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I sprinted down the hallway, searching. When I reached the laundry room, I quietly tucked myself behind the open door. Fiddling the treats between my fingers, I yelled, “Nala come!”
The tags on her collar chimed like bells as she bounded. A moment later, a blur of gold fur passed the crack of light in the door hinge. She reached the end of the hallway, stopped in her tracks, spun around and lifted her nose in the air, smelling the treats, no doubt. I stayed rooted in my hiding spot as she wandered into the laundry room. She circled, looking focused, then spotted me just as she turned to leave.
She couldn’t contain her excitement. Her whole body moved from the force of her wagging tail. I gave her the well-earned treat and giggled like a kid as I ran to my room. I flopped on my bed, and she was a second behind. I scratched her ears, told her to sit and stay, and headed down the hallway again, still breathless from laughing.
When you have a pet, the kitchen island becomes the court for an intense game of tag, old stuffed animals are reborn as chew toys, hide-and-go-seek is a revitalized tactic to tire them out, and walking through the door each afternoon becomes a cause for celebration. Nala is an essential aspect of home for me. My entire world could fall apart and she would still be there, just as excited to see me. She brings me comfort and joy every day.
So it hurts to think that soon she will be waiting at the back door, ready to greet me, but I won’t come home. We’ve shared a life timeline for years but now our strands are diverging.
I feel so guilty because she won’t understand. I’ve seen how it impacts her. I watch Nala sleep alone in my sister’s room the night after she goes back to college and notice that my brother’s old stuffed animal is more worn than any other toy. When I move to campus, communication with friends and family won’t be cut off completely, but it will be with Nala.
Even though I’ve had all summer to think about and prepare for college, I still can’t grapple with all I’m feeling. I’m excited to explore a new place, but that emotion is always accompanied by the dread of leaving everything I find comfort in.
As the third child, I’m used to being left behind. I was 12 when my brother went to college. I watched his goodbye to our old dog from the window. My brother sat on the back porch for what seemed like 20 minutes, just petting her and talking to her. It was more of a goodbye than I ever got from him!
At 12, the thought of college terrified me. It didn’t help that I watched my brother walk out the door but never got to see him open a new one. I didn’t see him find something else to make him smile and relax. I never witnessed the new constants in his life, but he found them. He followed a new routine, then my sister did, and now it’s my turn.
As my move-in day gets closer, I realize the massive scope of things I’m leaving behind. Every piece of my routine depends on something I must let go of. The days of having breakfast ready for me when I walk downstairs, being taken care of when I get sick, and having someone else buy me my essentials are over. I’ll learn to do things for myself and rely on myself. I’ll also learn that it’s okay to call home. My brother called home when he had to figure out the dorm laundry machine. My sister called home when she came down with the flu during her first finals week of college. They took care of themselves, but still had people back home looking out for them.
Every person and creature at home will find a new routine, too. At some point, Nala will stop waiting at the door for me each day and family dinners without me will become normal. Selfishly, the reality of this change makes me sad.
I’ve asked for my fair share of advice this summer. My sister, who’s going into her senior year, even came up with a list of tips and hints for me. What she said that has stood out to me the most is, “Everyone is feeling the same thing, and it’s okay if it doesn’t feel like the best four years of your life right away. You will miss home, but there will be moments when you look around and you never want to leave.”
So, I’m going to let myself miss home and all that home includes. I will miss my parents, my bed and my mom’s cooking. I will miss Nala each time I walk into my dorm room with no one to celebrate my arrival. But I’m also going to let myself enjoy those moments where college feels like home, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
First, I’m going to take the time to soak in all the things I love, and give them proper goodbyes. I know what my goodbye to Nala will look like. I’ll sit on the back porch with her, just like my brother did. This time, the 20 minutes will feel like an instant. The moment I’ve been dreading will be there, unavoidable. I’ll have to walk out the door.
But then, after a long day of traveling, I’ll finally witness the other side. I’ll open a new door.