During high school, I encountered what seemed to be much more than my fair share of drama. I made friends, lost friends, made mistakes and achieved great things, but there was only one thing stuck on my mind: getting as far away from the town that I grew up in as I possibly could. Don't get me wrong, I had some absolutely amazing friends and I adore my family, but I was ready to start over and experience something new and meet a bunch of people who didn't know my name or anything about me. I was tired of the labels I had acquired during my eighteen years of growing up in the same small town, I was ready to chase my wildest dreams and leave the past behind.
So, college admissions time rolled around and 9/10 of the big schools that I applied to were out of state, the closest one (and my dream school) being five and a half hours away. Once I received my acceptance letter to my dream school and figured everything out financially, I was thrilled. I'd finally be able to get the fresh start I had been dreaming about and make a bunch of new friends and learn new things. Senior year flew by, and as graduation loomed, I began to panic. I didn't feel ready to hang up my cheerleading uniform or submit the last change to the yearbook and especially not walk across the stage to grab my diploma. "Where did the time go?" I wondered to myself as May turned into June and I was getting ready to say goodbye to the past eighteen years of my life.
An average summer came and went and then it was time to pack up the Ford Expedition and make the voyage to college. My fear turned into excitement as I realized just how much I wanted to go far away and start over. During my first few weeks, I learned amazing things, met wonderful people and had some of the best times. The best part about it all was that I could be completely, 100% myself and not have to worry about what people would think.
Unfortunately, things took a large turn for the worst around Halloween. I got a bone chilling text from my mom that my grandmother, a woman who I have adored since birth, had fallen and broken her pelvis and was really, really confused in the hospital. It was at that moment that I felt a pang of guilt. "I should be there with my family," I thought to myself. Finally, it was time for Thanksgiving and I could go home. My grandmother was confined to a wheelchair, and my grandfather was using a walker. The last time that I had seen them, they were both walking without help.
Again, I felt a huge shot of guilt go through me. I felt guilty that I was away having the time of my life while my family struggled to cope with the decline of my grandparents- the roots of our family. My 19th birthday was the Thursday after Thanksgiving, and I was back at school having fun with my friends. The next day, my mom called to tell me my grandfather was going to have to have emergency surgery, and I knew that at his age, it would be a big risk. I talked to him right before he went under, knowing that that very well could be the last time I'd ever talk to him on the phone. The moment I hung up, I began to grow incredibly homesick.
Winter break rolled around and my grandfather was still in the ICU fighting for his life. I was thankful that I had an entire month to spend at home, but not prepared to see my grandfather so swollen and sick on a ventilator that was literally breathing for him. My heart shattered with sadness and guilt, knowing that the end was near. I had spent so much time at school having fun that I missed the last few months of my grandpa's life. I could have visited more, I could have called more, but instead I was so focused on this new life I had that I completely abandoned my old one.
Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away shortly before I was supposed to go back to school, which left me having to leave town the day after his funeral, and I was a complete wreck. I didn't want to go back. I was fearful that the second I left, something else would go wrong, someone else would get sick or pass away and I would have never gotten to say goodbye. I loved school, the friends I had there, my classes and especially sporting events, but it felt like my heart was in two different places. The fact that those two places were five and a half hours away from each other didn't make things any easier. However, I did convince my mom to let me bring my car to school for second semester, and I have thanked myself for dedicating myself to persuading her every day.
Now, when I miss home, I can just drive there. The long car rides give me time to think, and it's always worth it when I walk through the door and see my dog waiting for me. I realized that no matter how much you may want to change, there really is no place like home, but that I love my home and the place that I go to school far too much to choose between the two of them-- so I chose both. I go to see my family as much as I possibly can, twice a month at maximum, and when I'm back at school, the memories from my visits help me feel less homesick. Don't worry, I still find time to go out with my friends and study while I'm away. It really is possible to have the best of both worlds, you just have to decide how much time you're willing to put into planning it out.
Since starting college, I've learned one very important lesson that didn't come from a professor: No matter how far you go or how old you are, you can always go home again.