Twenty-five years ago this month, I was getting ready to pack up my parent’s car with all of my belongings and start college. I was bursting with the desire to leave what I had always known and find the yet to find.
That was when all of my belongings fit in the back of a 80’s model station wagon.
They don’t anymore, in case you were wondering.
I thought I was completely ready to leave my suburban nest and handle it all on my own. I couldn’t wait to make decisions for myself, like I had always wanted. I had a voice, thoughts in my head, words on the tip of my pen, expectations high, and independence was within my grasp.
I was a fool.
My first three years of college were filled with loneliness, homesickness, bad boyfriends, confusion, dumb decisions and a dawning realization that maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. I got to 21 and was already tired. I was unsure of who I had been, who I had become, and if all the missteps along the way had damaged me permanently.
Half way through my junior year I moved into my first apartment by myself, with the help of my parents. It was a complete dump, like most first apartments are. I remember standing in my dingy little kitchen, with the plugs on the opposite side of where you actually needed them, wondering what I should do next. My parents had left. My soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend was in graduate school in Chicago and I knew that our relationship was in serious trouble. I was alone. It was completely quiet.
The only thing I could think of to do at that moment was to make myself lunch. I walked up to the corner grocery store and bought myself food for my first meal in my first big-girl apartment. Just me, no roommates, no one to navigate around except myself. I made grilled cheese and tomato soup.
It was far and away the best meal I had ever had. This was what real independence felt like. It felt like standing up in the face of an unsteady future and putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like straightening the road in front of me and choosing the direction instead of letting the direction choose me. It felt like growing up.
It tasted like grilled cheese and tomato soup.