A photo from MHC archives that’s now framed and displayed in the college library
In a rented car, I jump on Mass Turnpike and drive west toward South Hadley, Massachusetts, a quiet rural town that I haven’t seen for over twenty years.
Exiting the Turnpike, I get on Route 116, a curving farm road that leads straight to Mount Holyoke campus. I find a parking spot directly across from Odyssey Bookstore and step out into the sunny morning. My friend Kat, who used to live down the hall from me when we were freshwomen, stands on the steps of The Odyssey to greet me. Today, Kat’s playing hooky from the Connecticut elementary school where she teaches and now lives. After dropping her children off to their school, she drove 90 minutes north to meet up with me. She looks almost the same as she did May 1986 when we were last on this campus together.
Together, we walk through the campus, marveling at how little has changed. The library is larger and there are a few new buildings, all designed so they blend into the older architecture.
We wander through the library, marveling at how different it is inside, even though it looks exactly the same outside. “There’s a picture of me framed somewhere in this building,” I tell Kat. “My ex-high school student Claudia (from Jones High School in Houston) told me about it. I don’t believe her but we should look.”
We wander through the stacks, the Stimson room, and then find ourselves in a room that didn’t exist in the old days. And there I find a photo on the wall: Nema, Fawzia and myself, holding placards, mouths open, yelling for our college to divest funds from South Africa. This, I find out, is the Politics Room, where the presence of my group of friends is etched into college history.
Later on, we walk down to Willits-Hallowell and eat chicken noodle soup that tastes exactly as it did 20 years ago. (Too bad some things didn’t change!) We also manage to enter Torrey hall, where we spent our first year on the first floor. Walking down the hallway, we can stare at each pine doorway and name the women who became part of our personal histories: “Sarah and you, Heather and Lisa, Nema and Fawzia, myself and Jenny, Seema and Nissreen, and down the hall, Kim and Leah, and across from us, Robin….”
When I see Bill Quillian, my English advisor who fueled my passion for contemporary literature and writing, he asks me: “What brought you back? And why’d you take so long?”
Later on, I meet Jenn Udden, another ex-high school student of mine who is now taking courses with a Politics professor, Kavita Khory, a Mount Holyoke alumna, who attended the same school as I did in Karachi The world is getting smaller.
At Hampshire College, I drink a quick cup of coffee with Ragni, a 4th year student there. She tells me about her documentary that focuses on hijras in Pakistan. “I’m going to spend next year in Bangladesh,” she says. I know Ragni back from Karachi when she was a little girl and we visited her parents’ home. And now, she’s about to graduate from the same college where I spent many evenings my senior year, taking classes with Eqbal Ahmed, a man who made me realize how big and yet how tiny the world really is.
I end my evening with a drive down to Amherst to the house of my ex-roommate, Heather, her partner Nina and their two children, Audrey and Cole. Another friend, Beth, drives down from Vermont with her four children to meet up with us. She carries dessert with her. Our short visit—just two hours—is rich with stories. Twenty years melt away.
On my drive to Boston, I don’t listen to music. My mind is quiet, but I can remember the conversations we had at different times during my years on that sleepy campus: ‘Should I step back if the police come? I have an F-1 visa?’, ‘How should we express our anger at the US’s bombing of Libya?” and “How many of us can fit into your car to the Take Back the Night’ rally in New York?’
Exiting the Tollway to enter Cambridge, I remind myself, there is no need to close doors to memories. The world has not changed much. There is much to speak out about. The passion from our past can serve as fuel for the future.