You walk to the transit stop, with a foggy head and sleep still in your eyes, thinking that conversation is out of the question. As you reach the gazebo where you’ll wait for the next ten minutes, you run into your next-door neighbor of four years. As conversation slowly comes into the question, you talk about your holiday breaks and classes like a Q&A session – the way conversations usually begin in a college town. She asks you if you’re a junior because she can’t quite remember how long your time at school had overlapped. “I’m a senior,” you tell her. Small-talk style, you ask her a similar question. She says that she’s in her second year of graduate school, and you feel your eyes grow three sizes, thinking about the about the labor that must go into being a big-shot graduate student. Something you’ve vowed never to be.
You both sit silently for a moment, looking straight ahead at the road, unsure of how the conversation should continue. And you think about how you usually don’t like what-are-you-doing-after-college conversations because they seem intimidating and impersonal, but somehow you’ve started to appreciate this one.
She breaks the silence saying, “Wow, time flies. What are you gonna do when you graduate?” You sigh, shrug, and look around as if the landscape is going to impart the answer to your mind. “I honestly have no idea,” you finally surrender. Suddenly becoming open with your feelings with this almost-stranger-almost-not, you continue to spill, “I’m one of those people who just doesn’t have my life planned out like everybody else.”
Deep down you know she won’t judge you, but you still expect a look of confusion because, after, all you’re about to graduate. It’s time to have it figured out. You start to feel uncomfortable and defeated because it seems like everyone has a step-by-step, to-the-letter plan of their lives for the next ten years.
Remember when you first moved into your apartment? It was across the street from the Veterinary School, where you resided near the cows, horses, and the occasional llama, after living downtown since birth, five minutes from every important place.
Your family was hauling furniture up one of the building’s flights of stairs and passing small furniture up to the balcony, and you just wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” There you stood, frozen, as you watched from the door dresser, bed, and desk being carried up the stairs to be set up in the room you would call yours.
The decision had seemed like a no-brainer at the when you made it, but you started to panic as it became a reality. You feel your stomach in knots – mostly from nerves, partly from excitement. Your parents helped you get your still-empty apartment decorated and tried to make it feel like home before they drove off, both you and your mother holding back tears as they walked out the door for the first time of many.
Next-door neighbor was one of the first people to speak to you and make you feel like you would be a bulletproof college-survivor deserving of an “I survived college” T-shirt. When you met her, she had only begun her junior year as a Zoology major, but she was happy-go-lucky and always seemed to know what she was doing when she needed to do it. One of those people you who has a step-by-step, to-the-letter plan for the next ten years.
She’d lived right next door to your unit for a couple of years and knew the ropes – like how to get to class on time, which transits to take, and how to stand in the aisle when the transit is packed (plus when to drive to campus instead of taking the time to wait). Obviously you were just learning how to do laundry, make your own Hamburger Helper, like a true college newbie. There were nights of trying to study without getting distracted or falling asleep (without ever pulling an all-nighter). You really had no idea what you were doing with your life, or even how you had talked yourself into moving four hours away from home-cooked meals, always-done laundry, and sweet tea that was more sugar than tea.
Neighbor-of-four-years breaks your never-ending sentimentality once again, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you’re going as long as you don’t quit.” Your outlook snaps from sentiment to reality as you see the truth in the spark of unexpected wisdom. It’s not something over your head or hard to understand – it’s not even something you shouldn’t have already known. But to hear it from an unexpected subject is more than needed in that moment.
Neighbor and you give each other one last look as you step into the way-too-crammed transit, sit down, and begin watching familiar scenes flash by for the last time you’ll remember.
You don’t know where you’ll end up, but now you know how to find it.