Thursday, August 7, 2014

Someday... Revisiting Combs Hall, Eastern Kentucky University


So many memories...
 When I learned in February that Eastern Kentucky University planned to demolish Earle Combs Hall, built in 1962 and named for Baseball Hall of Famer, Earle Bryan Combs, at the end of the Spring semester, I felt an influx of myriad emotions. I felt momentarily overwhelmed. Returning to Combs Hall was something I always intended to do someday. Combs offered mixed memories and emotions for me. In the five semesters I lived in Combs Hall, many, many good things happened along with a few bad things. The reason I had avoided returning to my old room had to do with a life-changing event that happened in that room. I'd always felt like I needed to return there for closure, and I'd always found a reason not to go through with it. I didn't want to face what might surface once I stepped inside the room. So someday was always out there somewhere waiting to come. Suddenly, someday might be gone...

I emailed the EKU Alumni Office to ask when the building would be demolished. They responded that dismantling the building would begin in April but couldn't provide a demolition date. For some reason, I got the impression it would likely happen some time in May. I resigned myself to an opportunity lost for closure. So much for someday. Oh, well, I lived this long without it, life would go on. It always does.

When we drove down Lancaster Avenue in early June, and Earle Combs Hall still stood looking as it always had from the outside, I gasped out loud and blinked back a tear. I'm fairly certain I tapped my husband's arm and mumbled something along the lines of. "It's still here. It's still here. I can't believe it's still here.", but I don't remember for sure. I couldn't take my eyes off the building. Then I reminded myself we weren't there for me.Well, we kind of were. That day I was donating copies of my poetry books to the EKU Library, but we were in Richmond for my niece's Summer Orientation. This was about Kaylee, not about me. Still, when she went to housing to see if she had been assigned a room and roommate yet, I asked if it would be possible to get into my old room in Combs not really expecting them to let me.

They did!

Two staff members accompanied us as we entered the building. Many things had changed; some hadn't. Funny after all these years the things one remembers. I immediately remembered my mailbox number when I walked into the lobby. (I wish I'd asked if I could have the mailbox door, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.) We headed down the stairs I'd walked so many times.

My room was in the basement. There were only 13 rooms for residents, two of which were half-sized rooms for only one occupant. All the rooms except two faced the parking lot. Our floor also housed the laundry room, for the entire building if I remember correctly, a bathroom and, I think, a janitor's closet.The numbers on the resident rooms were 1-13. None of this floor designation followed by the room number stuff for us! Apparently, at one time the basement had been the rec room. There was still a cable hookup in room 13 that some of the residents managed to make use of. That was before cable was in all rooms. I think it was one of the smallest floors, possibly the smallest, on campus.

Talking to our escorts about
how my room had changed
with my friend, Karen, when
this really was my room.
Note the doors
I walked straight to my room. The door looked wrong, but I wasn't sure why. Later I realized it was because it was gray instead of wood. I looked up. The room number was all wrong. It was 107 instead of 5. I felt a gut resistance to that small change.  I didn't even want to think about how many people have lived in that room since I did. It doesn't really matter. It was my room.

I stepped inside.

Upon initial
re-entry...
Teddy and me...
Note the built-ins and windows
I expected this flood of... something... nostalgia? regret? anxiety? bad memories? panic? vulnerability? bittersweet memories? some kind of emotion? to overwhelm me when I stepped inside the room. After all, the someday I thought was gone had unexpectedly arrived. It felt smaller. It looked so different. The built-ins were gone. A sink had been installed at some point. There were no beds, metal or otherwise. Furniture was stacked willy-nilly. The phone jack was still in the same place. The closets were the same except the doors were gray now instead of wood. The walls were no longer pale yellow. They were more of an off-white. The huge windows had been replaced with a smaller window. I felt a small wave of nostalgia and great relief flood over me. Yet, it wasn't at all what I expected to feel even though I still can't tell you what I expected.

Time had moved on. I had moved on. Even my room had moved on.

Built-ins gone... Sink added.
Window size reduced...
Studying...
As I posed in the window for photos, I remembered the poem I wrote in February, "Come Knock on My Window", and knew the girl I thought I'd left behind in that room with all those memories survives, lives, thrives in the woman I've become. Sometimes we have to let go of what we were to step into our truth, our strength, our selves.

Well...
I think this corner looked much
better like this!!
As I stood in the middle of the room, a thought started to niggle me. I pushed it away, but later that night it became a poem "It's Only a Room" because when I stood there and remembered the past, looked at how the room had changed and how it hadn't, I fully realized numerous people had lived between those four walls since me. They never knew either the joys nor the sorrows I experienced in that room even though I'm sure they experienced their own. Each of us left behind some small part of who we were as we grew into who we became. The pending demise of the room and the building would change nothing about my life.

with 2 of my Combs Hall friends
Terri and Melanie
Note the orange wall.
With my niece, Kaylee, outside
my room in Combs Hall
I walked up and down the hall peeking in the rooms where I'd laughed and cried with friends, spent nights drowning in sad music, celebrated... well, just about anything good because in those days we looked for excuses to celebrate, and made friends I still cherish to this day. The wall between what had been rooms 1 and 2 (one of the half rooms) had been demolished creating what I'm guessing had served as a kitchen and lounge area of some sort. The bathroom looked sadly the same, and I wondered if the most recent residents had organized their showers to use the first shower because it was the "best" of the three showers. One of the first tips Kelly Peck shared with me! The laundry room was just a big, empty space now.

Remembering
Making memories
I stepped back inside my room for one last look around. Both the room and I had
changed even while holding on to pieces of our selves. I smiled as I turned and walked away without a backward glance, well, okay, maybe one or two backward glances...

As I understand it, the building was demolished on July 31st though I've been unable to confirm that as of this posting. I, however, got my someday. Goodbye, Combs Hall, thank you for the memories and the friendships cultivated between your walls!!

Someday rarely waits for us, so we have to embrace it when we find it.

Did I find the closure I sought? I'm not sure there is really closure for some things. Some events happen in our lives, and they change us at our core. What I do know for sure is that standing in my strength in the middle of that room, I remembered that far more wonderful things than terrible things happened in that room, my room. I knew for certain something I sometimes forget - No single moment defines me.

2 comments:

  1. They have demolished the building. It did not occur until about a month or so ago. I am also a writer. I love how you wrote about "your room." As writers we tend to write what goes on in the bubble around us. Our writings can entail personal experiences, emotions, current affairs, life, death, birth, sorrow, pain, happiness and joy, all of which tends to shape us into who we are in the many chapters of our lives. Sorry for my rant. I wanted to let you know that the building has been tore down. God Bless!

    Sincerely,

    Allen Edwards
    EKU Class of 2014
    borntoclimb@live.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Allen,
      Not a rant at all... No need to apologize. I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. Life has been a bit hectic the past few weeks.
      I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog post!
      I'm always thrilled to meet other writers.
      You are so right about how our writings are shaped by our lives.
      Thank you for letting me know the building is now gone. My niece, who is currently a Freshman, sent me pictures of it midway through the process.
      Wish you all the best with your writing!
      Take care!

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