going away to college can be a troubling time
|She stopped and stared down at the street, the leaves had clogged and smothered the rain gutter and the slow stream was oozing and pooling into the cracks of the street. She deliberately stepped off the curb and dipped her foot into the soft decay of the lethargic water. |
Laurel was the first one to know that she had been accepted to an Ivy League school. She had received that large crinkly envelope late in September that year; shortly before other students started picking their large envelopes and small letters out of their own mailboxes. This had come to no surprise to Laurel, she knew that all the qualifications had been met; her family had been so supportive and helpful with the entire process, there had been no question to what she would be receiving in the mail. Yes, when she plodded up the steps of her porch that day and saw that envelope bulging out of her mailbox, she was not excited, only content that things were as they should be. Later in the evening, she had curled up on the couch next to her sister as the celebratory meal came to an end. The family was in a state of jubilant uproar due to the fact that she and her sister were to attend school together. She lay there thinking about what it would be like this time the next year. Visions of dormitories and large ancient campuses flitted through her mind; there was so much to do, so much planning and preparation for the months ahead. An itch of worry wormed its way into Laurel’s mind that night. She had never done well with new environments and the school as hours away. What if she got sick or what if she could not find her way around the rambling red brick campus and got lost? She pushed these thoughts out of her mind, reminding herself that this was part of growing up, and besides, her sister would be there as well.
The ensuing months did indeed bring much planning and preparation, the house was filled with the hum of change. Laurel’s room became the site of a cataclysmic eruption of clothing and college supplies that did not subside, but grew continually worse and the months jogged into summer. Laurel was sitting on the bed one oppressive June day listening to her mother and sister argue about something in the hallway. The summer had been a particularly hot one, bringing with it morbidly humid and sweltering days. The city steamed in the breath of the sun as its asphalt baked and crackled long after dark. Laurel was only partially paying attention to the disagreement as she surveyed the chaos of her room. This was all her sister’s doing, as Laurel had collected and organized her things months ago. Piles of clothing deemed unfit for college vomited out of the closet while a tower of new and expensive textbooks teetered precariously, begging to be knocked down by a deftly executed swipe. All at once, the enormity of the situation she was facing hit her and she was overwhelmed, the heat, the constant bickering, the chaos of her room, and the arguing was too much for her. Laurel sprang suddenly from the bed and ran out of the room, attempting to skirt the argument in the hallway, but instead plowed right into her mother.
“Laurel, where are you going off to in such a fuss?” said her mother as she put her hands on her hips.
Laurel said nothing as she continued a dash down the hall towards the cool dampness of the basement, but not before catching the exasperated glance that her mother cast in her direction.
Down to the basement. She planned on spending the rest of this summer in that mundane dankness to avoid the pandemonium. That is, in fact, exactly what Laurel did. Except for meals and the occasional venture upstairs to get things from their bedroom, Laurel spent the rest of June and all of July in the basement daydreaming or napping on the old sofa or exploring long forgotten corners for antique treasures. Her and her sister rarely ran into each other those last few months of summer. Not a good sign, she thought. No, it was not even the start of term, they haven’t even gotten into their dorm yet and already things were changing. The two had always been so close, her sister had confided in her so many times over, and Laurel looked to her sister for warmth and stability. They had always been almost inseparable, always each other best friend. Laurel shook the doubt from her mind, things would work out, she thought, they were sharing a room like always and they had half of their classes together. Things would be fine; she repeated to herself over and over until she dozed off for her afternoon nap on the decrepit sofa. Yet, just before she slipped off, she could not shake the feeling that there was something wrong, something she did not know about that was soon to shake her world.
The day had finally arrived; they were finally off to college and the beginning of their new lives. Laurel was as excited as her sister, she spent the entire morning running up and down the stairs making sure that everything was being packed and everyone was on schedule.
“Laurel, you’re wound pretty tight this morning, aren’t you darling?” her mother said as she stroked her hair. “You are getting underfoot, now just sit on the bed and relax until its time to say goodbye.”
Laurel did as she was told, for once, and sat on the bed, resisting the urge to supervise. She did actually relax a bit and found herself daydreaming once more of the expansive campus she was about to inhabit.
Early afternoon sunshine scratched its arthritic fingers across Laurel’s eyelids and she sprang awake. She had fallen asleep, how stupid of her, there were still so many things to do.
Suddenly her mother patted up the stairs, “Darling, its time, lets go” she thought she detected a waver in her mother’s voice. Laurel stretched, and sat up on the bed. It would be hard to say goodbye, she thought, her mother was not coming with them to the campus and she would have to say goodbye here at the house in a moment.
Laurel jumped off the bed and padded down the stairs to the living room. Her sister was sitting on the couch and Laurel could see from here that the van was all packed, her father was outside making sure everything was secured. When her sister saw her she stood up, her mother scooted in front of Laurel and embraced her daughter.
“Well, I guess this is it,” her sister looked tearier eyed than her mother. “I’m gonna miss you mom.” With that she once again embraced her mother who returned the hug.
“We are going to miss you so much. All of us.” Her mother looked back at Laurel.
Wait, there was something wrong, this wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. Laurel started to panic, she started for the door. She would just wait with her father in the van; once they were on the road everything would feel better.
“Oh, Laurel, I’m gonna miss you too. You take good care of mom and dad for me. And don’t worry; I’ll see you in a couple of months.” Her sister said in an attempt to calm her down. It didn’t work and Laurel was fuming, this was certainly not the plan. They were supposed to go together; to do this together like always. Laurel didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know what to do; she just stood in the hallway. Her sister stole one more glance at both of them then slipped out the door and ran to the van where her father was waiting.
Laurel walked into the living room and stared at her mother. Tears were running down her mother’s face as she watched the van prepare to leave. She turned to Laurel and hugged her, patting her head. “It’s just the three of us now darling. Do you want to watch them leave with me?” Laurel’s mother picked her up and sat her in the windowsill. Well, thought Laurel, she was staying here, no campus and no dorm and no new life with her sister. Her sister, who at the moment, was not even looking back as the van was pulling away. Laurel sat on the sill and curled her tail around her; she sat and stared out the window long after her mother had left the room.
That had been three years ago, Laurel thought as she retrieved her foot from the gutter. She had become more and more fascinated with the outdoors as the years had passed and spent most of her days outside. She had seen her sister less than a dozen times since that day, they had grown incredibly distant from each other and sometimes Laurel went days without thinking of her.
Laurel took one last look at the leaves floating in the oily pool of street water and pattered towards the house. She sneaked in through the back door and into the kitchen for dinner.
“There’s my darling little one,” her mother cooed. “I bet you came back for your dinner didn’t you? Oh you are such a good little one” Her mother put her dinner down and she ran to it. It felt good to come home to dinner and be wanted, she looked away from her food for a minute and looked around the kitchen. Yes, things were as they should be, it was better in the end that she has stayed. Her parents need her too much. Laurel turned back to her food and as she started eating she began to purr.