I’ve always been the one left behind. One of my earliest memories involves being left at a climbing net area at SeaWorld; one minute, I was climbing directly above my mother, and the next, she was no where in sight. (We were reunited shortly thereafter, but that’s not the point.) This is not to be dramatic–this is just a simple fact, a recurring theme in my life, something that cannot go ignored. I am the one who remains when all others seem to exit through a revolving door that continues to elude me.
There is a lifetime of being left behind. Life happens, forces people to move elsewhere; other times, there was no choice in the matter. Times when the leaving brings a silence so loud, it takes nearly ten months to fill the emptiness of being left behind. No one tells you how deafening silence can be–no one teaches you how it feels to be the one left standing when everyone else is gone.
I’ve never been the one who does the leaving. I was the one saying “you do these things, and then you leave” before being left in the rain outside my dorm. I’m the one who waves from the front porch until your car disappears around the corner of my street. I have always been the one who is always there where you left her, for when you come back.
Until now. On Saturday, I sat in the backseat of a red rental truck packed full of my belongings and watched as my childhood home disappeared from view. I watched as my familiar small town faded, replaced by state welcome signs–Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, Maryland with its flag obsession, and finally settling in the state for lovers: Virginia. Four and a half hours between everything I’ve ever known and my new life. As I sat and watched from the backseat, all I could think about was how my parents would take this same trip back on Sunday, but the backseat would be empty.
For the first time, I was the one doing the leaving.
I accepted a new job without a second thought. It sounded so exciting, so romantic to say “I’m moving to Virginia, I got a job in Virginia, I’m packing my bags for Virginia.” It was all so new and unknown; it was romantic and daring. It meant new people, new places, new things. It was the first time I said “yes” to being brave in a very long time.
As I packed up my life in Pennsylvania, all I could focus on was the new experiences that awaited me. There was an empty classroom with my name outside the door, waiting to be filled with Young Adult novels and witty grammar posters. There was a Dunkin and a local library within a five minute walk down the street from a new apartment that I was going to call mine. There was a train that would take me into the heart of one of my favorite cities. All of this was going to be mine; all of this, right now, is mine. It never occurred to me, as I loaded the last box into the truck, how terrifying this whole thing was going to be.
This fact remains true: no one teaches you how it feels to be the one left standing when everyone else is gone. I never could have been prepared for the feeling of locking the door to my new apartment as my parents walked down the stairs to the parking lot. No one told me how small you will feel waking up in a new room, in a new town, in a new state for the first time on all your own. There’s not a “Welcome to Adulthood” sign that greets you at this milestone–it happens silently, the way leaving does, even when you feel like it’s the loudest sound in the world.
Welcome to Virginia–Virginia is for Lovers. Welcome to Adulthood-Ready or Not.
Leaving was my “ready or not” moment. Choosing to be ready, choosing to leave. I had every opportunity to stay, to choose familiar and safety, to sub in local schools every day and fall asleep beneath the glow in the dark stars I’ve had since I was six. I chose ready, I chose now, I chose leaving. You either choose ready or you choose to stay. You get out there and experience new things or you don’t. You say yes to being brave or you stick in your comfort zone. You’re ready or you’re not. I needed to be ready, I needed to say yes.
I wish I could say I’m still as brave as the moment I said yes. I wish I could say I’m adjusting to adulthood with ease. I wish I could say this wasn’t the most terrifying series of moments in my life. I wish I could say I was 100% ready when I chose ready. But I’d be lying–and I believe anyone who says otherwise is lying. None of this is easy. Adjusting is hard, adulting is hard, being brave is hard. But I’m here, we’re here, and we all do it.
At some point, you need to let go of the hands holding you up. You need to face this world on your own, and when it knocks you down, you need to pick yourself back up onto your own two feet. The people you love and who love you are always going to be there for you, but now they’re a phone call away rather than the room next door. It’s time you find new space–a space that’s all yours for the taking, for the changing, for the growing. So, cry your tears and accept the awkwardness, the scariness, the emptiness of leaving and starting new. And when those tears are done, get ready to start the next page of your story.
Leaving is terrifying and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be forever. I’m ready for new adventures, for new people, for new experiences, for new stories. But the best part about leaving that no one told me? You get all of these new things–but eventually, you get to find your way back to home with all the stories, experiences, and adventures to share.