Ben and I just got back from a trip to Texas. Not just Texas, but Houston specifically. And while we were there we went and visited our alma mater, Rice. Now – we graduated (the first time) over 5 years ago and haven’t been back since our second graduation which was 4 years ago. I knew that a lot had changed in the meantime (new dorms on campus, a new coffee house and new gym) and I was prepared for those changes. What I think surprised me was how unprepared I was to see the things that HAVEN’T changed.
When we landed in Houston it was a bit like having deja vu. You know you’ve been to this airport before, down this freeway before, on these streets before. Everything is just a little, well, hazy. We went straight from the airport to one of our favorite cheap sandwich shops in midtown where the banh mi was (thankfully) just every bit as delicious as we remembered it to be, and then headed off to Rice’s campus for a quick peek before meeting a friend for drinks. Had I known how disorienting the trip to Rice were going to be I might have voted to put it off until we had a bit more time to decompress. I’m really not sure what I *thought* it was going to be like walking back onto the campus – and I have been trying to come up with a succinct explanation of the feeling I had when I got there ever since it happened, but I’m still not quite sure how to describe it.
The first thing I noticed was that Houston (and the campus in particular) is so much more lush and beautiful than I remember. When I first moved there as a freshman I remember thinking how ugly it was (and I still don’t think it’s as beautiful as San Diego) but a few years in Los Angeles have put it into an entirely different light and I can now see that it’s just overflowing with gorgeous old trees and it really is quite striking. We didn’t have much time so we parked on the loop and put on our flashers outside of Anderson. Just stepping out of the car into the sticky heat with the sound of blinking hazard lights brought back a flood of memories and I hadn’t even stepped foot in the building. We walked up to the back door, expecting it to be locked, but it easily swung open when we pulled the handle. Inside the school was in a state of transition – half of the studios looked as if they’d been cleared out for the summer while the other half looked like at any minute they might be filled with students, working and talking and generally creating chaos. Seeing it all again was like waking up an old part of myself that had been somehow sleeping for the last 4 years.
When we moved out of Houston back in 2006 it was hectic to say the least. We had just come back from a semester abroad and were planning our wedding. We were finishing up our final semester of studio and looking for our first “real” jobs after school. We were doing all of this while subletting a small apartment from another student and looking for a real home in Los Angeles. All of my energy was focused on getting out and moving on. The crazy pace continued after the wedding – I quit my job and started my photography business, we decided to try to have kids and I ended up getting pregnant with twins. The last two and a half years have been filled with more insanity than the rest of my life combined and I guess I just never stopped to look around and see where my life was going. It’s not that I think that my life went in the wrong direction – I’m quite happy with where I am right now – it’s just that I had never really stopped to glance back at where I came from. Being in that building was like all of the sudden being the 20 year old version of myself again. Remembering what it was that I loved about being an architecture student and how many hopes I had for the future. It was a bit of a shock to the system to say the least.
I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I started rambling at full speed (much like I’m doing now I’m sure) and telling Ben how I wanted to come back and take pictures when we had more time. He said “oh yeah because the last time you were here you didn’t know anything about that” to which I gave an insulted harrumph. I had taken photography classes in high school, didn’t that count for anything? He graciously reminded me that while I may have known how to use a camera, my life didn’t at that point revolve around the camera. My lenses hadn’t yet been a way for me to see and express my views on the world. Fair enough. I’ll give you that. So on Sunday afternoon, just before heading off to dinner and the airport, we revisited the campus with camera in hand. I wanted to make sure to remember all of the little things that had become fuzzy in my memory after all of the years I had been away.
Like the shape of the handrail as you walked up the stairs
Or the way you always saw people across the way on that funny little balcony landing.
The way that people always stopped to look down into the jury room from above
Or all of the gorgeous natural light that flooded into that room
The crazy mishmash of chairs that were always floating around the building and the way they sat in a huddle, like a critique just let out and everyone was in such a hurry to get to dinner that they couldn’t be bothered to put them back
That funny motion detector light that someone installed as part of a project, and the way that all the students after all of their years left an impression on the building
The weird spaceship lighting in the long white halls
And the porthole windows
To go with the round nubby floors
I also wanted to remember the things I hadn’t ever noticed, like how the color of the overhead lighting was so warm compared with the crisp cool light streaming in through the windows. So deceptively cool in tone that you might actually forget that it was sweltering hot outside.
And the brick hallways
Or tree lined walkways
How many countless times I’d walked up them and never stopped to think about how pretty they were. I was always so BUSY