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I went to two different colleges. The first was in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and looked like the picture-perfect image of a college on a brochure: red brick buildings, green hills, friendly faces. I spent only a year there, but when I dream of college it’s almost always this one. The road not taken, I suppose. The events that transpired to cause my time there to be so short are so chaotic and bizarre you almost certainly wouldn’t believe them. Perhaps more bizarre, I won’t be writing about them. Some things are better left in the past. I am not the person now that I was then, and I prefer not to dwell on her. What I do dwell on, though, and often, is the school itself and the people I knew there. It was a small school, and I was there only a short while, but its impact was huge. I often wish things had been different.

I don’t engage in a complete revisionist history. If I could go back and fix things, I wouldn’t. I might stand in the shadows and watch my old self. I’d probably cry for her, too. She had a hard road ahead. Still, everything that happened, there and after, made me who I am. Everyone has watched enough time travel shows to know this basic truth: you can’t change one thing in the past without altering everything. I met my best friend in the world at my next school, someone I love so much I can’t imagine my life without her. No second school, no meeting her. No all night dancing at the Big Nasty (seriously, I am not making that name up), no holding hands and laughing while running through the brownstone-lined streets. No sleeping until 2 PM because we hadn’t gone to bed until 6. No sobbing with relief on the phone because, after having lost touch for awhile, she looked up my sister’s number and found me again. No holding her hand in the limo on my wedding day. In fact, without everything that happened, I might not be in California at all, so no Chris, no Braeden, no Avery. No, I wouldn’t change anything, not even the hard things.

There were many people at my second school, and through those years in Chicago, who changed my life for the better. The commuter school I attended didn’t look like a perfect college brochure, but it was undoubtedly where I needed to be. I accept that. What I still struggle with, sometimes, is what I lost. That road not taken. The people who surrounded me for that one year had such impact I can’t let go of any of them. They didn’t get the best version of me, unfortunately. I suppose it could be argued that no one is his or her best self at 18, but still. I was a particularly stark mess that year. Perhaps because it was such an emotional period for me, I have spent a fair amount of time reliving those memories. Many of them stand out with a clarity that others from later periods don’t. I loved all of those people, if only for a year. I see their posts on Facebook and my heart breaks a little for the relationships I’ll never have, because I left. Sometimes it even breaks a lot. I owe several of them apologies I’ll never be able to make, not really. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I can’t change any of it, and I wouldn’t. But I hope that maybe somewhere in an alternate universe, there’s a version of me who got to stay there, who did things right. I hope she’s happy, too.