Sad Girl Hours: My Lonely Journey Back To Penn State

It was dark when I turned onto College Ave. for the first time in a month, and even though it was a Friday night, State College resembled a ghost town. It was unnatural and made my skin crawl, but for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was finally home.

Full disclaimer: I know students are heavily discouraged from returning to Penn State, and I probably should have stayed home. In my own defense, though, I had only packed about five t-shirts and three pairs of leggings to go home to Chicago for spring break.

I needed my clothes. Forgive me.

Maybe there was also a part of me that just needed to see State College one last time before we (hopefully) return this summer for Arts Fest, and then I could accept once and for all that this pandemic was real and our semester was over.

Driving into State College, though, I felt like Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend.

I’d never seen College Ave. so empty and quiet. The restaurants were empty, the bars were barren, and not a soul was wandering towards Fratland.

It made my heart hurt.

When I reached Beaver Hill, I was fortunate to find my floor neighbors just as noisy as they were before. It seemed as though their friend group had all decided to quarantine together, so when I finally got to my apartment, the halls still smelled like weed and the windows vibrated with the welcoming sounds of Mac Miller (may he rest in peace). Even during a pandemic, some things never change.

However, it was at this moment that I discovered that I had actually forgotten my keys 600 miles away in Chicago. I won’t go into the details that include me desperately trying to pick a deadbolt lock with a bobby pin, but to make a long story short, my mom and I ended up staying at the Hyatt for the night.

My mom’s a Penn State alum, though, and I am a newly minted 21-year-old who had her first legal daylong szn stolen from her, so our first stop was actually the liquor store, which was thankfully still open. I’m extremely grateful to Penn State for not letting something like a global pandemic stop folks from having a good time.

As I sat in my hotel room and pressed my face to the window, I could feel my spirits plummeting. Old Main seemed to stare at me mockingly, and if I really squinted out into the darkness, Champs whispered to me with the ghost of Dirty Sprites past.

The next day, after my roommate had come to let me into our apartment, I went to Sowers Harvest Cafe to pick up some breakfast for my mom and me. When I walked inside, you would have thought they were preparing for the apocalypse with how hard they were working. Everyone I saw working was wearing a mask over their nose and mouth.

It felt eerie, but I took my banana chocolate chip muffins and went on my way. Apocalypse or not, they still offered to warm up my food, and they were still the best baked goods I’ve ever tasted in my life (Sorry, Mom).

After I packed my car, I spent the afternoon laying on Old Main lawn, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a little. It was Saturday, the weather was perfect, the grass was green, and the flowers were in full bloom. It was everything that makes State College the best place to be in the spring, but no one was there to enjoy it.

I think what broke my heart the most was seeing the empty patio at Cafe. All the tables and chairs were stacked in the center, and a calendar marking the 55 Days of Cafe was painted onto the front windows.

You know when you’re watching a movie that takes place after the world ended and there’s all these old advertisements from beforehand that seemed to sort of foreshadow something bad was about to happen, but no one knew at the time? Yeah, it was like that.

I don’t know if going back to Penn State for the weekend made me feel better or worse. Everything felt wrong about being there and not seeing anyone, especially with such nice weather.

I came home with a frown on my face and my morale lower than I left it, but I’m happy I got to see everything one last time before my senior year. I wonder if this is what it’s going to be like as an alum planning my next trip back to Happy Valley and constantly reminiscing about the good ol’ days.

Regardless, I’ll be counting down the days until I’m back in the 814 for good and the world is back to normal.

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About the Author

Katie Moats

Katie Moats is a senior majoring in English, and her goal this year is to get a big girl job. Seriously, though, if you're looking for someone who can write and edit like nobody's business, she's Katelyn Moats on LinkedIn and will literally interview with you tomorrow. You can follow her @k_moats24 on Twitter for stupid content, but if it's something serious, feel free to shoot her an email (preferably in the form of a poem) to [email protected].

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