I grew up in a very small town and the more time I spent there, the more I resented it. It was boring. It wasn’t big enough to be a home for me and my dreams. I wanted to be free. I couldn’t wait to leave. So, my entire senior year of high school, I had counted the days until I would finally leave for college.
When that day finally came, I wasn’t quite as ecstatic anymore because over the summer I had learnt what I would be leaving behind. I had always thought that my family was holding me back. They had always supported me, sure, but they also always had certain expectations of me as the good girl who could never do anything wrong. I had always been terrified of disappointing them and thought not being as close to them anymore would help with that fear. Their presence was also comforting, though. In college I would be surrounded by strangers, and I don’t do well with strangers.
I don’t make new friends easily. I’ve had the same friends ever since I understood what a friend was. We were inseparable. For years, they had been the safety net between me and the free fall into reality.
Now, as I lived three hours away, I was leaving all of them behind except for Hazel and that was terrifying. Hazel and I have been friends since fifth grade. We’ve always been close but close in the way that we did everything together and knew each other’s secrets, not close in the sense that we were on a first-name basis with each other’s parents. Living together formed a whole new challenge for us.
Hazel had never even thought about going to a school so far away. We had a college in our hometown, basically right in front of her door, and everyone had always just assumed that she would end up there. I’m not entirely sure what had changed her mind, but I was glad that she was right there with me.
“They’ll be here any minute,” I informed Hazel who had the tendency to lose track of time and never be ready for anything when she was told to be.
Since we were the only members of our friend group who officially did not live at home anymore, the others came out to visit us. None of us were ready to give up on our closeness yet. It felt wrong to not spend the weekend together.
Our dorm felt crowded with the six of us all cramped together in it, but no one minded. We had spent several sleepovers all piled together in Anna’s bedroom like that. Anna still lived in that room, surrounded by constant reminders of the youth that was slowly slipping away from us.
Thomas was the first one to start a conversation. “I can’t wait to go to college,” he declared confidently. He was getting antsy; he was ready to leave. Everyone could see it in his eyes and the way he talked about that boring, small town. I was happy for him. He had never been one of those people who were destined to stay in the same place forever. Mom, on the other hand, hated it. She didn’t hate that he had ambitions and goals, she just dreaded the day her baby would leave the nest. Axel had moved out a long time ago, and now I was gone too. Thomas was the last one and that put a certain pressure on him to leave the right way. Axel and I had both left too easily, I think, too comfortably.
Hazel frowned but it wasn’t her usual frown. Hazel always looked incredibly angry for no reason, and it took me years to learn the difference between her frowns. Now, she looked rather confused. “Why? So, you can be stressed all the time and suddenly do your own laundry?”
Thomas had been doing his own laundry for years and he was never stressed about school. He laughed. “No, so I can be free.”
“Free?” Hazel echoed skeptically. “Don’t you mean lost?” I never really thought of Hazel as being lost. She had a plan. She would be a teacher and she had already known that years ago. When I thought about lost, I thought about Lauren and me, and maybe Anna in a way, but never Hazel. College tends to bring out the doubts in people, though.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No, it’s not,” Vivian argued. “Being lost is not a good thing, being free is.” I’ve known Vivian since we were both five years old and she is the most ambitious person I have ever met. Failure is a no-go for her. She likes things done exactly the way she imagined them to be. The idea of being lost and not having a clear path in life terrified her.
I thought he had a point, though. When you’re lost, when you don’t know where you’re going and don’t have a goal, you can do whatever you want and go wherever life takes you and see how it works out. That is indeed freedom. Maybe life doesn’t always have to revolve around one big purpose or goal. Maybe it’s okay to wander forever and always keep looking for the next something.