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On Parking Lots

Isla Vista Memories


Saturday, June 4, 2011

It’s almost over.

My allotted four years of college have sped by like a brazen Isla Vista bicyclist defying the laws of traffic (and, if it’s really late, physics) to get a paper turned in on time.

Natalia Cohen

Now, when I’m not mapping out my future plans or having a panic attack over finals (on a particularly stressful day last week, it took me three tries to successfully hole punch a large stack of documents), I’m engaging in one of the more clichéd activities of senior year—I'm looking back. Brace yourselves for some nostalgia, kids.

It’s strange, but I seem to remember my college experience as a series of disjointed mental snapshots.

Take the back parking lot behind the French Quarter apartments on Abrego Road. It’s nothing special. Being a parking lot, actually, it’s about as mundane a space as one could come by—the kind of gray asphalt-y place that Joni Mitchell would subversively coo that paradise was paved over for.

That back parking lot was the place where I went to talk on the phone when I lived in those apartments, leaning against the wire fence that had been warped by weather (and, most likely, by drunk college kids trying to break it to cross into the next street). It was usually at the end of the day, with the moon pressed to the night sky, and the sudden lights of cars appearing and vanishing from the main road.

I’d pace along the white outlines of parking spaces as I gossiped about my life to old friends, each of us trying to keep one another main characters in the narratives of our lives—leaking the names of new friends, funny stories, and embarrassing moments.

When one of my best friends from high school moved up to Santa Barbara, the parking lot was our place to talk. We sat slumped up against a cool gray wall in the lot, alternating talking and listening as we let fly confessions about the boys we liked, and what scared us. You’d think we would have found a prettier place, but no. It was the lot again. Anyway, she would listen just like she did in high school, and the memory of that place became richer.

When a friend of mine got a DUI, it was in that parking lot that I found her after the police had dropped her off. She was slumped over, defeated, knowing that I.V. had lured her in and swallowed her up, and that things had to be different from then on—a promise that she kept.

It was where I would stand and lean against a friend’s car before we drove off to wherever we were going. It was there that we'd stop to laugh and talk so she could smoke before we hopped into the car. She’d stub her Camel cigarettes into the pavement, twisting the heat out of them. She’s quitting now—smoking, not talking nonsense. It's unhealthy to quit the latter.

Most significantly, that back parking lot was where I would go to talk on the phone to family members when my father passed away suddenly the summer before my junior year. The same place that had been privy to so many stupid gabfests was now host to conversations of great solemnity, remembrance, confusion, and grief.

I grew up during those conversations. Talking to those people, in my own private nook of I.V., I learned to grapple with the inconceivable. The learning didn’t all take place there, of course, but some of it did. Enough of it did.

I biked past that same lot the other day, and I noticed that the busted fence has been replaced with a sturdier version. It’s funny. Even before I leave, the I.V. that I’ve known for four years is already changing—as it must.

Regardless, I have what I can remember; my I.V. can live forever in my memories just as can all the special things I’ve known that spark and fade away.

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