Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, I walked across the stage at Radio City, diploma in hand, gauze on my post-Senior Formal feet and mom in the audience. I said goodbye to sharing secrets, stories, and clothes with my closest girlfriends, Tuesday night drink specials, and the corner-deli guy. I said goodbye to all-nighters, gin buckets, and afternoon ragers. I said goodbye to friends, to family, to professors-turned mentors. I said goodbye to one home, and said hello again to another.
I said goodbye to college and hello to home.
I said hello to adulthood, or something like it. To bills, old baggage, and boys I’d long forgotten about. To my house in Southern Brooklyn and to my mother – 59 and sassy – ready for her best friend back.
Three hundred and fifty days ago, my mother told me she had cancer. Acute myeloid leukemia. “But they caught it early,” she said to soften the blow, to ease the pain, to ice the sting. We had a lot of hope and a lot of ice cream.
Three hundred and fifteen days ago, I accepted my first job offer. Part-time-turned-full-time at a former internship I fell in love with. The pieces moved closer together as I said yes to a career as a journalist over frozen yogurt on a city bench with my best friend – a borough over in an upscale New York City hospital – on speed-dial.
Two hundred and ninety-four days ago, I sat back-seat for fourteen hours cross-country to Chicago. I blacked out at Wrigley Field (may or may not have made out with a townie), slept on the floor of a high-rise apartment with a view of the city and braved Lollapalooza with ten of my closest guy friends.
Two hundred and twenty-one days ago, I said goodbye to my best friend. She kicked her cancer late September but, home for good for just five days, pneumonia knocked her out. Two hundred and twenty days ago, I packed a bag and began calling a best friend’s basement home.
One hundred and sixty-seven days ago, I moved out of a two-story, two-bedroom home with the help of ten friends, four cars and two personal sanitation trucks. We tossed a professionally sketched portrait of Hilary Duff and decade-old middle school transcripts mom saved to be safe. We treasured old journals and scrapbooks and salvaged a Scooby Doo alarm clock.
One hundred and thirty-seven days ago I signed a lease with two male friends in a 70’s-style realtor’s office complete with mustard-colored carpeting and a birdcage cloaked in a 101 Dalmatians comforter. We moved in mom’s old living room set and bonded over one hellish trip to Ikea and an unexplained painting of George Washington.
Forty-three days ago, I marked five years out of high school with bottomless white zinfandel and a ride in the disabilities-only elevator for old time’s sake at our first reunion (shout-out to senior year, September 2008, and the bottle of Baccardi that landed me in a full leg cast). “You look great!”s came and went, and I only cried a little in the all-girls bathroom.
Just a few days ago, I took the subway to the city to see one of my closest girlfriends walk for her Master’s Degree at Madison Square Garden, the very same venue and very same stage that – just hours earlier – our alma matter’s Class of 2014 braved with a smile (some genuine, some forced, many laced with fear).
It’s been 365 days since I was that senior scared for my life post-graduation. Post-Best Years of Your Life. Post-“Hey, Look I’m on my own and don’t have to worry about student loans yet.”
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Don’t take anything for granted. Time. Money. People’s presence. Avoid cancelling plans at all costs – unless it’s raining and there’s a Grey’s Anatomy marathon on TV. But only use that one once.
- Say “I love you” more and mean it. Just don’t do it via-text after 3 a.m. Say it to your pizza instead.
- Avoid songs like “23” by Jimmy Eat World unless you’re looking for an extra side of Feels to go with that Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.
- Go ahead, take a picture in the bear suit. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
- The very first Homecoming/Fall-fest/Spring Fling at your school will hurt a little. Maybe even a lot. It’s all fun and games when you’re day-drinking under the alumni tent but later, when the bars are closed and a senior friend’s couch is the closest thing you have to a bed, expect some serious sappiness.
- Screenshot most Snapchats.
- Buy a good pair of running shoes and, if you opt for a gym membership, actually use it. It’s no longer paid for by your school. If you don’t, consider putting that money towards rent, or those ice-cube trays that also make popsicles.
- Always look into the “family” option when ordering in with your roommates. Even from that bougie Chinese food restaurant across the street.
- Thou shalt bottomless brunch whenever possible.
- Don’t be afraid to go through old photos, shoeboxes, journals, etc. You never know what kind of stick-figure drawings of a female basketball player or well-thought-out Reasons to Hate Your First Ex-Boyfriend pre-listicle diary entries you’ll find.
- Put your tongue away for the camera. You’ll thank me later.
- Open bars that don’t include shots almost always include Insert Liquor Here on the rocks.
- The ride home is always longer when you’re driving cross-country in a Fiat.
- Revisit old stomping grounds every once in a while. Freshman year dive bars. High school hot spots. But pregame first, it’s likely full of freshmen and high schoolers.
- Sure, you can attend that senior event/party/formal as an alumni but, odds are, you won’t be able to hang. Unless you’re superhuman (or employed as a professional drinker), the stress of the 9-5 daily-grind is bound to set you back in tolerance and send you home at least an hour or two earlier than usual. (If not, I commend you.)
- You are only as strong as your support system. Have faith in your friends and they’ll have faith in you (see also: stand guard while you pop a squat, recommend you for that open job/single friend of theirs, and throw a fundraiser in your parents’ honor while serving up dollar Jell-O shots for cancer research).
- Save every voicemail. A familiar voice may, one day, be hard to come by.
- Try something new. Spend a dollar at the pool table instead of the jukebox and challenge a stranger. Take a cooking class. Dabble in Do-It-Yourself Pinterest projects. See a city you’ve never seen before. This is life off-campus (and off the island of involvement fairs). Explore it, and make a name for yourself.
- The friends that are meant to stay are in it for the long haul.
- Graduation is not the end. It is not the end of your friendships. It is not the end of your academic career. It is not the end of the world. College may have been a beauty but life is a looker, too. Let it surprise you, one day at a time.