The scariest thing in the world is stuff we don’t know. It’s why so many folks are afraid of gay people, they just don’t have any personal experience with someone gay to know they’re not any different than straight people. The unknown is always the scariest. But the cool thing about the unknown is once you do the unknown thing it becomes a known thing and makes it less scary and the more unknown things you can turn into known things the bigger your world is.
My best friend just moved from Berkeley Heights, New Jersey to Nashville, Tennessee. She has never lived more than two hours from her parent’s house and she was having a hard time adjusting. She called me crying, “Chels, everything is new here. I don’t know anyone and I’m so tired of meeting new people all the time. It’s just so exhausting.” I told her, “Look Jules, I know it’s all unknown, it’s all scary and different and you don’t have anyone who has known you for more than 2 minutes there, but everything you do, every place you go to more than once makes it a known quantity. That café you’ve been to once? Well, guess what? By the time Domi and I come visit you in a few months that will be your regular hangout. That bar you went to last night? It will be the place you go every week for trivia night and if it’s not, that’s okay too. Because you will find the places that make this whole new space feel like home. And also, baby, if you want to go home no one will be disappointed in you, you can go back to New Jersey any time and I will not be disappointed in you, just please don’t be disappointed in yourself. I know you can stick it out. So go stick your face in a pint of ice cream. Take a deep breath, go do some more new things and know you always have an old friend to call when you need someone that knows you.”
The only way we grow is by trying new things and broadening our horizons. It’s scary as all get out, but it’s a beautiful thing.
A couple of times in life I’ve really pushed myself into the unknown. I have had insane separation anxiety from my parents since I was a little girl. I hated not being with them all the time, even for an hour at dance class, if I couldn’t see them in the window. I would lose my mind. So when it came time to apply for colleges everyone was pretty much dumbfounded that I only applied to schools 3,000 or more miles away from my home. I knew that if I was going to be independent I had to go big or go home. I had to change my surroundings, the people I knew and leap into the great unknown in a major way. My parents told me they were so beyond proud that I had decided to do this, even though I know my Daddy cried every night when I wasn’t around at the thought of me being so far away. When I chose a school in Allentown, Pennsylvania it became real. I was really going to do it. I would be a 5-and-a-half-hour plane ride from home at a minimum. I knew it was what I wanted though and once I decided that I was going to do it, it would’ve been pretty much impossible to change my mind. I am a bit relentless as they say…
It was hands down one of the best decisions I ever made. I remember flying over for orientation and thinking, “oh my God, what have I done?” My parents were going to drop me off in a few months’ time in a small town in Pennsylvania where I literally knew no one and I would be living with a stranger…I’m insane, I’ve lost my mind, someone turn this plane around.
We landed and drove to the bed and breakfast that my parents had booked that they knew nothing about and was in the middle of nowhere. We went to the front desk and my parents proudly told them that I would be attending Muhlenberg College and that I wanted to explore Allentown since that was where the school was located. The front desk lady looked at my Dad and said, “really? Allentown, ugh I don’t even think there’s anything interesting there.” I took one look at my Dad and started to cry, my Daddy who was in the back of the car doing emails (as per usual) was startled by my sudden entrance. “They (sharp intake of breath) said (choking sob) there’s (ridiculously loud sniffling) nothing (hiccup) there…” I uttered dejectedly through a waterfall of tears. My Daddy was crushed that I was so sad and luckily my Dad returned before my Daddy started crying too. He said, “let’s just go and explore! That lady doesn’t know what she’s talking about anyway!” He was very confident sounding, but I could tell behind all of that confidence he was willing himself to be right. We started to drive through the fields of rural Pennsylvania my panic slowly subsiding. At every turn I was looking at the window in hopes of finding some semblance of civilization.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity we came upon a suburban strip mall right near my soon-to-be college and low and behold what was there but an Outback Steakhouse! Never in my life have I been so happy to see a bloomin’ onion! It was something I knew and something I could relate to and if there was an Outback then there must be civilization.
It’s so funny how your mind does that to you. The second you find a touch point everything turns around, it’s all going to be okay and just because of some mediocre steaks. Needless to say I was beyond relieved.
Two months later I was back in Allentown and it was time to move into the dorms. The day before move-in we had received an email from the school that freshman parents would have to leave after lunch on move-in day. Dad, Daddy and I stared at each other in disbelief. We were supposed to have two more days together. They were supposed to stay and help me unpack and spend time with me and say our goodbyes before they flew back to California. We were supposed to have more time. I immediately emailed my new advisor to make sure that wasn’t a typo, I mean after all this is college, I’m like supposed to be an adult, why do they get to tell me when my parents have to leave? But low and behold it was true and there were no ifs, ands or buts about this rule. I had a little meltdown, but after I adjusted to the new schedule I was okay—Daddy definitely wasn’t—but I was going to be fine. This was going to be my new home and I was going to make the best of it.
As we approached the campus we were put into a line of cars headed for Prosser Hall, my new home. Once we reached the front of the line a very well-meaning upperclassman greeted our rental car filled to the brim with every worldly possession I could carry and directed me to my room. They even helped us carry things. We were all highly impressed with the organization of it all. We filled up my room with shabby chic pillows and even a tiny chandelier that hung below my bed and over my desk until it was perfect. We were almost done setting up by the time my roommate got there and I think she was a bit overwhelmed by what she saw before her. Two gay men and their daughter putting together specially ordered sheets and extra storage for my abundance of clothes. She was kind, as was her family. She was from New Jersey and she welcomed me with open arms. After everything had found it’s place we realized it was time for lunch. We knew what was coming as soon as we were done eating so we all ate slower than normal trying to delay the inevitable. When the bell tolled, telling us it was time for our first meeting with our advisory groups we all had pits in our stomachs. My parents walked me to where I would be meeting with my fellow honors program students (yes, I’m a nerd) and we looked at each other all with tears in our eyes. I hugged my parents once then one more time for good luck and then out of nowhere, it seemed, this incredibly tall, sweet, angel came to my rescue. He introduced himself as Eric and we discovered that he was in the same honors program I was. He saw that the three of us were struggling with our goodbyes and in his infinite wisdom told me I just had to rip the Band-Aid off. So with one more hug for each dad I turned around and walked with Eric into the nearest building. I didn’t dare look back because I thought I might implode with the amount I already missed my Dads. But as soon as I was sitting awkwardly among strangers who all were also feeling all the feelings of the day I felt like I was really going to be okay.
I called my parents the next day and told them I’d already made a group of girlfriends, we even had a group text that we had embarrassingly named “the sexy seven” and we ate all of our meals together and saw each other every single second we weren’t in class. I even lived the floor below two of the girls. I remember laying in my bed telling them all about how exciting the first day was and thinking, yep, I think I’m going to like it here. And four of the most incredible years of my life ensued! It just goes to show things we don’t know right now aren’t so bad. Otherwise everyone would only sit at home in complete and utter fear of the outside world and that would make life pretty boring.