Thanks, Buffalo (or Maybe Amherst)

This is my last night in Buffalo/Western New York for the foreseeable future. It’s entirely possible that I’ll never come back here after tomorrow, when I drive away in the moving truck.

It’s been strange for me to process this. I’m moving to Atlanta to start a PhD in Digital Media at Georgia Tech, a school that has essentially been my dream school since I thought that studying towards a PhD was a real possibility for me. Being so excited to go there makes leaving here easier, but it hasn’t been a total cakewalk preparing for the transition. I don’t think any part of me is regretting the decision to move, but I’ve been here long enough that I’m definitely feeling something. But what am I feeling, exactly?

I’ve now done my BA and MFA here, at the University at Buffalo. That’s seven years of studying in the same place (that place largely being UB North Campus in Amherst, New York).

Oddly, I leave behind few friends. Mostly just acquaintances. The nature of my (now former) department and the university it’s a part of is such that the community isn’t necessarily a strong one. At UB, it was very easy to just come and go quietly, happily taking care of business and rarely engaging with people extracurricularly… especially if you weren’t very interested in drinking, and especially if you spent a lot of your college life as a bit of a shut-in.

Also—to speak to graduate school in particular, an enduring case of imposter syndrome kept me from being comfortable around the people who I was supposed to communicate with as peers. My classmates tended to be a good bit older than me, as well (which can be intimidating).

So I didn’t get especially close to many people and I can’t help but feel like I part ways with most of them as warm acquaintances at best, rather than as good friends or former colleagues. (A non-trivial part of this situation is, of course, my fault.)

No matter what the total number of my relationships from here may be, I’ve spent most of the past seven years in the Buffalo area… and that’s virtually my entire adult life up to this point. This place is unquestionably important to me.

For example: this past spring, after I taught my final class for the semester, I realized something: nobody was expecting me to report to UB, for the first time in a very long time.

I was accepted to UB via early decision in 2006. Later, just before finishing my BA, I was accepted into my department’s MFA program. I even spent a semester abroad in undergrad, but for all this time—ever since my acceptance—I always knew I was expected to report to UB at some point in the near future. It’s been a constant since before I could legally vote.

Suddenly, that wasn’t true anymore. It may seem like a small thing, but once it was gone I felt slightly adrift because of it. Once my final class was done, I decided to spend my last day on campus walking around and seeing little corners of it that were so important to me over the past seven years. It was a pretty emotional tour. It’s easy to take your environment for granted, and once it starts to become less of a given… that’s jarring, to say the least.

After my aforementioned semester abroad, I found an apartment in the city proper, ending a string of semesters in dorm rooms to spend my senior year living in the city. That apartment is the one I’m moving out of tomorrow, after four years of living in it.

The process of saying goodbye to this apartment has been frustrating. I’ve been confused at how my home for the past four years demands such little emotional attachment from me, and I get more emotional about my lack of emotion than I do about my impending lack of a key for this unit.

And I’ve liked this apartment! It’s why I’ve stayed here for four years. It’s been pretty perfect for me: comfortable, convenient, safe… all that.

But it’s mostly just feeling like a few rooms to me, and that’s weird to confront. I mean, this has been my *home*. Doesn’t that mean something?

Of course it does.

Over the past week, there have been little things here and there that have felt heavy to do for the last time as a resident of this city. Walking from the Lexington Co-Op to my apartment the other night was a big one. This and others are such familiar experiences in my life, and soon they’ll be gone from my routines.

But I realized something tonight. There’s a very specific reason that these experiences are affecting me like they are. I’m realizing that it doesn’t have all that much to do with Wegmans being a great grocery store (and it is), or anything like that.

These are all things I’ve gotten used to doing with my wife. Buffalo has been home for seven years because this is ultimately where I always came to be with her. The campus tour I gave myself was emotional because I was walking places that I would walk with her.

She and I met extremely early in our first semester at UB, in the dining hall of the Governor’s Complex in Amherst.

We’ve been together since September 2007. That’s longer than the time I spent as a UB student (now that I’ve finished my MFA) and it’s certainly longer than we’ve lived in this apartment we’re leaving. As formative as it’s been to live here, I owe so much more of my happiness to her than I could to a geographical location. She’s not only encouraged me like nobody else could and been a constant source of support, comfort, and joy… but she showed me what a more kind and compassionate life could look like. She allowed me to become a much better person than I would have been otherwise, providing an amazing example that I still try to honor every day.

The reason I’m not going to miss Buffalo more is because I get to take my favorite part of it with me: she’s coming with me to Atlanta, and we’ll build some new routines in a new city, living in a new apartment. And it’ll be great. And it’s all possible because we met as University at Buffalo students.

So thanks, Buffalo (or maybe Amherst).