I spent most of last summer waiting for fall, when I’d finally get to move away from home for my first year of college. I daydreamed about the glamorous new life I’d be living in New York City and all the interesting new friends I’d make. I even downloaded a countdown app to my phone and set it to say “__ DAYS UNTIL I BLOW THIS POPSICLE STAND!!!” I didn’t really think about the fact that I wouldn’t be living with my parents anymore—not all summer, not during the drive to my new school, not while my folks helped me arrange the furniture in my new dorm room, and not even as we hoarded free mini quiches during the parents’ welcome reception. But when my dad went to get our station wagon and my mom started to say goodbye while she and I waited together on the sidewalk, what was about to happen hit me like a brick. For the first time ever, I would no longer be living with the people who knew everything about me, whom I felt completely comfortable around, who genuinely cared about my wellbeing. I started to sob uncontrollably, right in front of hundreds of my new best friends.
ARE YOU SERIOUS? YOU’RE CRYING? You live TWO HOURS from college, Gabby. There are freshman whose parents live IN OTHER COUNTRIES. You are wasting the best years of your life crying on this curb right now, is what my head said, but my heart told me to just keep crying. My mom looked around nervously, then she hugged me and joked that if I really hated college, I could always move back home and she’d homeschool me. That night I texted her, “MOM JUST REALIZED I LEFT MY MUSTACHE REMOVAL CREAM AT HOME” which she interpreted as “S.O.S.” (Man, I need to ease up on revealing my most embarrassing qualities on the internet.)
My first day of sleepaway camp, my first day of junior high, and my first day of college all occurred at very different ages, buy they all made me sob like a baby. I do not look cute when I cry. My face gets red, my body convulses, and I start hyperventilating so I can’t get a word out. I become plagued with irrational thoughts: I start to believe that the temporary feelings of discomfort that most people experience while adjusting to a new place are going to be forever for me, that I’m never going to feel comfortable anywhere else ever again. I worry that, having seen me at my worst, people will forever think of me as a wreck and rightly avoid me. I worry that I will never be happy away from home. A montage of all of the best parts of my childhood home starts playing in my head—my mom pulling a freshly baked pie out of the oven, our dog frolicking in the backyard. It should be noted that my mom has never baked a pie that wasn’t frozen Sara Lee, nor do we have a dog.
See, this is what I do. Instead of doing what I think most people do—acknowledging my fear of this unfamiliar new situation, then giving myself time to adjust, I retreat into nostalgia and romanticize the idea of home. I act like someone who was just drafted and stationed overseas, or who is about to serve a harsh prison sentence, when I’m really just lucky enough to do something that lots of people wish they could do but don’t have the means to (college, summer camp). I act like a big fat baby. (Babies don’t realize how good they have it—I wish it were socially acceptable for me to scream and cry for seemingly minor reasons like being cold and hungry.)
There are a ton of ways in which being independent and living on my own are awesome. I love not having to argue about what pizza toppings to order because when you’re on your own, you control your own pizza destiny. No one bugs me about going to bed any earlier than I feel like. It took me about three months, and a few weekends back home, for me to be able to appreciate these things, but I’m pretty comfortable now, and sometimes even excited about the possibilities that living on my own affords. But I’m still occasionally hit with moments where I wish I were sitting in my parents’ kitchen. Sometimes it’s easy to see why this is happening, like any time this year that I had to wear flip-flops just to take a shower in the communal bathroom in my dorm. But other times homesickness will hit me out of nowhere, like when I’m on the train and I’ve had a long, tiring day and I see a woman with the same purse as my mom and I suddenly want to cry because I wish I could just complain to her and nap on our couch. Or when I’m grocery shopping and realize I’ve accidentally bought enough bananas for a family of four. And right after each such bout of homesickness comes a wave of shame: Shouldn’t I be enjoying my youth and my freedom instead of crying for my mom in the middle of the produce aisle?