Everett and I went to Target the other day, our favorite place. Well, my favorite place. My house is slowly becoming an ad for their home department. And of course this gets me into trouble with Chris, saying I don’t need to spend the money, but I convince myself it’s all okay because I save 5% with my RedCard. Thankfully I am not in charge of our finances.
The store was crowded with college kids, their carts full of “stuff”, like laundry baskets and binders and that got me thinking about my first day of college. So as I stood in the aisle and debated on what toilet cleaner brand to buy, I remembered starting freshman year.
On move in day, I stood in my half empty room at home, packed and ready to leave, looking at my life in boxes and wondering what the hell was going to happen to me. I was always a homebody, not compatible with change and beyond unnerved at the unknown.
Dad, Allison and I packed up the car and drove to campus. It was buzzing with people and I remember I had to get my room key before we could move in. There were seniors handing them out, and I was anxious to walk over and tell the older girls my name. I was anxious about everything.
I can honestly still feel that pit in my stomach, weighted by the fear of not knowing anyone or anything. I was unsure of my surroundings, and unsure of myself. I went from this confident, popular cheerleader in high school to NOBODY in a split second. My childhood friends were all scattered across cities and states, starting their own college journeys. It was weird to be away from them.
I saw so many parents around–so many moms, walking with their daughters, helping them carry those laundry baskets and binders from Target. I saw face after face, but not yours. None of them were even pretty like you were, or dressed sleek like you did. For some reason this made me even more mad, as if because you were young and beautiful, you had more of a right to live than all of these other moms on campus. I would think, “Hey you, yea you…mom with the red framed glasses and white walking tennis shoes…my mom was healthy and took care of herself…why didn’t you get cancer?”
I know that sounds so horrible, but I thought it dozens of times, at every mom I looked at. Your absence was so literal and obvious, I was ashamed to be alone. I wanted a sign on my back that said my mom died of breast cancer. she was 39 and beautiful and married with four kids. she was a success. and so was I.
When I was growing up, the whole community knew you. My friends and their mothers knew you. These new college people and their parents didn’t, and somehow to me, that meant you never existed.
Anyways, once I had my key and dorm number, Dad and Allison came with me to unlock the room. It was such a small space, with white painted cinder block walls. There were two twin bunk beds, two dressers and two desks and nothing else. It was bare and empty, leaving me to feel the same way.
They said good bye, and I will never forget standing in that room, feeling trapped and alone and holy shitting myself. This is where I have to live?
I took my new sheets out of the plastic package and put them on the uninviting mattress, tucking all the loose sides in like you used to do. I guess this was my sad attempt to make the space cozy.
My room mate arrived with both of her parents, and I felt like I needed to explain who I was. She was so nice, her parents were so nice—but how could I say where my parents were? I said, “My Dad just left a little bit ago,” so they would know I wasn’t that alone, but then I thought, wait, now it sounds like I just don’t have a mom. Or I do, but she doesn’t love me enough to witness the first day of college–or something strange like that.
The transition from saying “my parents” to just “my dad” was hard. My entire vocabulary changed when you died, and these college kids did not understand my adjusted language.
But eventually I got the hang of school. I met good people, and got used to the drinking, partying and studying. My room mate and I got along really good, and I even met a boy I was interested in. We had fun together, and I started to enjoy the “college life.” Campus was small though, and I wanted a refuge from the craziness and constant chaotic crowds. Home was not the answer because you were no longer there, so I really remember feeling stuck, like I didn’t belong anywhere. Not only that, I simply wanted more. Going to class wasn’t satisfying, and neither was forcing myself to be drunk every weekend (how hard, right?).
And then my yoga journey started, and the rest seems like history.
And then Chris came along and changed everything for the better.
So this all leaves me now, sitting here at my kitchen table, thinking about when my kids start college someday. I now understand that it will be such a privilege to guide Everett into the transition (whether he wants me to or not) and to witness his journey. If I feel sad or stripped away from my baby when he leaves, I’ll remember how lucky I am to still physically be here for him.
Because I know you would’ve given anything to be with me on that first day.