People, Places, Phases

Author: Meghan Cappitelli

Dreaming has never really been my forte. For one, I hardly remember any of the dreams I do have during the subconscious periods of my nightly REM cycle, and the “dreams” I conjure up while conscious can often err more on the side of nightmarish. I’m a well-trained cynic who lives by the principle of “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” a mantra that creates a feedback loop of sobering reality checks. So surely, Notre Dame, a place often made out to be magical — the quintessential “dream school” of hopeful high schoolers far and wide — could not be my promised land.

My first trip to South Bend was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever endured. And my layover was delayed, so as I sat in an obscure Midwestern airport, I wallowed in the undeniable omens — a stormy night, a late flight and an unpleasantly bumpy experience at high altitudes. These were clear indications that this was a place to which I would have little interest in returning, I thought to myself as we jostled up and down in the sky and my long-held fear of flying was put to the test.

This was nearly five years ago, and I’m alive to tell the tale of my Notre Dame experience — turbulent, chaotic, formative and — fine — maybe even magical. It has been an experience that has rendered my ever-skeptical, anti-dreaming mentality somewhat flawed; I hoped for the best, prepared for the worst and, in return, got something surreal. In typical, senior-on-the-brink-of-graduation fashion, I have spent the last few weeks making futile attempts to chronicle and reflect on all that I’ve done since arriving on campus — an exercise that has been revealing.

My memories exist in fragments. And the process of recollection, similar to the memories themselves, has proven to be fairly piecemeal — like waking up and frantically jotting down the jumbled, nonsensical scenes of the dream that flashed before your eyes the night before. What I have come to realize is that my college experience has unfolded in eras, each memory falling into a distinct category or time period of my relatively eventful existence over the last four years. As I began to put the puzzle together, the jarring transitions from one phase to the next stood out.

In the past three and a half years, I’ve called more than half a dozen places “home”: my childhood bedroom in the suburbs; a one-bedroom apartment turned two-bedroom shoe-box (by way of a Japanese wall divider in the kitchen) on the west side of Manhattan; a flat crammed with 10 girls in the heart of London; a stuffy double in a dorm built in (and hardly renovated since) 1955; a spacious quad in the newest of Notre Dame’s residence halls; and the second floor of a South Bend townhome, with three friends and our pet fish.

The term “home” is rooted in much less permanence between the ages of 18 to 22 than it is conventionally understood to be during other periods of one’s life. Prior to that first unpleasant, Indiana-bound flight, I had been on an airplane two, maybe three, times in my almost two decades of life. In the last year alone, I’ve boarded a plane nearly more times than I’ve arrived on time to class, which is a (sarcastic) testament to the movement, the change, the number of very disparate eras that compose my four years at, and away from, Notre Dame. Each phase is marked by some sort of novelty — a new city, new dorm, new job, new friends, new roommates — every five months or so.

We’ve all had that dream — the one where you’re in your kindergarten classroom or hometown pizzeria when, abruptly, you’re transported to another era of your life, five to 10 years later. Choppy, fragmented, disorienting, surreal — these words describe my dreams, my memories.

You’re 18, using your phone’s GPS to locate the wrong class building at noon on the Tuesday after Labor Day Weekend (new stomping grounds). You’re 19, wearing a mask at a football game on the field you’re not supposed to be on at midnight (a blip of normalcy in an otherwise weird era). You’re 20, in a state of delirium on the second floor of the library at 2 a.m., studying for the interview for the job that you’ll have when you’re 21 — taking the subway downtown for drinks with friends after a long day at work (so mature). Which feels starkly different from taking the Tube uptown on a Thursday at 3:30 a.m. (GMT, different time zone) to catch an early flight to a country of your choosing that week — a new one (you’ve never been there before).

You’re 22, with 80-something days left. You remember all of this — all of the dissimilarly wonderful eras you’ve lived. And you think about them while bowling on a Monday at 9 p.m. or eating frozen yogurt on a Wednesday at 8 p.m. — because those are things you have time for now, in this era — in the college town you didn’t know anything about or want to come to when you were 17.

Nonetheless, after my first visit to campus, I finished writing my Notre Dame application essays in a South Bend hotel lobby on the night before they were due. I suppose I could sense that, despite my tendency to micromanage my expectations and curb ideas reminiscent of a dream, I might just like it here.

For many, beginnings make us fear ends and ends make us nostalgic for beginnings. During a freshman Welcome Weekend ceremony in August 2019, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder and alone among some 2,000 of my peers at the Grotto, clutching a candle in the dark. Crying, I looked around at the faces, of which I knew none, and told myself that in four years, I’d remember that moment — hopefully finding the tears silly, like many of the things once heavy that become embarrassingly trivial with time.

I remember it distinctly. And I find comfort in knowing that in a few short months, I’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder again (and probably also cry) with those same peers, whose faces I now know, as our shared memories fondly flash like scenes from one of those chaotic but memorable dreams you wish you’d never wake up from.

My time at Notre Dame has been comprised of unmistakably different phases and stories that sound almost made-up when I recall them or say them out loud; it has, as it turns out, felt like a dream.