I grew up in the Pacific Northwest thinking that I would never leave the West Coast for college; why would I part with the breathtaking landscapes, the variety of outdoor activities, and the people that matched me to a tee? If someone were to tell me two years ago that I would be going to school in the South, I would’ve laughed and shaken my head. Deciding to go to Tulane was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken and one that I will never regret. Going to a university where I knew no one, was 3,000 miles from home, in a social climate that I wasn’t used to, was something I feared immensely, yet I love Tulane more than anything. I knew that such a big leap would change me, and I both welcomed and shied away from this change.
Going home for Thanksgiving for the first time, as I’m sure other freshmen can relate, was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced. There were so many unknowns and worries: what if my friends and I no longer get along? Will my room still feel like my room? What if I go back home and don’t want to leave? As I sat on the plane heading back to Portland, listening to “West Coast” by Coconut Records and trying to have a main character moment, I pondered every detail of my return: how I would hug my best friend for the first time, what I would do first when I returned, where I would go for my first meal. It was a futile exercise because none of my hypothetical scenarios actually came to pass. I saw my best friend and I went to my favorite Italian restaurant, but nothing was as dramatic or as shell-shocking as I had thought it would be. In a completely normal way, my old life and the people in it had actually kept moving as I was away; it’s crazy how that works. I suppose I had subconsciously thought that Portland had frozen in time the second I stepped onto the plane headed for New Orleans in August and wasn’t going to unfreeze until I stepped foot back into the city again. Believe it or not, the ground did not shake when my plane finally landed and the neighbors did not pour out of the houses with smiling faces when I first stepped onto my porch (my mom did). So what you’re saying is the world doesn’t revolve around me?!?
To put it simply, returning home was quite anticlimactic. But I certainly didn’t make it any more entertaining. I had expected to go home with days packed with activities, surrounded by my old friends at every moment. I was so excited to share my college stories and show everyone pictures of my new friends. In reality, I spent most of my time sleeping, watching movies with my mom, going to the doctor to cure my seemingly endless illnesses, and walking the dog with my dad. As soon as I walked through my door my body finally decided to give up; I was exhausted at all times and the most antisocial I had ever been. I decided to cut myself some slack and just attribute my mopey energy to the fact that I had been a social butterfly for three months straight. My closest friends weren’t returning until Winter Break, so I figured I wasn’t missing out on precious time with them. Yet, it was still a strange and unexpected feeling to be such a sluggish homebody when I returned home, preferring the comfort of my house to a hike, and to sleep in rather than go out for brunch with my friends.
When I first walked into my room, it took me off guard seeing how it had become a storage space. Every time I went into the kitchen I opened two drawers before finding the one I wanted because my mom had rearranged the whole house. It felt like home, but it didn’t feel the same as I had remembered; everything was temporary. My presence was temporary. My clothes were clumped around my duffel bag instead of in my drawers and every day I had to pick from a limited number of items because most of my clothes were back on campus. I texted with my friends from Tulane more than my friends from home, and I was itching to see them again. Leaving Portland to return to Tulane did not spark any passionate emotions because I knew that I would be back in less than three weeks. Winter Break would be the true test.
Thanksgiving was only a taste of being home: seven days and then back to Tulane. Winter Break, however, was a whole thirty-two nights. I was thrilled for the academic break and excited to relax for an entire month, but also nervous about filling the days. I spent a lot of time with my parents, went on a lot of dinner dates with friends, and ventured to the movies more than a few times. But I also found myself bored a lot of the time; I attempted to remember what we did during the winter in high school and constantly drew blanks. I started feeling the need to make concrete plans with friends whose houses I used to show up to out of the blue without invitation. I noticed myself gravitating toward a select few people instead of making a strong effort to spend time with everyone. All of my friends from growing up were perfectly pleasant and lovely to see, but there existed an unspoken tension that lived in the reality that we were completely separate from each others’ new lives. Inside jokes developed from the previous four months did not land in the way they did with my friends at Tulane, and it was strange encountering people who had watched me grow every day for all of my life be completely in the dark about my life in college.
This time around, the suitcase vs. drawer predicament was an even more intense battle because now I had a month’s worth of things and multiple suitcases. However, my old drawers were now storing old scrapbooks, miscellaneous cookware, and Christmas decorations. So I had no choice but to splay everything out on the floor. When I had friends over, it was as if I was inviting them to my Airbnb. I think the fact that I didn’t ever put my clothes away created a boundary between my old home and my new home. In reality, visiting Portland was now a vacation destination rather than my true residence. Seeing my parents was now a luxury rather than a given. Even more, whenever I was in conversation with someone about returning to Tulane, I would always lead with, “when I go home…” without even thinking. However, even with my opened suitcases and the rift between myself and my hometown, it is difficult to not slip back into old routine with an entire month at your disposal. Coming back to Tulane was like a slap in the face. I initially thought it would be easy; I had been here before hadn’t I? Now it was bound to be easier. I had friends, my room was already set-up and decorated, and I knew what to expect from the Commons food. But the smooth transition I had expected did not come to fruition. In fact, coming back to Tulane was considerably more difficult than moving in the first time. I couldn’t shake the guilt of leaving my parents behind and choosing to go to college so far away. I suppose I had taken their company for granted previously. Going from absolutely no responsibility to a full course schedule wasn’t easy either. My roommate was forced to listen to my tangents about how I thought I was going crazy because first semester was never this hard.
As the weeks go by, I am certainly adjusting to my life back at Tulane. Yet, the adjustment does not discredit how it can often be difficult to go back and forth between one life and the next, often feeling overwhelmed by the quick movement between both. However, I have learned that it is vital to give yourself time and grace as you go through the motions, and adapt to each life and version of yourself. I hope that with time and experience I will be better equipped to handle the duality of my two lives, and I’m crossing my fingers that going home will feel more comfortable in the future.
Featured Image via user Calli on Pinterest.
1 thought on “Suitcase At Home”
This is a wonderful, thoughtfully written article. I’m sure my daughter can relate, and I can too, even though my college days are long gone. You captured a feeling that I think most of us experience without ever putting words to.