Becoming Ghosts

I lost Kenyon in a driving rainstorm in the spring of 1987. I was nineteen, seriously ill and frightened. That morning I signed the forms that officially withdrew me from school, hugged my boyfriend Borden and my best friend Lincoln goodbye, climbed into a battered Toyota, and pulled out, bound for hospitals and tests and suffering beyond comprehension. Borden and Linc stood in the rain until the car was out of sight.

I drove through campus, looking at Kenyon for the last time. A memory hung on every windowsill, every flight of steps, every lean of the road. I rode past the mottled tree where Linc and I shared our secrets. Past Caples, where a guy named John built a massive cardboard airplane, launched it off the roof, and cheered it on as it soared over the parking lot, then augured down inches short of someone's front window. Past the quad in front of Norton, where I broke my nose playing football with the guys from Lewis. Past the deli where I sucked down coffee, fretted over osteology, drowsed over Burke, and first saw Borden. Past the lawn where I first felt a body folded around mine, lips warm by my ear, a whispered I love you. Past the house where Megan, my English professor, wrote me the letter that made me a writer. Past the dorm where I first heard stories about the ghosts that haunt the campus. Past the bench where I sat and wondered why ghosts come here.

Nearly half a lifetime has passed. I never got well, and never came back. Borden became my husband. My friends moved on, graduated, scattered to the winds. John, builder of rogue cardboard planes, is dead. Linc is ushering his children through the world. Some of my friends have vanished. The rest are tending mortgages and children, thinning hair, thickening waists. Life is better and worse, simpler and more complicated, and the people we used to be slip further and further away, becoming ethereal. Becoming ghosts.

Sometimes, in my imagination, I go back to Kenyon and live in my former self, nineteen and exquisitely, irretrievably alive. I draw my friends around me, just as they were, and drift through the places where my memories are gathered. I see others here, animating their own lost selves. I glide down Middle Path with the other ghosts, understanding now why they come.

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend. She wrote the book while battling the debilitating exhaustion and crippling vertigo associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. The disease forced Hillenbrand to leave Kenyon after two years. She did eventually earn her degree: Kenyon bestowed an honorary bachelor's degree--and an honorary doctorate--on Hillenbrand in 2003.