The bells hadn’t chimed.
“Just six more minutes,” Marshall said. “We need to stay.”
Marshall and I stood on the top floor of the iconic Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. After waiting for nearly two-and-a-half hours on a brisk, April morning, we climbed the multitude of spiral staircases to the building’s pinnacle, picked our bricks and signed our names.
Finally, 10:54 a.m. rolled around.
“Just six more minutes,” he said. “We need to stay.”
As we glanced at the names scattered across the interior brick of the beloved campus landmark, the inner-workings of the clock ticked, loudly annunciating the precious final minutes disappearing from our undergraduate careers — but, finally, the time came.
The first set of bells rang.
Nearly four years earlier, I carried boxes full of my stuff into Hinton James. My parents hugged me goodbye. I found family with my friends, new and old. I grew up, but not too much. I learned a lot in class, especially how tough professors can make your life.
The second set of bells rang.
We found love in football before refs in Charlotte ripped it away from us. Months later, covered in Carolina Blue paint, I slumped up Paul Hardin Drive. Our beloved Tar Heels blew a lead against the Blue Devils in the Smith Center. As I showered, the tears of blue paint drained into the Morrison plumbing. Marcus Paige hit the shot. 4.7 seconds. Kris Jenkins. Heartbreak.
The third set of bells rang.
Registration? A breeze. Cook Out? A second home. March? Maye. Isaiah scored. Kennedy blocked. Justin Dunked. April? Redemption. Heartbreak? It sat a year away, but the painful realization of graduation, the largest term paper ever assigned, begged us to procrastinate.
The fourth set of bells rang.
I enjoyed the little things. The careful placement of the lamps on McCorkle, the crunch of the leaves falling onto the quad come October, the occasional swipe into a dining hall. Davie Poplar survived, I celebrated on our Franklin and found family with my friends, new and old. Another snow day or two provided the Old Well photos and sledding on the Hill before the final bits of basketball heartbreak. Surely, yet not slowly, everything became a last.
The hourly bell rang the first of eleven times.
Marshall and I fought the urgency of the loud tones as we climbed down from the tower. Like so many others, we had signed our names on the brick and mortar of the home we love, but the bells kept ringing, signaling our time had come to an end.
As we exited the landmark crowning Chapel Hill’s skyline, we knew we could never again experience the climb to the top. Maybe —just maybe — if someone had told me of the tears I shed at the top of the bell tower, I would have spared myself the pain and stayed on the ground.
As the eleventh bell rang, Marshall and I found ourselves on the outside looking in, jealous of our classmates still climbing and all those waiting to get into the doors.
The bells will forever ring clear and true, and though I’ll only hear them from outside the tower, I won’t ever forget how it sounds.
But, please — just six more minutes.