Am I Happy? (Thoughts One Year After Graduating)

Over the past few months I’ve often thought that I’m happier than I’ve ever been before. And in some ways I am. I have a boyfriend for the first time in my life and I’m so in love that I feel like I’m going crazy. When we’re together, I’m having a great time. But are those moments enough for me to say that I’m truly happy?

I graduated from college one year ago and moved home to return to my summer job at the sandwich shop while I looked for a more permanent job. But twelve months later, I’m still here with my parents. Still working in that damn sandwich shop. The only change is that I’m now in a relationship… with someone who is still in college and who lives a five-hour drive away. Some nights, that feels like no difference at all.

I look back at pictures from college and my time studying abroad, and sometimes they make me smile. But a lot of the time they make me really sad. I haven’t seen most of my good friends from college since last August, and I haven’t seen those who I wasn’t as close to since graduating. The random greetings on Facebook just don’t seem to be enough to sustain a friendship, especially when I live too far away to visit.

There was a time – pretty much all of high school – when I didn’t have any friends at all, and I was incredibly lonely. Now I’m back in this town that I tried so hard to escape, and I feel like I’ve lost all of the friends that I worked so hard to gain over the past few years. I have my boyfriend and I keep in touch with two of my closest college friends via Facebook message, and that helps. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it feels like it’s going in that direction.

It’s like I took fifty steps forward over four years, and now I’ve taken twenty steps backwards in one year.

When I think about college, I think about all that I’ve lost. How I used to live, and how I live now. I miss nights in my friends’ apartment watching crappy movies and spilling red wine on the white carpet. I miss English club meetings on Monday nights, talking about our favorite books and movies. I miss pep band on Saturday afternoons and cheering for our team even though the sport makes no sense to me. I miss late night chats with my roommate about every strange topic imaginable.

I miss it all more than I can say.

But I think I’m finally starting to move in the right direction again. If I’m not happy now, I’m on my way to getting there again.

I’ll be starting grad school in two months, and it cannot come soon enough. It took a long time for me to make the decision to return to school and pursue a career in education. But now that I’ve decided, I’m one hundred percent certain that it is what I want to do – and that it is what I should do.

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A Perfect Ending

The night ended with me walking home laughing hysterically and sobbing. And I wasn’t crying from joy. The past six months studying abroad have been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, and it all just hit me at once in a flurry.

Tonight I went to the student bar with my usual group of friends and we hung out there making fun of what the girls across the room were wearing and throwing old receipts at each other and taking ridiculous photos and laughing a bit too loud. Then we headed to a pub down the road for Karaoke Night and there we ran into another group of international students. There were about fifteen or twenty of us and everyone was getting along (which is not always the case). A few of my friends sang and each time we would all join in and cheer loudly at awkward moments. In those moments I couldn’t help but just look around and try to commit the whole thing to memory – the sounds, the people, and the way I felt. We sang along to Backstreet Boys’ songs and Hakuna Matata and American Pie. We took loads of pictures. And some of us (not me) danced even though everyone else was sitting.

It was one of the most memorable nights of the past six months of my life. And at the end of it I had to say goodbye to two lovely girls who I never even expected to like. They are leaving tomorrow and many others are leaving in the next few days – and I’m leaving in five days as well. I hugged them goodbye and tried so hard not to cry. I glanced through the room one last time before leaving, knowing that I would never see some of those people ever again. I said goodbye to two, but I’m sure there will be others whom I will not see again before I leave.

I walked home with the best friend I have made here, who has quickly become one of the best friends I have ever had. And the tears started, and they didn’t stop for two blocks. I was truly sad to be leaving those girls and sad that we would never go out as a group like that ever again and sad that the next five days will just get more and more lonely until I’m standing at the airport by myself. And I was so happy that the night had gone the way it had, a truly perfect end to the past six months. So I laughed through my tears.

What Makes a Good Friend?

            Who hasn’t had problems with their best friend? No one, that’s who. I hope I’m also not the only one who occasionally thinks that maybe I shouldn’t be best friends with this person. When I first met my best friend I felt like this was a person I wanted to be friends with, I felt like we had a lot in common but also like we were different enough to be good for each other. At the present moment I’m feeling like we are similar in all the worst ways and have nothing important in common. I’m probably just saying this because I’m in a bad mood, but this is my completely anonymous blog – so I can say whatever I want.

