It’s that time of year when you gather with former friends and old flames to celebrate the camaraderie established years and years ago. Tied by an alma mater and stories of days wild and co-eds young, homecoming reconnects and renews. It’s a time when adults, burdened with familial obligations and financial responsibilities put their lives on pause to return to their past.
I remember during my freshman Homecoming, being visited in the dormitory by two ladies rich with wisdom from experience in the decades post entering the “real world”. For several minutes in complete silence they searched the room with history in their eyes, remembering their residency in the cement box. One turned to the other and said “If these walls could talk” and they erupted with laughter and stories. I wanted them to leave. I had a class.
I’ve looked for them every homecoming since.
Homecoming is different when you are an employee of your alma mater. Every day is homecoming in a sense. Every day I look at the young women, fresh out of high school and full of every bright idea imaginable and remember how I was then. Every day I look at the young men, still receiving care packages from home, ready to take over the world and remember the boys I loved. I envy them in some ways. I wish I could go back to when I was fresh out of Athens Drive High School and tell me what I know now. I also wish I would listen. I know I wouldn’t.
It’s during the hype of festivities like fashion shows and pre-dawn parties that I am reminded of Homecoming, 1999 and Antwon Merritt. My abrupt exit from a step show in the gym sent me across the bridge just as the paramedics and firemen were loading him into the ambulance. No one knew the severity of his condition. Time stood still that night. In the cold of the November night no one moved nor shivered nor spoke.
Within the days to come, after the flags and signs welcoming alumni came down, mourning took over our family. Those who didn’t know him at all grieved just as much as those who sat next to him in Freshman Studies. All you could do was shake your head and close your eyes while sitting outside the Union staring over at the cement yawning.
This week I told every young man I could the story of Antwon Merritt in the hope that his memory would live in this the season of his death. I wished them all a safe Homecoming week. I was a little more compassionate and took time to talk with the guys I pass every day, just as I probably had a young freshman from Virginia eleven years ago.
Happy Homecoming Alumni.
Happy Homegoing Antwon.