Home. I drive over 500 miles from Baton Rouge to Alice, TX to go home at least 5 times a year.
I mainly go for holidays and birthdays. Sometimes, I even lengthen the trip to visit Austin first and meet up with old college chums and extended family. Because of this, I spend most of my graduate school stipend on gas, oil changes, and a car-wash subscription that makes me feel very adult.
You see, since I began college in the fall of 2018, I’ve spent my life divided between here and there.
I’ve had to get comfortable on squeaky dorm beds, hard apartment mattresses, and my sunken childhood bed at my parent’s house. I’ve put up the same apartment decorations three separate times and unpacked a U-haul at least four. I’ve graduated once from the University of Texas at Austin, and in one more year, I’ll graduate from Louisiana State University. So, in due time, I’ll pack up my Toyota Highlander and move again.
All this movement didn’t occur to me when I first left for college, as it probably doesn’t occur to most college students.
As my parents drove away—for the first time out of many—from my dorm, I felt deep in my bones how much I would miss it all. I’d miss the smell of coffee and chorizo and egg in the morning, the sounds of Tejano and laughter spilling from our backyard, and the comfort of my Mama’s hugs. I’d miss driving down familiar caliche roads, going to the pedo with my brother, Taqueria Jalisco, and don’t even get me started on the loss of H-E-B.
I wasn’t aware of how much time I would spend going back and forth between home and this new place I called home. (Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic would only exacerbate this.) But the driving, the packing, the loneliness, I had to make it a part of the routine.
During the semester, I would focus on my studies. I’d stay up late, alone, in my dorm room, reading about primate anthropology and writing little poems about my hometown and love. I’d sometimes go out with friends to dinner and sweaty concerts down South Congress. I’d learn more about myself as an individual than I’d ever had before and grow into the person I wanted to be.
And eventually, the calendar would let me know when it was time to go home—when I could even think about home. Because if I thought about what I was missing, my family, high school football, pan de dulce, I would miss out on what was happening right in front of me. That’s been the balancing act ever since I left, focusing just enough on where I came from to leave enough room to see how far I’ve come.
Now that I’m five years in, I know that it’s possible–imperative even.
When I find myself longing for the past and the comfort of what was familiar, I remember: Wasn’t the whole point of leaving to grow and experience what was different and new? Weren’t you initially eager to live independently? Hadn’t this been the dream all along?
Yes, it’s lonely. It’s a transitory experience with little stability, a lot of movement, and not to mention, very little funding. There are many nights spent alone, studying, failing, and crying. But it’s worth it.
You have the opportunity to make a home for one’s self, in the people around you and the rooms you find yourself in. In your friends, you can find the love you’re missing, and in the books you study, the stories and histories, you find company. And more often than you think, when you’re out in your new city, breathing new air and new thoughts, smiling amongst the crowd, you aren’t focusing on where you even are, your studies, or how far you’ve come. You’re just happy.
And through it all, you never forget where you came from.