For good.That last part is the part I haven’t yet quite wrapped my mind around.
After weeks of back and forth, false starts, failed plans, I’m leaving. For real this time. I don’t know what to do with that.
I never necessarily thought that DC could become a home to me. But in four years I have built a life here, a family. I’ve grown accustomed to the city like a friend who slowly became a lover. When I first got here- eighteen years old, starting over, or I guess more accurately, starting– I never thought for even a moment that I could really make it here. I figured I would crack and crumble, cave under the pressure like everyone said I would and come crawling home. But I didn’t. I made it work. Every inch of my life here is of my making, every brushstroke and color painstakingly chosen and corrected and crafted by every smile and tear and love I’ve devoted to it. I have great friends whom I love more than anything and who love me with the equal abandon. I revel in the freedom of having created myself from the pieces of who I was. I live here. I love here. I drink here and sing songs in the subway and make friends at just about every bar, store and restaurant in town. Here is where a man who loves me lives and a family who has adopted me resides and where the streets are lined with the type of memories even time can’t fade, both good and bad.
And I have to leave it all.
This is what I’m contemplating as The Great Houdini drops me off at the airport. It’s early, snatches of sun barely peaking over the horizon. I kiss him briefly, refusing to give the emotion creeping up into the rafters of my chest an opening to spill out over my lips. I turn my attention to my bags, the utilitarian nature of having to, quite literally, carry my entire life on my back being the exact type of thing that can distract me.
“You can’t carry all that alone,” he incorrectly assumes, reaching for one of the larger bags.
“Yes, I can. I’ve done it before,” and he thinks I’m referring to my luggage. I would think he’d know by now that the amount I shoulder alone far surpasses that of smarter, less prideful humans. But this is what I do. As if to prove my point, I grab my bags, arrange them in such a way I can manage, leave only the slightest smear of lipgloss across his parted lips and toss a goodbye over my shoulder. I walk forward and I do not look back.After I hustle through the lines at the ticket counter and security, I find a corner I can finally be still in. The early morning sun streams through the big airport windows that overlook the tarmac. With the exception of the occasional announcement over the loudspeaker, it’s quiet. People sit and stare off into space, some sleep, a few pass the time by glancing at their phones, and I wonder if they’re leaving behind as much as I am.
I think back to the night before. After leaving a friend’s job in Georgetown to say goodbye, I stood on the sidewalk awhile and tried to decide the best route to get home. I just started to walk. I walked through my favorites areas of town, pieces of old conversations on surround sound in my head. Each step on cobblestone or pavement or gravel walked me through old memories as though they were present.
“You know this is my perfect date, and it’s only our first. That’s a good sign.”
Oh, those is great TV moments right thurr!
“I failed my class. I might not graduate.”
“Hey me too!”
“Thank god for mojitos and margaritas.”
“I’ve wanted you since the first day I saw you…”
“I am sotally tober!”
Soon I was back at the outskirts of campus, near the dorm where I first met a girl I’d fall in love with in the most innocent way.
“I can’t believe he put his hands on me…thank god for leftover Valium.”
I kept walking as night began to fall, passing my memories on the way. The courtyard where I fell for my first college boyfriend over nights of sitting outside in the cold talking for hours after visitation hours were over. The old brick building with the radio station tucked away in the basement where I met some friends I know I’ll keep for life. The hill I stood on watching a man I had no business feeling anything for walk towards me, my heart fluttering uncontrollably in my chest.
On the main campus, I stood looking out over the yard and wondered how I ever even considered laving this place, how I ever even fathomed I could manage not leaving my heart at my home on Hilltop high. I remembered us all; at Yardfest cheering or booing the acts, sneaking liquor in soda bottles, taking way too many pictures. My sister and I walking across the yard, a quick trip stretched longer by all the people we stopped and talked to along the way before we could reach The Punch Out. Sitting on the Fine Arts steps and watching everyone laugh, that still perfect kiss on the bench under the trees, hide and seek on the yard, snowball fights in the valley, recon missions to get info about drama going on with our friends, flirting with the visiting Kappas, watching the probates, and eating lunch in the grass.
“You better sing for the Lord!”
“Did he say his name was Dirtbag?”
“Lets go see if Mr. G or Officer Parks will let us backstage.”
“Hey where you at? You wanna meet me in the Punchout?”
I blink and I’m back at the airport. It’s brighter now, almost blinding, and the last boarding call for my flight is blaring over the loudspeaker. I gather my things, not rushing this time, letting it all sink in, trying to wrap my head around the fact that this. is. it.
I’m leaving so much here, so much of who I’ve become has to do with this city. Once again I feel eighteen, young, fresh and new, stepping out onto unsure ground, leaving everything behind. But this time it is different. Then I was running. Now I don’t want to leave.
But if time has taught me nothing it’s that you must keep moving forward, must keep pushing when it seems impossible to move that thing in front of you. So, I get on the plane. I walk forward, my shoulders back, head held high and I refuse to look back over my shoulder. If for no other reason than I might never leave if I do.
I am on the plane now. And they are closing the cabin door. I will see you on the other side.