I didn’t watch their car disappear in the distance because I told myself it would make it harder for them. Instead, I walked them halfway to their car, pretended I was cold, and quickly hugged them as I did the “I’m-freezing-cold” shuffle to escape the balmy 90 degree sun. I didn’t once turn back to look at them, imagining her frizzy, brown, curly hair and his tanned forearm resting on the window, instead.
In truth, I barely thanked them for carting my stuff across the state, setting up my entire room, and buying me enough food/shampoo/razors/pencils/Netflix membership to last the entire school year. I told myself this was the kindest thing I could do for them- these poor souls that must be suffering irreparably by my absence. Walking slowly through the drooping, water-stained dorm hallway, I wondered if my mom was already crying, and if so, would my dad just pat her hand as he drove them home, or would he say exasperatedly, “Kelly, there are worse things in this God damn world. You’ll see her in 5 months”?
As I entered my dorm room, I half-hoped that to find my mom’s purse, or my dad’s cell phone resting on my desk, a guarantee that they would be turning around any second. Maybe they’d be so tired that they’d decide to stay one more night. We could go out to dinner again at Something Different. Maybe see another movie in Clovis. Sadly, they left nothing important behind – just an empty Dasani water bottle with my mom’s pink, shiny, discarded Trident inside, a Kit Kat wrapper that my dad had artfully folded into a very teeny square, and their daughter, wearing too-tight spandex shorts, depressingly decrepit Vans sneakers, a 2-day-old hoodie, and an agonizingly sad look on her face. I wanted to look in my phone for pictures of them, but was too afraid I’d cry and would never, ever stop.
Instead, I walked around the building, inspecting stairs with gum barnacles, posters advocating safe sex, ad an abandoned orange loofa in the girls bathroom. I realized the sun must be going down, and wondered if my dad remembered to bring his new sunglasses, since they would be heading west, being swallowed by the orange sun. Automatically, my mind quickly calculated that they left exactly 2 hours and 17 minutes ago. My thoughts shouted, “this is the farthest they’ve ever been from me! And every second more is again the farthest they’ve ever been!” I decided that to combat my impending panic attack, I better go eat in the “SUB”, the school cafeteria that, disappointingly, did not offer any sub sandwiches.
I opened the door of my building, and felt instantly defeated and flattened by the daunting wasteland and the lonely and empty walk across the parking lot. The sun had gone down finally, and the whole place was eerie. Gone were the sprawling grass lawns, the well manicured flower beds, the historic buildings, the perfect weather, and the overall delightedness that accompanied my campus tour, enrollment visit, and moving into my dorm. What remained was a dark, empty, overly trimmed lawn, shadowy flower beds, creepy, derelict buildings, and more than a few stray cats. Before turning to go back inside, I noticed a plastic Shur-fine shopping bag entangled in my brand new bike, locked alone underneath a tree. I sighed and closed the door behind me.
Once inside, I heard the voices of some very loud boys coming from the lobby. They said, “hey hot stuff” as I walked by. I did not acknowledge them in anyway, the overly eager lobby trolls that would loiter in my new home.
I checked my phone for about the 897th time that day, and saw that it was dead. I practically sprinted back to my room, plugged it in, and waited. I stared at it, tapping the little round home button until I was sure I would break the thing. Finally, it turned on. I called my mom immediately. She didn’t answer. I thought for sure, she must be having so much fun with my dad and brother at home that she couldn’t be bothered to talk to her abandoned daughter. I sat down on my bed, angry, just in time to see my phone register a missed call. I called her back and realized we must be calling each other. I thought to myself, “how many people have died before they could stop simultaneously calling each other long enough to get through to say goodbye?” I admonished myself for having such an extremely morbid thought just as I answered the phone. My mom’s voice sounded strangled, stuffy, and sore. I was relieved. I told her I was having a great time. “I already met some nice boys in the lobby” and “I had the most delicious salad for dinner in the SUB”. I also told her the campus was even more beautiful at night and that I missed her and dad terribly. We talked a little longer before her voice began cutting in and out. I heard “canyon”, “Albuquerque”, and “service” before the call was dropped. I closed my eyes and purposefully imagined the exhilarating drive through the canyon before resurfacing to find the most beautiful (and only) city lights I had ever known. Home was SO.FAR.AWAY. I don’t remember anything else about that evening, except for thinking that I had made a terrible, horrible mistake.
The semester went on. I clumsily bumbled my way through classes, meeting few people of substance, spending most time brooding or reading, and literally counting down the days until the semester was over. Then with 36 days left, I met Shannon. Then Tibbs with 31 left. Then Tessa and Morgan and Taylor and Melvis and Cody and Rocky and Dr. Wilgorum and Coach K and then Ricky. And then Cedric and Mark B and Mark C and Mark T and Spencer and Boobian and Tyler and Zane and OJ and Chris and Rev and Elias. I enjoyed the dark walks through campus and game after game of Chase-Cat. I would send my mom pictures and funny poems and tell my dad all my wild stories. I stopped calling my mom’s work phone so often. I found my classes tolerable, and started eating dinner more. I started doing my hair again. And writing. And taking pictures. And smiling. And I got a Facebook. And life went on. And on.
Looking back, that first night at college, I fought myself tooth and nail. I knew I was tiptoeing the edge of a precipice, camped out in a fork in the road, taking a deep breath before the dive. I think somehow, I knew my life would never be the same again. And unlike walking my parents to their car, I took my time saying goodbye.