You Can’t Really Come Home

The KU/Nicholls State game at the beginning of this season marked a specific episode for me. That was the first Jayhawks home game that I had missed since November 30th, 2013, breaking a four season streak. It felt strange, certainly, watching that game in that stadium on TV. It’s still difficult for me to contextualize the two.

The KU/Oklahoma State game from this last weekend marked another specific episode for me. This was the first KU game I’d watched as a spectator since October 27th, 2012. I spent five years with the Marching Jayhawks, missing that one K-State game in 2013 because I was with family in the Bahamas watching the Jayhawks’ basketball team dominate the Battle for Atlantis losing to Villanova. I came back for homecoming last weekend and I finally felt a lesson that I think I’d already learned.

I could not shake an incredible melancholy throughout this Saturday. The football Saturday experience developed into something of a ritual for me over the past five years – Get up at 5, rehearse at the stadium, kill time until the pregame performances start at 10, do pregame around 10:34 or so, get to the seat before kickoff, watch the drum major for the whole game, stress out right before the halftime show starts then immediately get over that stress as soon as the show starts, then my memory goes blank for the entirety of the halftime show, then it’s stress-free football-watchin’ for the rest of the second half as Kliff Kingsbury keeps forcing Pat Mahomes out there to throw another 70+ yard touchdown for some reason up thirty-three with six minutes left in the game. Then I half-ass my way through putting the sousaphones on the truck. Then I drive home, pass out on my bed while I put whichever game’s on CBS on the TV, wake up for the fourth quarter of that game, then get dinner somewhere because I don’t need to count calories because I probably burned a Strawberry Cheesequake Blizzard’s worth of calories during the game. Then I go home and groggily play through some indie game while halfway paying attention to whatever Washington State game ESPN2’s thrust upon us until midnight, then I conk out on the bed.

Having gone through this so many times before precisely like this pushed me to develop all of these little routine, lightly joyful moments. The walk from the stadium to the union post-rehearsal is kind of peaceful. I would routinely drift off to sleep in one of the chairs in the union. There’s this nervous excitement at the top of the hill before the march down. That nervous excitement’s only fortified as I wait under the steps for pregame to start. The mad sprint down the sidelines after the pregame performance. The nerves completely leaving on the walk back to the stands after halftime.

I really enjoyed gamedays partially because I found little things to love within the bigger structure of the day itself.

I am a man of routine, and I’m very aware of it, which is what made going back to a game and playing in alumni band so tough. I’ll never really recapture the good experiences of undergrad, and I understood that going in. But I didn’t realize just how much I missed those small things until I saw myself forever divorced from them. I appreciated them in the moment, but there’s a difference between knowing I’ll have that moment again and feeling what it’s like never to have it again. It was like reopening old scabs, satisfying for a moment but creating a new sense of pain I hadn’t considered before. A dull, everpresent pain, known probably best as nostalgia.

The idea of nostalgia has been perverted and mangled past the point of recognition since my youth. The collective internet’s obsession with nostalgia, which has led to reboots and remakes in desperate search to recapture some sense of a lost past forced popular culture to lose what underlay nostalgia in the first place.

Nostalgia isn’t a good feeling. Nostalgia’s a bittersweet feeling, and when those memories tend so heavily towards the sweet side, the bitterness is palpable. I hadn’t been away long enough for anything to have changed, and yet it still felt so much different.

Home is not so much of a place. Home is more of an idea. Maybe even an action. Or just a feeling. But being back in the city limits of a place I called home for so long only exacerbated this feeling – I wasn’t really home so much as I was in Lawrence, and those two things aren’t the same anymore. Again, I knew this before I got there, but knowing and feeling are two very, very different things. I don’t miss Lawrence so much as I miss a period in time wherein I was there with people I loved all around me.

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The game was fine. Pooka is the real deal, Carter Stanley seems like the best option at quarterback, and they probably lost to a better team the way that they were supposed to. There’s a lot of talent on that defense, and a some talent on that offense, and a lot of mediocre coaching on the sidelines. That’s about all I can muster about the team at this point.

For those of you who don’t know, the alumni band sits in the stands behind the band for the first half, plays at halftime, then is kind of let loose for the second half.

As we hit the middle of the third quarter and it became clear that the Jayhawks were going to be completely overcome, it struck me that, for the first time since 2012, I had the option to leave. I could’ve left the stadium and felt no outside consequences for doing so.

But I chose to stay, and I enjoyed the last half of the game with my incredible friends. I’m so grateful for having them there. I miss having that weekly experience with them, watching, laughing, joking throughout a game that’s been well-past decided. That was when I felt the closest to home during the game, when I had the people who made me love Lawrence around me again.

I’ll be back again in November for the Senior Night game after Thanksgiving. Until then, I’ll be watching KU games from my living room if I watch at all. If nothing else, it’ll be easier to go back then because I lived the experience last Saturday, and I have no illusions – Things will never be the same again.


Letter from me to Charlotte: If you’re into this sort of thing, check out the Post Hole and the Tweet Hole for more of this sort of thing.

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