On Love and Leaving

I was alone, standing in the middle of the driveway, suddenly terrified. 

The summer was ending and I thought I’d be ready. Somehow, I was still entirely unprepared to watch my best friend Emily say goodbye to my dog, give me a hug, and leave me standing there—still dressed for the beach—watching her car disappear up the hill and realizing that in some twisted way, the best-case scenario put our next hug in December. 

I was going inside, trying to be distracted by packing my things. 

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone to school without her. I made a soft attempt at convincing myself that the distance wouldn’t matter. That my days of having less-than-adequate communication skills were behind me. That we made it through months of pandemic isolation, and now that I was leaving for college, it would be no different. Instead, I found myself thinking back to the many relationships that had flourished and then faded during my time in high school. First Jess, then Melanie, and Morgan—just to name a few. And finally, Erin, a lifelong best friend whom I didn’t see for two years after she moved to a different high school. 

The first person I called when I got into Tufts wasn’t Erin, but my best friend from high school, Emily. The pictures I had hanging all over the walls of my room were no longer of me and Erin in Justice swimsuits; they were now of lakeside and somewhere-in-the-woods photoshoots with Emily. But now she was driving away from me up the hill, and I was being dragged into the fear that I might lose her too. 

I was upstairs, taking pictures off the walls and putting them in a box to bring to Somerville.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who were in these pictures and those who weren’t. Those pictures featured every kind of relationship my life has ever had: orchestra stand partners, carpool passengers, lab partners, cafeteria-lunch-table friends, swim lane buddies, lunch-in-the-music-room friends when the cafeteria was too full, and even the occasional “mutual best friend” on Snapchat. Many of those relationships had ended, all for reasons much less significant than me moving across state lines to take classes and eat my lunches with new people. 

I was a kid with a lot of growing up to do, and so were they. I didn’t think there was any point in fighting it when that growth carried us in different directions. Besides, if holding on to a lost friendship meant staying the person I was at 15, I thought it best to let go. For each connection that was lost, there was one that was not. But I was terrified that, one day, even the people that stayed would be replaced by the next new people I took photos with, continuing this dreaded, yet welcomed cycle of growing close to some and leaving others in the past. 

I had so much left to do, and I was hot, and I was tired, and my hair smelled like the lake. The dog was downstairs, still whining at the long-gone taillights of Emily’s car. I wasn’t done packing yet, and I had my first college lecture in two days. I convinced myself that being ready for school was the most important thing to be worried about then, but that felt like a lie more than anything else. 

I was in my room, staring at walls that were suddenly emptier than they had been in 18 years. 

I was thinking that sometimes things just end, and there’s nothing I could’ve done about it. Other times, there was so much more I should’ve done. I should’ve texted Erin months before my mom arranged for her to spend the night at my house because her mom had to go back to New York. I was so nervous because this was my former best friend, but there had just been silence for so long. I had convinced myself that it was just how things had to be from there on out. But if I had just made an effort at some point before that night, maybe we wouldn’t still be catching up on two years worth of missed stories, crushes, and life-changing revelations.

That friendship had faded, and we had somehow pieced it back together until it felt almost like nothing had ever pulled it apart in the first place. But it took so much time away and a bit of luck for that to happen. That had never happened with anyone else, so what was the difference? What had we done that felt impossible with everybody else? 

I was in the car now, driving north and out of Connecticut. 

I was thinking about the night Erin spent at my house. We took the dog for a walk and traded months worth of stories from our different schools. They were wildly different from each other, my stories and hers. It took some adjusting to, at least on my end. For years, we had lived the same life; I had to teach myself that we could be part of each others’ lives without them being the same. We’re still trading stories today, so I think I must be doing something right. 

In the car, I was finally realizing that relationships take work. What’s more, they take words. In my four years of high school, my homework was always on time, and my essays were always over the word count, so I should be no stranger to work nor to words. But in those four years, I let so many things end. I let so many things turn into silence, all because I thought I didn’t have a choice. Life went on, and new people became a part of it while old ones disappeared. During high school, I hadn’t really noticed. I was always focused on the new people, not realizing I would regret not putting in the work to keep the old ones around. But now that everything else in my life was changing, I felt like I didn’t need any new people—I liked my old ones. My bedroom walls at home seemed empty now that the photos of their laughing faces were in the car with me, moving onto new things in new places. 

I am alone in my new room, thinking about how many times I sat at home wishing I could get here faster.

I went on a walk today, all the way to the little bookstore in Porter Square. There was a line out front, so I didn’t end up going in, but the whole way there and halfway back, I was on the phone with Emily. We talked about the election and Taylor Swift’s cookie recipe that she promised we would make when I came home. It was easy talking to her, saying excited hellos to her mom and her brother, and defending their dog’s right to eat a worm in the backyard if he wants to. I’m not sure why I was ever so afraid of losing this. 

In my new room, there are 100 photographs taped to the walls. Sometimes, I hear one sliding to the ground as I’m trying to fall asleep, and every morning I tape it back up in a losing battle that I’m sure I’ll never win. While I’m here, I will take more pictures, adding them to the higher corners of each wall until there isn’t a single white cinderblock left visible. Later, I will take them all down and move on to a new room with even more blank space on the walls, ready for people both new and old, and I will fit as much love as I possibly can within the four growing walls of my life.