I’m not a risk-taker.
A year ago, I bought a GRE study book and began brushing up on my high school algebra for a test that, during undergrad, I had never even envisioned myself taking. I crafted a spreadsheet comparing the various costs, application requirements, and deadlines for nine different graduate schools. For ten months, I made checklists. I ordered transcripts. I filled out countless online forms with my personal information. I wrote. I deleted. I revised. I cried.
And now, as I sit here eating microwave popcorn directly from the bag and listening to Nick Drake on vinyl, I’m done. It’s all over and I survived. I made it to the portion of the process that I didn’t ever really think about.
I spent so much time editing my writing sample, talking to current MFA students, contacting my references, and painstakingly finishing each application. It was so easy to think about each school, each choice, in theory. Yeah, I could live in Chicago or New York City. Sure, I’d move across the country to go back to school. No problem. It didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem tangible. When I thought about the future, the concept of place was this big blank space in my life. I pictured myself at work in a generic, nameless library. I pictured school, being a student again, but not a specific city. Even though I wanted so badly to get accepted, for someone to read my voice and pick me, I hadn’t thought past the arrival of the acceptance and rejection letters. I hadn’t thought about picking my life up and going somewhere completely new to study something that is, in most people’s minds, impractical. I hadn’t considered learning to navigate a new city, buying furniture, finding my new favorite coffee shop.
And now that’s where I’m at.
So I’m going. I’m moving to Spokane, Washington this fall to attend Eastern Washington University with a teaching assistantship. I’m going to be a writer and a teacher and a student. And I’m proud. Nobody forced me to do this but me. I made it happen. But beneath all of the relief and excitement, there is just as much stress and anxiety as there was while I hurdled through the application process. I might get there and be the worst writer in the class. I might not make any friends until January. I might get lost trying to find the grocery store. I might hate my life.
It’s finally starting to hit me that this place, this haven I’ve called home for the past three years and several summers before that, won’t be mine anymore. I won’t have trips to the beach in the dead heat of late August, or infuriating April snowstorms. I won’t lie awake in my bedroom on Sunday mornings, watching the light filter in and out of my curtains that aren’t quite dark enough and listening to teenagers whistle outside my window on their way to brunch. I won’t recount the hazy events of the night before with my friends, slumped in a booth in my favorite coffee shop. I won’t spend my evenings listening to eighteen year-olds pour their lovelorn hearts out while they sit on my couch and eat leftover donuts. It’s scary to think that something I’ve known so well, my life for three unbelievably formative years, will be gone. It’s even scarier yet to think that someone else — someone I may not even know — will be living it, taking naps on the couch I painstakingly selected for my living room and taking pictures of the snow-covered campus from my bedroom window right before Christmastime.
But I realize that leaving is just as much about saying hello to my new life as it is about saying goodbye to my old one. I can’t stay here forever, and if I’m going to leave . . . well, this is the best reason for me to do that.
I’m trying to be realistic. I know that I’m committing to at least five to seven emotional breakdowns over the next six months. I know that in the beginning I’m going to want to hide in my apartment and call my mom crying. I know that my workload will be stressful and I’ll say to myself “you chose this” while I pull an all-nighter highlighting passages in yet another collection of essays. But I also know that I will settle in eventually. I will find friends to sit with while we stare at our respective computer screens in our favorite coffee shop. I will bake gluten-free muffins to take to my writer’s workshop. I will come to love my new home. It just might take a little while to get there.