            Why am I feeling like this right now? I’ll tell you why: there is a party on campus tonight and I want to go and she doesn’t. The party is literally a one minute walk from our apartment and it is school sponsored so it has a dance floor and games and stuff like that (so it’s not like some wild party). She claims that she doesn’t want to go because she has stuff to do and has work at 8am tomorrow. I’m not arguing with her or trying to convince her to go, I said it doesn’t matter to me (I couldn’t convince her to go if I tried). But the thing is, I keep wondering when she is going to go out of her comfort zone. I do it all the time (although it may not be so obvious to her, because my comfort zone is quite large). If she wanted to do anything – go to a dance, a party, an event – I would go with her, and I have. She has also gone to things I have suggested, but only if she already wanted to go. I just feel like we are in college!!!! We should not be getting eight hours of sleep every night (I don’t, trust me. But she gets like 8-11 hours of sleep a night!!). Having work at 8am is no excuse not to go and at least check it out! This is part of the reason why I wanted to study abroad next semester: I feel like I’m not getting the full college experience. I want to go to parties (occasionally), I want to participate in underage drinking (at least once!!), I want to be busy, stressed, sleep deprived (I’m totally succeeding at this! It’s not fun, but it feels more college-y than anything I else I do). I’m not in college to be a responsible adult; we have the rest of our lives for that. I want to live!

            The other, completely unrelated, reason why I’m mad at my best friend (who is also my roommate) is that she asked me today why I haven’t been doing any of my dishes lately. This alone doesn’t bother me, it’s fine that she called me out on it. I have been forgetful lately (but I by no means have completely stopped doing dishes. I forget to wash a plate here and there and leave forks in the sink occasionally) and have not been the best roommate lately. But I told her that I am extremely stressed out and I’ve just not been myself. I think I’ve been pretty understanding when she is stressed and freaking out. But I feel like since she takes antidepressants and goes to counseling she acts like anyone who doesn’t have an actual diagnosed reason for being upset isn’t actually capable of being legitimately stressed out. Like my problems don’t matter as much as hers because I’m supposedly more mentally stable. I know that I cannot accurately judge her on this issue, but I feel like she doesn’t realize that she is not the only one who has problems. We all have to deal with shit and we all get stressed. My feelings do matter, just as much as hers. I should be allowed to be stressed out and mess up every once in a while. Not to mention the fact that I am an English major and she is a science major, which also means that she thinks that I have way easier classes than her (I will be blogging about this soon, because it is driving me nuts).

            I guess I just want to end this horribly long rant with a question: what makes a good friend? Because I can criticize her all I want, but I know that I’m not a great friend either. I’ve been struggling with this for years, trying to figure out how to be a good friend, and I just can’t get it right. Maybe she doesn’t quite get it either. Maybe none of us do… or maybe it’s just me. I’ve seen many examples of really solid friendships. But I wonder how much of that just shows up on the surface and if there are really problems underneath the façade of smiling faces. We can’t all get along all the time. Maybe what really defines a friendship is how you make it through the periods when you can’t stand each other.

To Study Abroad or Not to Study Abroad: That is the Question (And an Unexpected Reflection on Friendship)

            Lately I’ve been researching opportunities to study abroad. After a lot of research I decided on a university in Scotland (it’s not for sure, I haven’t met with an advisor yet to see how it would work. But I think I’ve done enough research to know it’s a definite possibility). It seems perfect and like a totally new experience. But (there is always a “but” isn’t there?) I started wondering why I want to study abroad so bad.

            Sure, it’s a great opportunity that I may never have again. I’ve never been in an airplane, I haven’t seen much of the world outside of California –just Nevada, Baja California (Mexico), and Nebraska when I was really young–, the biggest risk I’ve ever taken was moving three hours away for college, and I want to experience something new. But in reality I’m rather shy (working on it!), meeting new people scares me, large groups send me into a panic, and the mere thought of being in a foreign country all by myself makes me nervous. So why do I want this so bad?

            I keep thinking of all the ways it could wrong: I might not make any friends, I might revert back to being even more shy, I might get sick, the country might break out into war, a volcano could explode, an earthquake could kill me… you see, I like to over think everything. But I also think of all the amazing things that could happen: I could make new friends, have a great time, learn about a culture and a country I know very little about, break free of my shyness, become more of the person I’ve always wanted to be… the list could probably go on forever (and if I go much further it will get as absurd as the previous list). Is it worth taking those risks in hopes of something great happening? And I guess the most likely scenario would be a mix of bad and good experiences.

            And this brings me back to what has been bothering me for a few weeks now: will the mix of good and bad I experience abroad be better than the mix of good and bad I would experience if I stayed here? Until recently I haven’t really been worried about what I would miss out on if I left for a semester, because honestly school hasn’t been going great. And I’m not talking so much about academics because I honestly love the college I’m at, but I’m referring to feeling like I don’t belong as much as I should. Last year I met my best friend Lexi, and she’s the closest friend I’ve had in years, but other than that I haven’t forged very many close relationships. Coming out of high school as a complete loner I thought it was the best thing in the world to finally have a close friend, and I’m still super happy to have Lexi, but I’m realizing that having one friend and a bunch of acquaintances still gets lonely. I don’t want to be miss popular or anything, but I would like to have a group of friends. So I figured, only having one close friend, if I left for a semester she would still be here when I get back and maybe I would make some friends abroad and not miss out on much while I’m gone.

