My race began...
with my first foray into adulthood during the summer of 2005. Though, I suppose you could say it started in late January that year, when my college acceptance letter came in the mail.
Having been born and raised in California I figured, "been there, done that" and exclusively looked at colleges outside the state, applying to two small private schools in Ohio and a large public university in Alabama. After visiting Ohio in December the choice became clear: Alabama it would be.
I was bound for college at the ripe young age of 17 and I've sometimes wondered if I was mentally ready to strike out on my own. But during my last summer as a pre-college kid I was filled with all the hubris and bravado only youth can provide. Speed limits were a mere suggestion, fast food was as good as haute cuisine, and I had the rest of my life to clean up any mistakes I might make. Needless to say, life was good.
The months leading up to my departure were filled with your standard teenage shenanigans of friends, movies, work, and various amounts of good-natured vandalism. Whether a deliberate mental block or not, the actuality of my impending journey didn't really register in my mind until a few weeks before I was set to leave and it came time to start saying my goodbyes.
The easiest goodbyes were with my friends. Most all of them were also heading off to college and while there was a tickle of wonder as to whether or not we’d stay in touch as the time and distance between us grew, I knew that things would shake out the way they were meant to. I then bid adieu to my sisters, dad, grandmas, aunts, and uncles with some promises that I’d behave myself and stay out of trouble. Plus, I'd be back in town for Christmas four months down the line and would see them all then, hopefully with some stories I’d never be able to tell them.
The consequences of my far-flung college aspirations reared their terrifying head when I went to say goodbye to my grandpa. We'd always had a special relationship and I had no misgivings that it would be a tough conversation. He was the person that taught me how to drink and how to play golf; we had inside jokes and running conversations that would last for months, picking up one day where we may have left off days or weeks previously; and there were no barriers between us. He was more than my grandpa; he'd become a friend, confidant, and mentor all rolled into one. So when the day finally came where I had to head over to let him know I'd be flying out and that I would see him at Christmas, there were a lot of awkward sideways glances, both of us knowing that a dynamic shift was occurring. We tip-toed around it for a little while, talking about this or that, but we both knew we were just stalling the inevitable.
He told me he loved me and that he was proud of me. He asked me to be careful but in the way that's truly meaningful where there's no airs about the fact that I'd be drinking or partying. It wasn't a warning so much as he was subtly saying, "You're gonna do things, try things, and put yourself into precarious situations. I know that and I think you need to do that. It’s an important part of becoming an adult and learning from your mistakes. But while you're experimenting with who you are and what your place in this world is, I want you to look out for yourself... so be careful." He told me it would be hard, that there were things I might try and fail at and things I'd find that I'm good at, but the important thing was that I give it a shot and that he believed in me.
We finally said our goodbyes and I got in my car and drove away. I'd only gone about a block when I pulled over to the side of the road and started breaking down crying. Was I prepared to give up everything and everyone I'd ever known to move 2,500 miles away where I didn't know a single person? Was I stupid for thinking I could pull it off? Was I ready for this?
At 17 I had the opportunity to hit the reset button on life and start anew. I'm a much different person now than I was in college and I was a much different person in college than I was in high school. But with each iteration I learn more about myself, my likes and dislikes, tendencies and habits, and I take away a little from each experience which makes me the person I am today.
So here I find myself at the event horizon of another chapter in life and I can't help but find myself asking some of the same questions: Am I prepared to face the challenges ahead? Am I stupid for thinking I can pull this off? Am I ready for this?
You bet your ass I am.