I arrived back in New Hampshire on Monday night, at the end of the first day of classes at Keene State. Because I teach on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I always get a one-day reprieve at the beginning of the semester: an extra day to move back into my apartment, stock up on groceries, and tend to last minute preparations before embarking on another academic year.
I wrote this time last year about the strange sensation of moving back into my apartment in Keene, where I live three days a week during the school year. It’s been three years that I’ve divided my days this way, migrating like a student between my summer and school-year homes. This, of course, is the first year I’ve left a husband behind in Massachusetts, thereby surprising those who believe marriage automatically means uninterrupted cohabitation, professional obligations and economic realities notwithstanding. Among academics, however, there is a long tradition of commuter marriages, and I’ve encountered more than a few long-married folks who get a far-off, longing look when they consider what it would be like to be married but with a place of their own to visit occasionally.
Coming back to Keene after a summer away, I’m always acutely aware of the things that have changed while I was gone. The house across from mine is inhabited by a new batch of college guys with pickup trucks; around the corner, two new houses harbor another throng of students, clogging the street with a new string of parallel-parked cars. Downtown, there is now a hotel in a boxy building I’d watched grow from the ground up: how strange to see a family pushing a loaded luggage cart to parking lot that used to be weeds and grass! And yet one thing I’ve learned from three years migrating between New Hampshire and Massachusetts is that change never changes. Every year, there’s always new construction, always new neighbors, and always a new crop of students, this set of replacements slipping into the places left vacant by their predecessors.