Just Far Enough
I clung to my mother’s hands as if she would disappear if I let go. She stood to my right and my father to my left and they were both ready to abandon me. I was probably told way in advance I would be starting preschool, but the shock came just as strongly as if suddenly I had been swept away to this unknown place.
Standing in that large entrance hall, I am not the only one reluctant to leave her parents. Children my age are either sobbing or on the verge of doing so, begging their parents to take them home. But a lady goes from child to child, says a few words, and soon, as if bewitched by some spell, they calmly take her hand and are led through the threshold to a smaller room full of colors. Eventually, she arrives in front of me as I clench my mother’s hand tightly and burrow into her leg.
“Hi!” She says. In response, I shyly mumble a greeting. The preschool teacher is used to dealing with this by now. She smiles warmly and kneels down to my height.
“What’s your name?” She asks.
“Soukeyna.” I mumble almost inaudibly, still clasped to my mother’s limbs.
“Such a pretty name.”
She holds out her hand and implores me with sweet words to come join the other kids, promising that we will be having a lot of fun today. Her soft voice and kind assurances gradually pry me out of my shelter and soon, I too am captured. Eager, yet still a bit reluctant, I take her hand and let her lead me into the classroom. I am seated on a rainbow colored map in a room full of bright, yet comforting, colors and introduced to the children around me. we exchange a few words, but in seconds it’s as if we have known each other our whole lives. With a few more trips back and forth the preschool teacher has us all seated in a circle that she completes. Most of our parents are still visible outside the door and some of the more bewildered children keep looking out for encouragement. The preschool teacher holds up a large book.
“This is a book by Dr. Seuss.” She says in an animated voice. She begins reading to us and soon we are so engaged no one even notices when the parents leave.
We were slowly distracted by the activities presented throughout the day. Every moment was something new to our small worlds. It almost seemed like no time had passed when parents began to arrive and all my new friends were led away to go home.
“Do we have to go?” I complain to my parents as we walk to the car. They exchange looks of amusement as I spend the ride rambling on about the games we played and the things we learned. The next day of preschool seems too far away.
Thirteen years later, I am filled with nervousness and anticipation. My father’s car is jam-packed with my stuff. Earlier, when he picked me up from my mother’s house he looked at my abundance of suitcases, bags and storage bins in disbelief and a little fear. I had argued how I needed it all. Now I was pretty sure I did not, but would never admit it. My cousin, Vale, who had come as moral support, and I were staring out the window in the silent car, exhausted from last minute packing the night before. She and I exchange apprehensive looks as we pass countless fields and farms in this remote, non-urban area–even more so than I remembered. I realize for a city oriented person like me, the University of Connecticut is going to be a completely new experience.
When I visited the previous year I had to block out my uncertainty about the rural setting and focus on the positive aspects. My mother was with me at the time and when our tour ended she asked, “Are you really sure about this?” Now my Dad was in the same mindset. “You sure you couldn’t have picked somewhere closer? Or more populated?” he says, raising his eyebrows in the rear view mirror at the view of farmland on either side. In the distance I can see cattle grazing in a field.
“It’s not like I’m out of state and the drive isn’t much more than a hour.” is all I say in defense. What I don’t say is how college is my time to get as far away as possible from home. A city had been my first priority but then I ended up choosing the University of Connecticut. It may have been my second choice, nonetheless this isolated countryside has its own charm. I am committed to having a great school year no matter what.
It’s not long before we arrive. Following the directory signs the three of us are able to find my residence hall without any trouble. First, I check in. Then, we begin the long unloading process. My building has no elevator
s and I live on the top floor. After the fifth trip to the top, my dad shakes his head in disbelief.
“There’s still more?” He complains.
Finally we finish. I look around the room. My roommate’s sparse possessions are already here although I haven’t met her. She is an international student I have communicated with on Facebook a few times. The cat pictures that were uploaded left me with no clue what she looks like.
“Are you good from here?” My dad asks, ready to get back home in time for work. I assure him I am, and with that he leaves. But I’m still not on my own. My mother is on her way
“Wanna check out the dining hall?” I ask Vale. We head outside and immediately get lost, but with the help of a kind stranger, find the dining hall right across the street. The buffet options put stars into our eyes and Vale and I load up our plates as if we hadn’t eaten breakfast a few hours earlier. When we sit down to eat, however, I get a few fries down before realizing I have absolutely no appetite. All I can think about is how different things will be from now on. Back upstairs, the two of us sit on my slightly lofted bed and get Netflix started on my laptop. I don’t know when we drifted off but soon we awaken to a key turning in the lock. My roommate enters, with a friend and a few bags. Introductions and formalities are exchanged and then she goes about putting her things away. We sit in a slightly awkward silence but they aren’t in the room very long. My phone rings a few minutes later and it is my mother asking for directions.
“No elevator?” Mom asks when she and my brother see the many flights of stairs. The four of us laugh and start the trek up to my room. Once she walks in Mom immediately tells me what’s wrong.
“There’s too much on your desk, it looks cluttered. Why is the bed so high? You’re going to need a stool to get up there. And pack these things away better…”
“Mom!” I interrupt, “I got it. These are only here temporarily until I get storage bins, okay?” Eventually I am able to hurry her out and we drive to a nearby Walmart for last minute necessities. After we get back the time has finally come to say goodbye to my family. There are no tears or heavy emotions. However, alone now, somehow the room full of both my things and my roommate’s, feels empty. I am on my own for the first time and the reality is sinking in. I sit in the unfamiliar dorm, bubbling with anxiety and excitement at the same time.
I leave the dorm on my own since my roommate has not returned. There is a group of students heading to the freshman convocation, so in relief I tag behind. Once we reach the field full of animated freshman, I am on my own again, overwhelmed by all the conversations surrounding me. I stand by myself ready to get this ceremony over with as little fake candles are passed among the crowd. My attention is on a woman who is instructing us on what we will be doing when I hear someone call out my name.
“Soukeyna!?” I turn to see the first familiar face of the whole night. “Cindy!” I exclaim with both joy and a wave of extreme relief to see someone I know. After greeting each other we talk about how nervous we are and I start to relax. Until this moment I hadn’t realized how out of place I had felt. Everyone around me seems to have found their niche in less than a day. But I am starting to realize all of us occupying that field are experiencing some level of insecurity about the unknown. We are facing a fresh new chapter of our lives and who knows what will be written. The speakers buzz with the instructor’s voice telling us to prepare to raise our candles. Despite the uncertainty of the future ahead I can’t ignore the rising sense of hopeful anticipation. The class of 2019 holds up their candles
By the end of that night, I had met more people, gotten lost numerous times, and made my first memories as a college student. Now, back in my room, I settle down in bed and think about all the possibilities the year will bring. I almost cannot wait for the next day to arrive.