            But things have changed since the beginning of the semester. I’ve gotten close to people I met last semester, and I would now call them my friends. I’m not great at making friends (in case you haven’t notice), and it takes me while to get close to people, but I think I’ve really made some new friends and it makes me really happy. I’m getting closer to my fellow English majors through English club, and I finally don’t feel like an outsider in my department. I sit with my friends during class and chat; it’s been a long time since I’ve had that. Now one of my new friends is co-creating a new professional fraternity on campus for language majors. I never thought in a million years I would be rushing and joining anything Greek. Granted, it is different because it is professional and not social, and it is brand new so we would be the first “pledge class” ever so all those weird initiation things aren’t really established yet (I’m still not exactly sure what any of this means because I’ve been vehemently avoiding anything to do with sororities since I started college). But I’m going to try to join it, I’m pretty sure I’ll get in, and then that will be one more thing to tie me to the campus and hopefully help me make more friends.

            The more friends I make and the more involved I am in campus clubs and activities the more hesitant I am to move halfway across the planet for a semester. There’s so much more I could be missing out on now that I feel like I truly belong. And I’m scared of losing my new friends, missing out on opportunities to establish more close relationships, and losing that feeling of belonging which I have for the first time since eighth grade. There’s also the issue of my best friend Lexi. I couldn’t imagine going to school for a semester here and having her away studying abroad. So I know she won’t like the idea of having me gone either. I haven’t noticed until recently because I was too concerned with myself, but she doesn’t have all that many more friends than me. She kept asking why I would ever want to study abroad, which I always answered with “who wouldn’t want to study abroad?” But maybe our friendship means as much to her as it does to me, which is a really hard concept for me to get my head around because I’ve always felt that my friendships up to this point have been more one-sided. I’ve always felt that I needed and wanted a friendship to work more than the other person, although I never managed to show this effectively as I’ve always managed to drift away from those friends who mattered most to me because I was always afraid they secretly didn’t want to be my friend. I now see that this probably wasn’t true, and I really wish I’d seen this when I was younger because life would have been so much easier with friends. But that’s what growing up it about: learning. This is just another lesson, and it took me way too long to finally get it, but I’m glad I finally feel like my friendship matters to others.

            Anyway, I didn’t exactly mean for this post to turn into a reflection on my past friendships and current ones, but that’s usually what happens when I write. I start in one place and end up in another, and I usually come to some realization along the way. One more reason why I love writing so much.

            Ok, back on topic. If I take this wonderful opportunity to study abroad and experience something totally new – an opportunity which I may never have again – I may risk my newfound sense of belonging by placing myself in a foreign country surrounded by new people, new opportunities, and old problems. Will I get more out of a semester in Scotland than I will out of a semester here with my new friends? I guess it’s impossible to know. But I don’t think I can pass up an opportunity like this. Even if studying abroad goes bad, at the very least I will learn more about the country and more about myself. And learning about myself is the best way of figuring out how to make myself more happy and more of who I want to be. So for now, I’m going to go ahead with my plan, it’s not set in stone and it could very possibly change, but I’m going to try very hard to find a way to study abroad. Maybe it won’t be Scotland, but I think it would be worth it to go anywhere that I am able to. Because no matter if my original motive for wanting to leave the country was to escape from my problems, the only motive I have for not leaving is fear. I’m going to take my chances because learning to take risks is a lesson I still need to learn.

Stars and Boys: A Short Story

            I used to think the stars were holes in the sky and every time I looked into one I was looking at some far off wonder that I couldn’t see. Now I know what starts are, but I guess the rest of that still applies. It’s weird how things like that work out some times.

            I was ten when I met Luke and I thought he was the coolest guy ever. He’d just moved in next door when I went to his house with my mom to drop off some cookies. I remember it better than almost anything else from my childhood. His mother opened the door and I could see him in the background sitting on a box reading a book that looked like it was too complex for a ten-year old. He was wearing a Star Wars shirt and the sun from the kitchen window fell on him and illuminated his strawberry blond hair. He looked up and his eyes met mine, he smiled and I looked at the ground.

            In the months that followed we would make imaginary forts in the forest and pretend we were bandits or super heroes or CEOs. We would run around the neighborhood catching butterflies and sit for hours watching ladybugs or squirrels. When we were thirteen we sat on his back porch one night and planned our lives. He would go to college and become a doctor and a lawyer and get married and have two kids and seven dogs. I would become a journalist and would be a private investigator in my spare time and would have four kids, a cat, an iguana, two dogs, and a secret fortress under my house. We laughed all night long, making our plans more and more elaborate, but no matter what we planned on we decided that we would be friends forever.

            Isn’t it always like that? You are close to someone and you think you will always be close to them. They will always be there for you and you for them. In the movies, this is always how it works.

            We grew up and Luke went off to college to study engineering and I left to study English. I haven’t spoken to him since we were sixteen. But I still think he’s the coolest guy ever.