I fumble with my keys as I try to juggle my umbrella, lanyard, and packages without dropping everything. I finally get a grasp on my green-nail-polish-spattered key, and sigh with relief as I slide it into the keyhole. I turn it to the right. The door doesn’t budge. I try again; the door remains shut. I start messing around with the top lock, rotating my keys in every direction. Shivering in the rain, my socks getting damper each minute, I’m about to give up on any possibility of making it back to my apartment when I try the bottom lock once more, and the door finally swings open. With “Homesick” blasting through my AirPods, I stand in the rain for just a few more seconds, taking in the scene.
I am an avid fall enthusiast; I love everything about the season. I love transitioning my closet from tank tops to chunky sweaters and trading in the green blades of grass for a collage of leaves. I am satiated by the overwhelming scent of cinnamon that washes over me when I enter Trader Joe’s, and I am thrilled when cafes unveil their coveted drinks for the season. But on top of everything pumpkin- and apple cider-related, I am always most excited for the start of school. Call it nerdy, call it lame, but I will never deny how delighted I get when that first day of classes rolls around. The prospect of picking out a first-day-of-school outfit, packing my new school supplies, and sending my parents that “FDOC” photo makes those last days of summer bearable.
This September, I got ready for my last first day of school. I woke up hours before my alarm, lying in a shallow pool of my own sweat. It was pushing 90 degrees outside and my non-air-conditioned, off-campus bedroom was at least another 10 degrees hotter. My pool of sweat grew as I lay, contemplating the fact that it would be my last first day at Brown.
For once, that first-day-of-school spark was nowhere to be found.
Was I supposed to be excited? The growing pit in my stomach said otherwise. Should I have felt nostalgic? Riddled with this heavy feeling that I could not push aside, I turned to the JBL speaker on my nightstand and dialed it down to the lowest volume level. Without having to scroll through my playlist library, my fingers took me straight to my most recently played playlist: “Exit 30A.”
For my whole life, Exit 30A was the road back home. As a young child fighting to keep my heavy eyelids from closing in the back of the car, I could breathe easily whenever I saw that familiar sign loom ahead through the window. As a confused teenager (and adult, unfortunately) who could never tell whether I was driving north or south on the interstate, I could relax my grip on the steering wheel once that same sign came into view through my right window. Like a tattered treasure map, Exit 30A had always marked my most valuable possession for the past 21 years: home.
It’s funny to think that I am currently living in an apartment with four other people whom I met less than two and a half years ago, and that these are also the people I’d trust with nearly anything. I think about how much Providence means to me, and how it is permanently etched into my identity no matter where I go next—in a way, it is home as well.
Still, I find myself feeling wistful about the close of this chapter. Where did my mornings of defending my love for Ratty house coffee as my friends labeled it “battery acid” go? What happened to setting my alarm up at ungodly hours in the morning so that I could secure my own table on the second floor of Faunce? The disconnect from campus has felt stronger than I expected it to, and the detachment seems to grow with each passing day. I’ve unintentionally started counting the number of people I recognize and wave to when I find myself on campus; the number has dwindled more than I’d like to admit.
“Exit 30A” transports me back to wherever I feel most comfortable. With the tap of my finger, the playlist anchors me and reminds me that no matter how disconnected I may feel from a place or others in a single moment, they’re still there. Noah Kahan never lets me forget how proud I am to be from New England. Clairo reiterates my relief every time the Red Line comes to a halt at my station. Novo Amor reminds me to give my friends in Providence a hug and to give my friends scattered across the world a call.
Being away from campus serves as a reminder that I am slowly outgrowing this space that I’ve learned to call home. We settled into our little houses in various neighborhoods, with fewer and fewer reasons to bounce around campus buildings; I’ve started seeing the same faces as we rotate through different living rooms to pass our nights together.
There is nothing wrong with a little disconnect—in fact, it’s truly just a little growth. I think I speak for most of us when I say I am happy to not be the same frantic first-year, trying to claim each corner of campus as my own. Adopting this perspective may be a lot easier said than done, but I think that the little spontaneous moments of appreciation for this place make it just a little bit easier to do so. Even just lying here in my bed, my heart soars when I look at my framed Narragansett Lager and Del’s Lemonade prints on the wall.
It might be quite difficult for me to let pieces of Brown and Providence go when I think about the future, but I need to remind myself that I am in fact still here. I still have nearly two whole semesters left with the people and campus that have sculpted me over the past few years.
I can still hold onto these pieces. I can still sit for hours in the ERC lobby, watching every person who walks in and out of the front doors. I can still take a trip to the Main Green with the intention of studying, despite never unzipping my backpack.
I can listen to the song that I reserved for study sessions on the fourth floor of the Rock throughout the summer semester. I can listen to the song that my roommate and I played every morning of sophomore year to wake each other up. I can listen to the song that my friends and I deliriously kept on loop while quarantining. And I know exactly where I can find all these songs: “Exit 30A.”
When I came back home after my first year at Brown, all the interstate exit numbers had changed. Nobody thought to notify me of this renovation. I found out in the back of my minivan, when the exit signs grew more and more unfamiliar as we supposedly got closer to home. Finally, my dad hit his right blinker and took an exit under a new number; underneath the new sign was a much smaller sign, labeled “OLD EXIT: 30A.”
I know the future holds many more new exit numbers for me. Everywhere I've ever called home will stay tucked away, but just within memory's reach when I need to feel the comfort of belonging.
I don’t know if I will ever forgive I-95 for redoing the exit numbers. But just because the highway was able to erase components of its identity does not mean that I will ever do the same—and I will keep adding them all to “Exit 30A.”