I sat cross-legged in front of the glowing luminescence of my laptop screen as the darkness crept through my wooden blinds. Ecology notes were scribbled in green on the whiteboard above my head. I was surrounded by cardboard boxes and stacks of packing paper. On breaks from studying I wrapped a piggy bank from England, chess set from Afghanistan, and flower vase from my mom. Right now I was watching a YouTube video which summarized the entire first semester of Organic Chemistry.
I heard the doorknob jingle and listened for the scratch that signaled the door’s opening. My dad had made his way down from Colorado Springs to help pack up the remaining furniture in my brother’s room as well as mine. He had just returned from a trip to get sandwiches for dinner, and we ate on two unmatched chairs at a table piled high with puzzles, kitchen towels, and silverware in the middle of being sorted.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?”
A few months before, I was living alone in our family’s 3,000 square foot house. My dad had moved to Colorado Springs to finish his career in the Air Force, my mom had followed soon after. Daniel and I stayed back while he finished high school and I continued my sophomore year at ACU. After the summer, he went up to live with our parents while I returned to Abilene once more for the start of the fall semester.
I’d never lived by myself before. It was so quiet. I never felt like putting on music because it reminded me of penny boarding across the wood floor on Saturday mornings or making pancakes on rainy afternoons. Weekends would pass without me saying a word to anyone; it was eerie to hear my own voice pleading our dogs to come back inside.
I didn’t really have any friends in Abilene. I volunteered a bit, which occupied some of my time outside of classes. I met people. I went for runs and baked apple pies and chocolate chip cookies. I read. On Halloween I bought a bag of candy and made a feeble attempt at socialization by handing it out to children in spiderman costumes and pumpkin babies. That didn’t go very well.
I could have tried harder. I should have tried harder. There were Honors College game nights I got emails about, intramural teams I found online, research club lunches I could have attended. And sometimes I did. I spent a solid semester immersing myself, short of joining a social club, in activities and socialization. It was fun, but I wasn’t very good at being a southern Christian girl. And I wasn’t good at being the opposite of one either. I love being outside but it was too hot most of the year and Abilene is at least three hours from anything “cool,” and even that’s supposing you enjoy high temperatures and roads packed with jacked-up trucks.
Ultimately, it wasn’t hard to decide to leave. There were some academic and resume-worthy excuses to try to stick it out, but those were pretty easy to disregard and I have a lot of practice in the leaving department. I’ve done it my entire life. There was one key difference though. This time the choice would be entirely mine. I would have to stand up for myself and hastily think of reasons why I couldn’t stay when asked, and try as preciously as possible not to offend people in the town they loved and I hated.
After dinner that night, I spent a few more hours studying before climbing into bed in our dismantled house. I thought about how it would feel the next day to leave. I went over the reactions and structures of organic chemicals for my final final tomorrow. Remembered the feeling of that hug. That note. Those well wishes.
When I awoke the next morning, the most beautiful sunrise glittered through the branches along our street. I ate dry cereal for breakfast and took my last shower at 842 Elmwood Dr. Abilene, TX 79605. I was too distracted thinking about the final to relish in the sentimentality of the moment and pleaded with myself not to care.
My dad drove me to campus.
This is the last time I’ll ever go this way and I’m not even driving.
I motioned for him to pull in just over there as I gathered my backpack and stepped out from the passenger’s side. The sky was quiet for such a big day.
“Kill it,” he smiled as I closed the door.
With the test behind me, I climbed the steps from the basement of the science building two at a time. I beamed as I opened the door to the warm and moist outside air. That one guy I’d always wanted to talk to said Have A Great Winter Break. The girl I usually passed before Western Lit said All The Best.
On the drive out of town, past the windmills of Sweetwater and the United Supermarket in Post, I’ll admit that a few tears streaked down my face. I was so relieved to be done. I couldn’t stop smiling, not as much for what was left behind but more for what was to come.
*Farther Along by Josh Garrels