"As I passed through the gates, the blistered hands of nostalgia gave my heart a good squeeze and I realized you miss shit times as well as good times, because at the end of the day what you're really missing is just time itself."
— Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole)
About two years back, I left Gainesville after obtaining my Ph.D. That is how it was supposed to happen, and five and half years were indeed a long enough time spent in that little big college town. However, somewhere down the line, it just did not remain just another place where I spent a few years of my life, rather became my home, the place where I felt I belonged to. First time in my life, everything was mine. Not just that I started earning money for the first time (no matter how meager graduate student salary was), and spent as I wanted. I traveled all over the place, bought a car. All the successes were mine, and all the failures too. Then I moved to Germany. No matter how enriching a cultural experience this was, and how much work my career benefited, I could never bring myself to say I am from Dresden. I stuck with I work here.
I craved for a chance to go back. Finally everything worked out for a quick trip down there. As I drove in the town late night, I almost ended up heading to my old apartment. Apart from a few new parking lots, everything looked the same, just like how I last saw them. The physics building still felt like the second home it was, only my office did not have my name any more. It was not just me, others also had trouble realizing that they last said "hi" to me in the corridor two years back, not yesterday. The guy who bought my car was kind enough to let me drive it again, and except for the fact that the interior looked much less messy now, I felt just as familiar sitting there. Many people left, but those I did meet, helped me to feel at home. I dined at Satchel's Pizza, the unique Gainesville landmark. I stepped inside the "Swamp", knowing little that the Urban Meyer era, which in a lot of ways defined the identity of "our" Gator nation, is about to end. I drove down to Cedar Key, the nearest seafront, which holds so many memories from those days gone by.
And then I was gone again.