The goodbyes begin this morning. I wake up knowing that it's time to write my last column. It's the first of many goodbyes I'll make in the next two months before graduation, and I don't know if I'm ready yet.
I lace up my New Balance shoes and pull my ponytail through the hole of my U.Va. hat. I step outside into the cold April morning and lean against the wall while I stretch my calves.
As I start running up Wertland Street, I can barely see the sun coming up over clouds, but its light shines through though them and promises a beautiful Virginia morning.
I make my way down JPA to Alderman Road and turn onto McCormick. As I pass Emmett dorm, I think back to a Sunday afternoon three years ago. I stood in back of that very dorm and waved goodbye to my parents' rented red Pathfinder. It was the first time I had truly been on my own, and as I watched that Pathfinder pull away, I wasn't sure whether to feel elated or incredibly nervous.
I run through the old dorms quad and remember how we used to sit out in our lawn chairs during the spring months, pretending to read but really sitting there to talk with friends. I think about the morning in May that I lugged all my possessions out of room 301 and boarded a plane home to Florida, having finished my first year of college.
As I make my way up McCormick to central Grounds, I pass the amphitheater on my right. I can't help but picture it packed to the very last row, as it always is on the first Friday of classes in September when hypnotist Tom Deluca draws a crowd. I can almost hear the yells ("Pick me, Tom!") and see the signs waving above the stage. This past September was my last Tom Deluca show.
I guess the goodbyes began earlier than I realized.
I'm not quite ready to stop running yet, so I keep going.
As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the University starts to come to life. I pass students on the way to 8 a.m. classes, and I cross the street as a UTS bus hurries by. I remember riding that bus all over God's creation during my first year. Even as a fourth year, I still couldn't tell you where the blue route goes or which bus will take you over to the Law School. All I know is that I sat on that bus for several hours one Saturday morning just trying to get to Harris Teeter.
As central Grounds slowly comes to life, Rugby Road is still sound asleep. I pass by the row of fraternity houses that I ventured into with my first-year hallmates three years ago. Turning down Chancellor Street, I see the Chi Omega house with its freshly planted daffodils, and I think of all the wonderful memories I've made in that house. I wave to a sister who is coming down the steps, and I recall Jo's testament from "Little Women" that says, "I could never love anyone as I love my sisters."
I run past St. Paul's Church next door, and I give thanks for the church that opened its doors to me and fed me on Easter Sunday when I couldn't be at home.
I could turn down the Corner and head home, but I decide to run down 14th Street. I'm not ready to stop quite yet.
I pass a quaint brick apartment with a striped awning out front and a small balcony over the driveway. That was my bedroom second year -- and one of my favorite apartments. As I run by it, I remember signing my first lease, paying my first bills and coming home every night to cook dinner with Katie. If I make a good wife someday, it's because Katie taught me how. I will forever be grateful for her beef stroganoff, her sinful brownies and her friendship.
I circle back down 14th Street and run down the Corner, passing my favorite shops and eateries. I remember Wednesday nights at Mellow Mushroom, squeezing 10 people around a table to eat pizza and answer trivia questions. We all enjoyed it so much that we never realized we came in last place every single time. And that was with help from our fathers and friends via cell phone, which was strictly forbidden.
As I run, I think about all the subs I've had at Littlejohn's and all the "thumbs and toes" I've eaten at the Biltmore. I remember my 21st birthday party at Amigo's, when my friends took a break from their stressful midterm studying to have a margarita with me. I think about Brandon, who bought me a Tequila shot and laughed when it made my eyes water.
My stomach starts to growl as I pass by Gumby's, and I can't imagine why Pokey Sticks sound so good to me at eight o'clock in the morning. I wonder if I've ever had Pokey Sticks at an hour of the day that didn't fall between 2 and 4 a.m.
Now back on Wertland, I run down the street that's been my home for two years. I think about the great hurricane party we threw in September and laugh about the Christmas party that no one came to. I think about walking the dog down Wertland Street and stopping to chat with our neighbors as they bend down to pet him.
With my apartment in sight, my stomach growling and my muscles starting to beg for mercy, I slow down to a jog.
All the scenes of my life at U.Va. are running through my mind, and I can't help but feel nostalgic. How does one leave the University? I don't know that I will ever truly leave it.
Nor will it ever leave me.
I stop at the highest hill on the street and can see the mountaintops to my left and the dome of the Rotunda to my right.
I know I will return often to Charlottesville and may even take an early morning run. But I also know that it will never feel the same to sit in the amphitheater, stroll through the quad in first-year dorms and chow down on a Littlejohn's sub once I'm no longer a student.
There is something magical about attending Mr. Jefferson's University, and its beauty is clear to me in this early morning light.
And I admit that I'm not really ready to stop.
So I'll keep going.
Lytle Wurtzel can be reached at email@example.com