96: The Last Night Home

96: The Last Night Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

The Last Night Home

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

~Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan,

I have many photographs tacked to the corkboard above my college desk. One of my family, one of my cats, a few of favorite musicians and concerts, and one giant picture of twelve kids piled on a couch, several caught unaware and mid-laugh as others pulled goofy faces with arms draped over shoulders and limbs tangled in a teenage heap.

That moment, captured on my last night in my hometown with my high school friends, occurred only a few short hours before the night ended and I retreated to my room in tears. After an entire summer of excitement and dorm-shopping, a summer spent anticipating college freedom, I suddenly looked at my packed belongings and reality hit me like an 18-wheel semi—I was leaving.

I was one of those sheltered kids, the first-born and only girl, who never went to sleep-away camp, had never traveled alone, and had never spent more than two or three nights away from her parents at a time. Born and raised in suburban Ohio, I had convinced myself that what I desperately wanted was an escape from the Midwest cornfields. So why, on the brink of leaving for our nation’s capitol, was I terrified out of my wits?

In all my excitement over college and everything it stood for (freedom, novelty, adulthood, independence), I had forgotten the sacrifice I made when I chose Georgetown over universities closer to home — I had chosen to leave my friends and family behind. Too shortsighted to remember that I’d be home soon enough for Thanksgiving break, I bid my friends farewell that night as if I were on my deathbed, and began to sob uncontrollably when I shut the front door behind the last of them. Withdrawing to my room, I cried until there was nothing wet left inside me, and then wandered aimlessly and zombie-like under the pretense of packing my last few possessions.

Soon enough, I heard my mom’s soft knock at my door. I sat still and waited for her to leave, reasoning that hugging my mother and seeing her sympathy would only make it harder to say goodbye to her later. Predictably, she didn’t go away, and I turned away in a (poor) attempt to hide my tear-streaked face as she let herself into my room and sat down on my bed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked gently.

Rather than attempt an intelligible and thought-out response, I simply began to sob again and buried my head in her shoulder. Somewhere in between my blubbering, I managed to choke out, “I’m... not... r-ready....”

My mom stroked my hair until I calmed down enough to listen, and then held me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “I know you’re not ready, Michelle... none of us is until it actually happens. I’m not ready to say goodbye to you either. But, you know what? I’ve seen how capable you are. I know how smart you are. And I’m absolutely positive that you’ll be fine. You know why?”

I shook my head slowly, squinting as hard as I could to keep fresh tears from burning their way down my cheeks.

“Because I’ve seen how far you’ve already come. I know you can do this. It’s hard, I won’t deny that, but you know that I’m here for you, and that I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.” She brushed the tears from my face and stood, darting into the hallway and calling, “Stay right there... I’ll be right back....”

I waited on my bed, looking at the boxes and bags surrounding me in an empty room I barely recognized as mine. Finally she returned with a bag, handing it to me and explaining, “I had been waiting to give this to you when we got there, but you look like you could use this right now instead.”

I opened the bag, and inside I found an old and tattered stuffed rabbit that I had clung to throughout my childhood. He was always my favorite and my most battered, and I had thought he was lost for the last several years. Alongside it was a DVD of a My Little Pony movie I had almost forgotten existed. We had rented that movie so many times in my younger years that it surprises me we didn’t simply buy it — we must have paid at least ten times what the movie is actually worth in rental fees.

I stared at these gifts, two simple yet central parts of my childhood, and couldn’t find words. Instead, I let new tears escape as my mother wrapped her arms around me once again, rocking me like she would when I was younger.

“I just wanted to give you these to let you know that, no matter how old you get, it’s always okay to still be a little girl.”

In that moment I knew that she understood and I realized that the world was not going to end when I moved into my new dorm. With a new mix of sadness and excitement, I prepared myself to enter this new world, knowing that I was finally ready to leave.

~Michelle Vanderwist

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners