It’s been another long and crazy week with finals wrapping up, tracking down my adviser to make plans for next semester, and facing the daunting task of packing up my entire apartment and the packing a smaller portion of that for Greece. But for the first time basically since the month of May started, I’m feeling a sense of calm and relief. Which is not to say that things have calmed down. As I said, I still need to pack up my entire apartment and nearly two years worth of accumulated crap (where did I get all this stuff?), pack and buy things for my Greece trip, and tie up what feels like a million loose ends. But despite the fact that I will be uprooting my entire city life in the next couple weeks to head back to a place I was hoping had seen the last of me, I feel strangely settled. I guess it’s always been this way with me. Major changes and decisions throw me for a loop, jack-hammering me out of the habitual way I like to live my life and it’s devastating…for about a week.
Okay, sometimes more depending on what the issue is. My breakup with Wolf had an initial traumatic period of about two months with aftershocks rippling through the next oh, two three years? But that is rare. Usually it’s a matter of days or weeks before the initial jolt wears off and my new life, my after, begins to fall into place. It’s the chaos and confusion of change that is hard for me, the sudden feeling that the path under my feet has dropped away to a terrifying cliff with no way down or across. When my perfectly imagined future is devastatingly revealed to be just a castle on a cloud that is as easily wiped away as the tears this revelation often causes.
But the truth is, it’s never a cliff and there is always something beyond the illusion. It might require retracing my steps and figuring out a new way forward that doesn’t lead to a dead end. It might simply be a matter of taking off the rosy colored glasses to build a real castle out of the bricks crumbled off the imaginary one. Like when I was eighteen and deciding on what college to go to. I’d been accepted to all my safety schools and offered money by some. I was waiting to hear back from my top choice and looking over the measly financial aid package offered by my second choice (and now current grad school!). And then I got the news from my third-choice school: a full scholarship and acceptance into the honors program. I didn’t want it. I wanted to get into my top choice. I wanted more money from my second choice so I could afford to go. I didn’t want to go to some measly state school out on Long Island, no matter how pretty the campus was or how much money they were offering me. I wanted to be in New York City, in Manhattan, at one of the top schools in the country. And yet I knew I would be a fool not to take the scholarship, not to save myself the burden so many of my peers now face in the form of mountains of student loan debt.
I knew in my gut what I had to do, but I wanted a miracle. I wanted my top choice school to come back with not only an acceptance but an absurd amount of money that would allow me to live the dream I’d constructed for myself. Instead, I got the skinny envelope. No miracle. Just the tough fact of doing the thing I knew I should. And in the end, it turned out better than I’d imagined, perhaps better than it should. I had an amazing four years, three of them spent with Wolf. I graduated not only with no student loan debt, but without the pressure to stay in a major I’d become disillusioned by two and a half years in. With a free ride, I could do that sort of thing without feeling guilty that I’d made my parents pay for an absurdly expensive school only to change my mind. I could switch to something entirely impractical that I loved instead of forcing myself to stay with something that was killing me but promised a fat paycheck down the road.
Of course, I didn’t know at the time how things would turn out. I couldn’t know that I’d be glad I chose to do the right thing, the practical thing. But when I handed my dad the skinny envelope and angrily told him that congratulations, he wouldn’t be paying my tuition, I did know it was somehow right. I knew because under the disappointment and anger, there was a sense of calm in my gut. For better or worse, the decision had been made and I would figure out how to make the best of it from there. And it was the same feeling I had when I called my mom, anger and panic dripping from my voice, to tell her that I had to move and I was probably coming home. I knew as soon as I got the news from my roommate what I had to do. I also knew I would hate it and that I would curse this decision over and over again in the months to come. And again, I begged for a miracle. Maybe I could somehow stay in the apartment and take over the lease from her. Maybe I’d win the lottery (yea, I know). Maybe…
I got the skinny envelope again. There was no way I’d be able to afford the rent, even with a roommate, and there was a good chance the apartment wouldn’t even be available to rent in a couple months. The landlord wanted to do renovations, fix some of the weird problems with the place, and—if the rumor is true—knock down the walls between mine and the apartment next door to make room for his son’s growing family. There it was again: no miracle, just the disappointing task of doing the thing I didn’t want to, but that I knew was probably right.