Today was my departure party at work. Before it began my colleagues were working furtively around the office, slamming doors when I came around and letting me know that my presence wasn't welcome. I was told to stay in my office so that they could organize things. It felt a bit like house arrest, with a dash of Christmas morning. I didn't have much work to do - everything is over - so I read the New Yorker and played some solitaire.
Finally the appointed hour arrived and we went over to the West End. I was nervous as hell. They had printed up Lavinia's notes from my initial interview, back in the summer of 2002, and rereading my own words was a humbling experience. I was proud of some of my language and a touch embarassed by my naivete. People began trickling in and I developed a stock set of small-talk retorts and anecdotes. Yesterday I went to the movies again at midday - and Lavinia told her colleagues and boss about it, so I took a fair amount of crap for it, but it was very funny. L came, too, so she was very impressive and I was glad people could meet her. The conversation was smooth and it felt genuinely fun, which you can't always say about an office party.
For the main event Tara and Lavinia clinked on some glasses and got everyone's attention (maybe 30 people there in all at that point). Tara read a brief thing about me and it was heartfelt and touching. I shifted where I stood and put my hands in my pockets, then crossed my arms, then tapped my foot. I wasn't sure where to look. Lavinia read a longer piece recounting our august history together, and it was funny and embarassing. Afterwards they presented me with a big scrapbook - chock full of emails and flyers and programs, the result of two years' work, as well as their speeches and my own words from the infamous 'Scholar Weekly' emails. The book is really spectacular. And they gave me an orchid, too, our signature gift to our speakers. I said a few words of praise about my two lady colleagues and talked a bit about the office and what I was taking from it - I feel like I was incoherent - I was definitely tipsy at the time, but I covered these bases: "Lavinia was a great friend, and occasionally, a great supervisor;" "I couldn't leave the office unless I knew it would be take care of, and Tara is going to do an amazing job of it;" "I believe in our work here in S&F and I am so honored to be a part of it;" "I hope I can learn half as much in law school as I did here;" and, "there just aren't enough words..." and I thanked them for coming. This is what I remember. Winston Churchill I was not.
The party was supposed to end at six but we didn't leave until 7:30, and L and I returned to my house with the book and the plant in tow. I drunkenly fell asleep and woke again a little while ago. After L left I started reading through the book they gave me and found a surprisingly large section of testimonials from my students and my colleagues. I was listening to Eric Benet's song "India" at the time and lost it a bit. It was really touching to read what people had taken the time to say about me - things I did that I didn't think anyone noticed, things that made a difference for people that I didn't even know. I was so grateful to work in the kind of position and in the kind of community where you can make an impact like this. Receiving a book-ful of people's good will and encouragement for this next chapter of my life -- like when Tara was talking about me, and she mentioned my engagement to L, and this murmur of approval went through the room -- it breaks your heart in a way to realize that people care and that you haven't just been a shadow on the wall.
I'm so thankful for this chapter in my life, and to even have a tangible reminder of it. I'm not the same person I was when I waltzed into this world as a 22 year-old, and I miss that guy, but I'm thankful for the lessons I've learned. But still, it is heart-breaking to me, now.
On the card of the orchid Tara and Lavinia wrote, "With love, affection, and a touch of sadness." As excited as I am for everything ahead, it is so hard to walk away from the people who love you and make you feel like you matter.