Life seems to be a long walk through a series of connected rooms. Each room is a benchmark in your life, each threshold a rite or move or change. Over the course of your life, you enter these rooms, walk around, and then proceed to the next. Some people walk slowly through the thresholds, savoring the transition. Some walk quickly, ready for that new and different thing. Some leave the door open behind them. Some close it.
When I graduated from college, I was ready to run through the threshold and slam the door shut behind me. You see: I suffer from laziness. I am not a self-starter. Without externally applied accountability like deadlines and parental disappointment, I lack motivation and follow through. I am a dreamer and not always a doer. Thus, I tend to make lists—to do lists, grocery lists, reading lists—because when I do manage to do something, the wave of euphoria from this small, mundane accomplishment is palpable.
After four years (and a quarter) in college, I had done something more than mundane. I had taken a big step forward in my life plan. I had earned my bachelor’s degree. I was done with step one. And I wanted to move out and move on, on to the next big thing to do, which according to my plan was graduate school, and according to my list of applications was not going to be in Davis, California. So, it was time to get the fuck out of town. The day after graduation, I packed up everything I owned, and moved back into my parents’ house. With that move, I bolted through the door and slammed it so hard behind me that the whole frame shook.
Having crossed through the threshold, I turned around triumphantly to take in the new room I had entered. My face dropped. I wasn’t in the new room yet, that new graduate school room. I couldn’t be. I was in a new room, but I still had four months standing in between me and graduate school letters. This small room I was standing in now was a vestibule, a waiting room that looked a lot like my parents’ house. The doorway at the end of the vestibule would lead me somewhere new: North Carolina, Illinois, maybe Washington. I had no idea where. But for four months, the doors were locked and wouldn’t be leading me anywhere. So I waited in limbo.
I have never been a fan of limbo. It feels like standing in stagnant waters. Nothing moves. Nothing changes. The stagnation makes me restless. It’s also hard to get a job in limbo. No one wanted to hire someone that was very probably leaving the state in six months. So I didn’t work. I exercised a lot. Every morning I had coffee and spent an hour with Jillian Michaels who told me that I could do anything I wanted if I just kept pushing myself. She helped me burn fat, but the restlessness remained. I wanted nothing more than to get back out into the world and start living again.
Disclaimer: I love my parents very much. They are my biggest cheerleaders and have given me the privilege of taking for granted an emotive and supportive family. But. The day I got my acceptance letter from Chicago, I ran around the house absolutely screaming. I jumped and laughed and yelled because I knew that this acceptance meant, in addition to earning a degree from the top school in my field, I was moving out of my their house and out of limbo. That letter was my key to the locked doors at the end of the vestibule. So keen was I on escaping limbo that I gave myself one single month to find an apartment, a job and move. I surprised even myself when I managed to accomplish that feat. It was with even greater gusto than before that I slammed the door of my limbo room.
Two years later…
Five months stood in between me and Portland, from the day of the Great Rejectioning to my last day in Chicago. I bought a one-way ticket for exactly two weeks after Commencement. I made these last five months—spring of 2012—great ones; nothing limbo about them.
I only had two classes that spring. One was a very hard class with only one assignment: a presentation. I presented the second week of classes and spent the remaining six weeks doing absolutely nothing. I took no notes and sat in the back of the class. I got a B. I did not care. It was amazing. The second class was a delight: Religion, Sex and Politics in Ancient India. We read the Kamasutra. I wrote my final paper evaluating examples of rough sex in the book. I got an A. It, also, was amazing.
Without much studying to do, I joined a coed softball league. We had games on Sundays. It took forty-five minutes to get from my apartment on the Southside to the park on the Northside: two busses and a train. I would spend the whole day playing and drinking cheap beer with my new friends. By nine, I was slightly tanner, pretty drunk and didn’t care that it took a train and two busses to get home.
The day after Commencement, the countdown to Portland began. Two months before, my friend and I planned something special for that day. We were both taking leaps—I was leaving Chicago and higher education, she was leaving Chicago for other loftier higher education—and we wanted to celebrate. So, we found a Groupon. As newly proclaimed masters, we drove to the Illinois-Wisconsin border, and there, a group of very unexpectedly attractive men strapped themselves to us, and we boarded a small plane. At 14,000 feet, they opened the doors and we took some very real leaps. Seven minutes later when my feet touched the ground, I couldn’t stop smiling.
The next day, the packing began. I was still using Amtrak—seriously guys, easiest and cheapest method ever—but the packing wasn’t nearly as precise and thorough. Two things were different this time around.
One: I had two fewer weeks to pack up my life, which now included the selling of furniture and the subletting of my room.
Two: I unintentionally started dating someone.
Had only one of those things been the case, packing might have gone more smoothly. But it was what it was. With only fourteen days left in Chicago, I fell hard for this person and put off packing as much as I could, keenly aware that I was screwing myself over as my departure neared, both emotionally and logistically. I managed to put boxes on a train, but not as neatly and leaving many things left unpacked.
My last full day in Chicago was chaotic. I woke early to finish painting my room back to white. A friend came by around noon to say goodbye. She drove away with a trunk full of kitchen supplies that I hadn’t shipped. It was a haphazard abandonment of some of my best cookware. Oh waffle maker, how I miss you.
That night, I put on my favorite dress and went to Navy Pier with this person I had so irresponsibly let myself fall for. We had drinks, went on the Ferris wheel, and I remained relatively tacit. I slept at his house that night where I continued my silence. Every time I spoke, I risked telling him that I loved him. So I restrained myself.
The next morning, I woke at 6 am. I walked the three blocks back to my apartment and prepared my luggage and cat carrier. It took twenty minutes to force feed my large orange tabby a sedative that would ease her travel. Minutes before my ride arrived to take me to the airport, I realized I had a random container full of odds and ends that had escaped my notice. My roommate, God bless her, hugged me hard and told me she would mail me whatever I needed. Moments later I was out the door.
My ride to the airport was the man. He held my hand in the car. I feigned cheerfulness and joked about nothing as he drove. He didn’t park and walk me to security. He took me to the drop-off curb as if I was going on just a short trip. He kissed me goodbye. I smiled. I held my tongue again.
As I walked through security I missed him, but was not sad. I did not cry. I didn’t know what was going to happen—if he would call and tell me that he missed me—but I thought that if nothing more happened, it might have been the perfect ending to Chicago. I found solace in that.
I sat at the gate and excitement overtook me. My sedated cat slept in the carrier at my feet. I was moving to Portland. Anything could happen. The plane began to board. I rose to my feet and felt gleeful. I handed my boarding pass to the woman at the kiosk and smiled brightly. I boarded the plane absolutely giddy. I sat down in my seat and sent my sister a text message.
I’m coming for you!
At this threshold there was no running. I walked slowly. I looked behind me, then ahead. I did not slam the door. I softly pushed it towards the jam, as if there was a sleeping baby on the other side I did not want to wake. I did not close the door. I left it open—just a crack—just in case.