The early morning sunlight peeked through cracks between the shutters and forced my eyelids to flutter open. As soon as my mind collected its thoughts, I could feel knots forming in the pit of my stomach. It was one of those days you didn't want to be awake for, the kind where being asleep and oblivious would be much preferable. I pulled the covers over my head as a wave of anxiety washed over me. I contemplated staying there.

Then with a sigh, I put two feet on the floor and slowly rose up. I had to face this.

I woke three of my best friends who were still sprawled out asleep on my bed. Yes, we squeezed four girls into a queen bed that night. Maybe we were being ridiculous, but all we really wanted was to savor every last minute we had together. To savor our last night of normalcy before life was flipped upside down on us.

It was the morning of July 28th, a day I had been dreading for quite a few months now. It was the day I would hop on a one-way flight to Ohio and wave goodbye to everyone I loved. I was starting over completely, not knowing a single soul at the college I was about to attend. Of course, this is what I had chosen for myself, but as the summer dragged on, I began to wonder more and more exactly why I had chosen this. Upon waking that morning, I was pretty sure I had no idea. I trudged downstairs to my kitchen to find my whole family, two more of my friends ready with a grande vanilla latte for me, and two extremely large suitcases. My stomach turned as I contemplated how you even go about this. How you say goodbye.

I already had fresh tears, something I was trying to avoid but I knew would be inevitable. I hugged my older brother first, who was 20 years old and putting on a good face for me. My youngest brother Zach came over next, and it hurt me so much to think I would be missing his first day of high school. I wiped my tears and tried to collect myself, but nothing could've prepared me for the moment my 16-year-old brother Sam came sulking down the stairs. Sam was a 6'2" high school hockey player who very much cared about his image as a "tough guy." I had rarely seen him cry since he was a little kid. And yet, the moment he hugged me, he erupted into tears. It broke my heart. My friends all lost it too, watching me embrace my giant little brother who was normally tough as nails. My kitchen at that moment was one big tear-filled nightmare, and I hardly thought I would have the strength to walk out the door.

After we loaded my suitcases into the car, I embraced my best friends one last time. My heart was so filled with them, and I could already feel it always would be. As my parents and I drove away, I watched a collection of crying faces in the rearview wave goodbye. I had actual physical pain in my stomach. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to turn around. Maybe I could transfer, go to college somewhere closer to home. I could come home on weekends and be with my family, and all of my friends would be right there at school with me. It would be so much easier.

But, no. I felt something deeper in me fighting these thoughts, some burning subconscious part of myself that I could hardly even recognize. Something silently screaming at me, you don't want easy. I wiped my tears and sucked in a deep wavering breath. I glued my eyes forward on the unraveling highway ahead. And at that moment, I knew, just in the stretch between my home and the airport, I had already grown up.