College brought me back to earth
“I’ve had enough,” I thought to myself at the end of my senior year of high school. I was tired of the small town in New Jersey and ready to get out. I was tired of being around the same people, I was tired of having no freedom and I was tired of the dullness that came with being in the same place.
I was ready for a change, and I knew I wanted to point myself toward Los Angeles. I could no longer stand the cold weather and snow. I wanted that temperate SoCal climate, the ability to go to the beach in the middle of January, the feeling of being on vacation all the time. Unfortunately, my mother wouldn’t let me apply to any schools in Los Angeles, so oblivious to how much the weather resembled the New Jersey winters, I went for the next farthest place: the University of Michigan. I knew that a lot of Californians went to Michigan, and they had an established alumni base there, so I could aim my sights on sunny LA post-grad.
If I couldn’t go to California, I would go to the best school I go into far away from home. I would get the vaunted independence I desired and a degree that could land me on the Pacific shores.
I quickly fell from the clouds of my fantasy and back to cold reality. The minute I arrived at Michigan, I immediately yearned for New Jersey. The cliche “You don’t know a good thing till it’s gone” definitely rang true for me. I didn’t realize how many things I took for granted at home — having a home-cooked meal, having help with my laundry, having a set bedtime and schedule to follow. I missed my mom’s meatballs, and the comfort of my own bed and bonding with my mom over our shared affinity for HGTV’s “House Hunters.”
I missed my little town of Chatham — walking around the tree-lined streets, having delicious bagels at my favorite cafe, being an hour train ride from New York. I missed all the great attractions I took for granted while being able to go to the greatest city in the world nearly every weekend — the thin-sliced pizza, the Met, Central Park.
I missed the familiarity of the people I had known for the past four years, and the strong friend group I had made my senior year. The independence I so desperately craved was too overwhelming for me. Without a rigid schedule, I spent too much time hanging out with friends, and not enough time studying, and often went to bed too late to be productive in the morning. And, without that delicious Italian cooking, I ended up eating too little, and what I did eat was mostly garbage. I was a mess, and I couldn’t believe this was the start of the life I had waited for.
I also immediately put to rest all of those grand plans for California I had set out at the beginning of college. It was so nice to be able to be only a short plane ride away from home. I couldn’t imagine only being able to go home twice a year if I were in California, and not spend Thanksgiving in the comfort of my own community. More importantly, I couldn’t stand the fact of being too far from my sister, who moved to New York during my freshman year. I wanted to be able to see my parents and my sister more than just a few times a year. The nightly phone calls I made were no replacement — and this was coming from the guy who said he was only going to call home once a week.
What really tipped the scales for me, though, was spending my summer with my sister in New York. I loved staying in her little studio apartment and being able to go to the attractions every weekend. Even better, I was able to walk or take public transportation anywhere, a near impossibility in car-centered California. I immediately knew I had to return to the tri-state area; this was my home, and I could not imagine being away from the center of it all, with the people I loved most.
Putting those crazy ideas to rest also made my college experience better. I was able to establish a new friend group, go to the football games and share in all of the fun Friday nights after a long school week. I missed all of these important things in my rush to grow up. We became such a tight-knit group that we decided to travel to New York for spring break, and I was in charge of showing them my hometown.
Returning home that February with my friends, my experience came full circle. I drove them around those same tree-lined streets, showed them what a real bagel tasted like, walked around the mall I had grown up with and, best of all, shared a dinner of my mom’s meatballs. Being able to share my love of home put any thoughts of leaving to rest.