I’ve always had a problem with change. I went to the same school for 13 years, grew up in the same house, my parents have never separated, and I had the same boyfriend from 9th – 12th grade. Until the age of 18, the biggest change in my life was getting a dog. And then getting another. I didn’t know what change was, so I had no practice coping. Needless to say, change smacked me in the face when it inevitably arrived.
I still remember the day my parents left me in Philadelphia. I sat on my bed, surrounded by those fairy lights that are supposed to make your dorm feel “homey.” All of a sudden, everything was different, and I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. I called my mom and told her I needed her to pick me up. Apparently that wasn’t an option, so I had a full-fledged meltdown. I really, truly freaked out. This was my first brush with change and it sucked. From then on, the c-word freaked me out. It felt unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. Everything in my life up until that point had been defined by the cushy environment I had known since birth, and I didn’t know who I was outside of it.
I tried to adjust to college. I have never been a super self sufficient person: I still call my mom before making minor decisions and need 25 minutes and the input of at least six people to decide where to eat. I tried to let change serve as a catalyst for growth…I mean, isn’t the entire point of change? But I didn’t feel like I was growing. Actually, I felt like I was shrinking. I kept getting lost, my sh*tty fake IDs kept getting taken, and I couldn’t adjust to the fact that I was now subjected to a gender-neutral bathroom (I swear to God, these boys had never seen SHOULDERS before).
I spent my first month of freshman year roaming around like a lost duck, as I’m sure most people do. I probably would’ve figured it out, I probably would’ve embraced the change and learned how to be me in a new place. That would be a nice end to the story: look at me! I was scared of change but I learned to cope, and you can too! I had the best freshman year ever! I LOVE COLLEGE!
That is not what happened, to say the least. As little duckling me roamed around campus, I found someone who told me he could help. He had been here for three years already: he knew what classes to take, he knew the best places to study, he seemed to know everyone on campus, and he was willing to help me adjust. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world; I felt “chosen.” I thought this blonde, well dressed frat boy was a literal God. I thought he was the answer to the c-word.
At first, it seemed like I was correct. I was no longer struggling to adjust to change, because he was doing it for me. He told me where to go, when to go there, what to do, and who to talk to. It was like my own personal self-help book: “How to make change your BITCH!” (Yep, I thought a frat boy was equivalent to a self-help book. Let’s just ignore that part.) Everything felt great: I was leading the way to parties, older people knew who I was, and I didn’t even have to sleep in my dorm room anymore. I had my own personal compass to lead me through every new situation. All of a sudden, I loved change. Change was the BEST. THING. EVER.
What I experienced wasn’t learning how to cope with change. What I experienced was abuse. I never adapted to my new environment, because I let him tell me what to do all the time. He told me I couldn’t talk to certain people, and I listened. I wasn’t allowed to go to parties without him. He made me sleep in his closet for texting another guy. He told me he “controlled my brain.” He told me to go to the gym. He told me I was stupid. The list went on and the treatment got worse, but he was my compass. He was the only way I knew how to deal with change; I had created my entire world here on his terms. I had no idea how to exist without him. So I stayed until I was forced to leave.
Halfway through freshman year, I was back to square one. I was back to sitting in my dorm room, surrounded by fairy lights and crying so loudly my entire hall could hear me. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home so, so badly. And this time, the feeling was worse, because everyone around me had made this their home. They had figured it out. I was still a lost duck, but now, I was a lost duck being stalked by her ex.
He came to my room. He left me pictures and notes. When I blocked his number, he emailed me. When I blocked his email, he contacted me through Venmo. He made it impossible to adjust to this place. I couldn’t accept that my environment had changed, because my environment reeked of him. I just wanted to get out.
Three years later, there are times where I wake up and have to remind myself of where I am. It is impossible to feel comfortable here. This doesn’t never feel like home to me, and I’m scared it never will. I’m terrified at the possibility that I’ll never adjust. It feels like I missed the learning curve, and now I can’t catch up.
I hate the way this feels. It’s the anticipatory anxiety you get before your first day of class at a new high school, switching jobs, or moving cities (I’m only assuming, seeing as I haven’t done any of those things). It’s the feeling of watching your parents leave your dorm room and realizing that in that second, the definition of the word “home” just changed. It’s the feeling that typically fades with time. It’s the feeling that makes me wish I had just bought a self help book instead.