tall U-Haul under the arch—which turned out to be through the arch—on the day we moved out.

The weird thing is, before this visit to London—myfirst since I graduated in 2003—I couldn't have conjured up any of these details for you. The names of all the streets in the student ghetto, the best postbar food for a sloshing stomach, Concrete Beach, the courtyards in Med-Syd, walking up that central pathway with University College looming above like you'd been cast as a Hogwarts extra: it had all faded away in the years since I left. I couldn't remember anything of day-to-day life at Western until I went back to the place where it all happened—and then I instantly remembered everything, in crazy, roaring detail. I felt like a ghost in my own life: Ebenezer Scrooge and his paranormal tour guide rolled into one, peeking in windows at scenes I felt fiercely possessive of, even while they seemed to belong to someone else.

If you didn't grow up in London, you arrive one day freshly plucked out of the life and hometown you've always known, and dropped into one of the most vivid and all-consuming chapters of your life. You spend your years at Western roaming the city and campus like some kind of preppy Viking horde, cheerfully laying waste to everything you can get your hands on, certain that it will go on forever. But then one day, just as abruptly as you arrived, you leave London and Western behind to live somewhere else, to do whatever comes next. So you end up with this towering experience in your life that's walled off from everything that came before and everything that happens after. It’s like having a best friend who has never met or spoken to anyone else in your life: It all starts to feel a bit Polkaroo after a while.

Mostly, university is nothing at all like any other sort of life—that’s what makes it so loud and colourful and weird and fantastic.

University is a little bit like high school: whirling social life, misery or glorious sloth dictated by exams and assignment schedules, living in a bouncy sort of purgatory on your way to a destination you don't have to choose yet. And student life is also sort of like adulthood: figuring out who you are in the world, deciding how to spend and waste your money and time without your parents' meddling, paying bills and doing chores (eventually). But mostly, university is nothing at all like any other sort of life—that’s what makes it so loud and colourful and weird and fantastic.

Shannon Proudfoot is an Ottawa-based staff writer for Sportsnet magazine.

This article appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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