I find myself packing again. Well, let’s be completely honest, this isn’t really packing it’s shoving three weeks’ worth of dirty clothes into a suitcase and having my roommate sit on it so I can get it to close.
This time is different; this isn’t the same nostalgic trip down memory lane as when I packed before college. This is the “night before my first trip home frantic pack.” So you get the idea—my plane leaves in two hours, and no, college didn’t teach me to procrastinate. I was experienced in that art long before I stepped onto my college campus.
So now that I’m packed, I have a minute to examine my emotions about my first trip home. I’m excited. My best friend, Matt, picks me up, groggy, for our 4:00 a.m. drive. My expectations are that I am going home to what I left: my parents, home-cooked meals, friends with whom I shared distinctive bonds and my long-distance boyfriend, whom I have been dying to see. I am happy at college, but a trip home, to my family and friends, sounds like just the thing I need to prepare me for the pre-finals crunch.
I think I will catch up on the missed hours of sleep on the plane. Instead, I look around and realize that most of the exhausted passengers are students just like me. Below us, in the cargo bin, sits a year’s worth of dirty laundry at least.
I miss my connecting flight, so I am later than expected. I step off the plane to find my mom frantic, thinking I had been “abducted” on the trip home. I look at her puzzled. I guess in a mother’s eyes there is no logical explanation for being late, such as the obvious flight trouble. I assure her that I am fine and that I don’t need to fly as an “unaccompanied minor” on the way back.
A few hours later, I’m back at the airport, waiting for my boyfriend’s arrival home. He steps off the plane with the same groggy but excited look I wore hours before. We drive over to see my dad, who seems calmer than my mother had been. I ask to see my room, expecting to find my shrine, my old pompoms, prom pictures, candid photos of friends and dolls scattered about. To my surprise, everything is gone; there’s not even a trace I had ever lived in the room. I’m starting to wonder if I really had been abducted on the way home. It’s as if the second I became a “college” student, I had ceased to exist.
I start to wonder what else had changed since I’d been gone. My parents are in an awkward transition, wondering how to treat me now. They wrestle with whether to treat me—still their daughter—as one of them, an adult, or as the child they feel they sent away months earlier.
I run into two of my best friends from high school; we stare blankly at each other. We ask the simple questions and give simple, abrupt answers. It’s as if we have nothing to say to each other. I wonder how things have changed so much in such a small amount of time. We used to laugh and promise that no matter how far away we were, our love for each other would never change. Their interests don’t interest me anymore, and I find myself unable to relate my life to theirs.
I had been so excited to come home, but now I just look at it all and wonder: Is it me?
Why hadn’t the world stood still here while I was gone? My room isn’t the same, my friends and I don’t share the same bond, and my parents don’t know how to treat me—or who I am, for that matter.
I get back to school feeling half-fulfilled, but not disappointed. I sit up in my bed in my dorm room, surrounded by my pictures, dolls and mementos. As I wonder what has happened, I realize that I can’t expect the world to stand still and move forward at the same time. I can’t change and expect that things at home will stay the same. I have to find comfort in what has changed and what is new; keep the memories, but live in the present.
A few weeks later, I’m packing again, this time for winter break. My mom meets me at the curb. I have come home accepting the changes, not only in my surroundings, but most of all in me.
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