I’m not sure I’ll ever reach a point in my life where goodbyes become easy. I have a tendency to hold onto things tighter when it’s time to let go. Counting myself off was the only way I could force myself to walk away this time. A simple “one. two. three” was the only buffer between myself and the new adventure ahead. Looking back, it’s funny to me that uttering those three numbers was what it took for me to leave, I had to say it to everyone. It was like I was little again, counting myself off before I jumped off the once terrifyingly high rope swing at my grandparents house. The view from the top was scary, everyone else had already done it, and there was no way my cousins were letting me off without jumping. I always jumped, regardless of how much I didn’t want to at the moment, the trick was to not look behind you. 10 years later and I can’t say I’m that different, I counted myself off, took a breath, and only turned around once, maybe twice.
Change is hard. For me, the slightest rock of the boat has the potential to completely toss me overboard. Moving away and starting college nearly 700 miles away was not a slight rock for me — I was completely thrown out of the boat, and I am just now finding my way back in. There are moments when it’s fun to be in the water, to swim around and cool off after paddling for so long. But you get cold, and you have to use your upper body strength (or in my case lack thereof) to pull yourself back in that boat, all while the water continues to hit you. The day I said goodbye I was knocked out of my super comfortable boat and spent the next several days treading water.
Anyone who tells you that leaving for college is all smiles and excitement is lying, especially for those of us who left in the midst of a pandemic. It’s the ending of one big chapter of your life and the start of a new, completely different one. I think it’s perfectly normal to be anxious and dramatic, I certainly was. Going to college is supposed to be scary. You’re supposed to be nervous to start over. Going to college in the height of a pandemic is completely different. We all left with so much uncertainty, unsure of how soon we would be back home, who we’d find there, and focused on how many more experiences we weren’t going to have. Not to mention, all the other daily uncertainties that come with Coronavirus.
Every college student I know is struggling, nothing is as anyone expected, and we’re all waiting for what feels like an almost inevitable notice that we’re being sent home. I hope that notice never comes, but we would all be naive not to acknowledge it. I really like it here, I’ve met some amazing people and I’ve been lucky enough to get to do the things I love again, in a modified format, of course.
The last couple of nights before I left for Nashville were filled with lots of tears and incredibly tight hugs. Too many unbelievably difficult goodbyes—always followed by a “please, please be safe.” I stood outside, holding onto my white-pickett fence and in various parking lots for way too long, knowing as soon as I closed the car door or gate behind me it would actually be real. Saying goodbye to people as extraordinary as my friends and family hurt like hell. It hurt to the point that I questioned whether I could really do this, whether I made the right choice, whether I was ready to leave, and whether or not I was really ready to jump off the rope swing. I called my older brother, I think he was anticipating my panicked call. He assured me that none of us are ready, that no one has any idea what happens next, and ultimately we’re all swimming around just trying to get back in the damn boat.
The night my little brother and my parents left was one we all dreaded, a night we knew was coming, something we’d anticipated for months, but that didn’t make it any easier. I told them all I loved them too much. My brothers and I were raised this way; to love our family and friends with everything we have, which is often too much for other people. In my house love is never finite, it never runs out, there is never too much. This doesn’t change when we’re apart. FaceTimes and text messages are frequent and the laughter never seems to stop. The other day, I managed to FaceTime my 86-year-old grandpa and my 82-year-old grandma, they only complained about the “complex technology” and put the camera up to their ears a few times. Luckily, when you love someone enough the love never runs out, not when you leave for college, not when you really screw up, and not even when you have to force them to put their hearing aids in so they can FaceTime you.
The love I’ve had in my life has never been patient or kind, it’s incredibly messy, occasionally angry, and filled with laughter. I’ve grown up with people who’ve always encouraged me to take the leap, to jump off the rope swing and hopefully stick the landing. The love I was raised with taught me to always keep my feet planted on the ground with my head peeking into the clouds, it taught me to always bring a raincoat, and it taught me to be ten minutes early, everywhere.
A few nights ago, I found myself lying on the grass in the middle of campus, listening to really good music, looking up at the stars, surrounded by people I’ve quickly grown to love. I felt so small in that moment, I am such a tiny piece of this enormous world, and I have seen and experienced such a small fraction of the things that this world has to offer. I cannot wait to see what else is out there, to learn about things I’ve never imagined, and keep meeting people who make this hectic world so so sweet.
Nowhere feels like home does, and I doubt it ever will. Home is where my feet will always be planted and a big piece of me will always be, it’s where I learned to jump off the swing, and where I’ve always started my next adventure.
Despite being separated from home by a few states, I can still feel the bunches and bunches of love I’m constantly surrounded by. Love doesn’t mind traveling through glitchy FaceTimes, dozens of text messages, or phone calls made from the bus, it goes with us and reminds us we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be surrounded by people who have come into our lives exactly when they’re supposed to.
So, we squeeze those we love tight, countdown, take a deep breath, jump into our next great adventure, and just hope we don’t faceplant.
Oh, and don’t forget to call home.