Yesterday, I took the train to Santa Monica from my university, where I’d just moved in as a freshman two days prior. I eagerly took a window seat and popped in my earbuds. It was a humbling, beautiful half-hour ride. When the train glided forward over abandoned buildings and dirt lots, I could see downtown LA glistening in the distance. I felt like I could have maybe made the cut for a scene in La La Land if my fellow passengers and I happened to burst into song.
But I’d been dreading this day. I was taking the train to meet my parents and younger sister, where I would get lunch with them one last time before they would head back home and leave me at college.
Of course, making the six-hour drive down to LA a few days before meant that I’d had my fair share of goodbyes on my last night. There were lots of tears as I said goodbye to my friends and my boyfriend, who was particularly difficult to leave since we had decided it was best to break up. And when I woke up the next day with my dog licking my face, the tears made an immediate appearance: soon we’d be dropping the dog off at my neighbors’ house, and I wouldn’t see him until Thanksgiving.
That day driving to LA was really… weird. I was leaving behind all that was familiar to me, everything and everyone I loved in a contained little bubble. They were all there. And one normal summer morning, here I was, driving away from it all. I was beyond excited—but also downright terrified: I had no idea what to expect of my new home. For six hours and fifteen minutes, I didn’t belong anywhere but the long stretch of highway in the dry valley of California.
That’s why, as I spent my last fifteen minutes with my parents looking out over the Santa Monica pier from a hidden stairwell, I felt a flood of emotion. It was one of settlement, not necessarily fear or anxiety or any of the other gut-choking emotions that had been gripping me the past few weeks. Standing in the salty air, looking out at the ocean under a cloudless blue sky, I couldn’t help crying. And giving my parents that last goodbye hug was incredibly hard. But it was also a long time coming, and I’d never been more sure that I was ready.
The train ride back to my university was just as beautiful as the one out to Santa Monica, but in a different, much more bittersweet way. Since the beginning of my senior year, I’d been counting down the days to when I’d get to leave for college—and it was finally here, just as amazing as I’d hoped. I’d become used to being emotional in public places, but this time felt symbolic. I was truly on my own this time, in a brand new city, in an unfamiliar environment.
As I rode that train back to school—sitting on the hard plastic seat, leaning my head against the tinted window, my eyes welling up with tears—it would have been so easy to feel pathetic or even sorry for myself. But this past year, I’ve learned the importance of feeling. The harsh reality for those of us who are fiercely independent is that we forget we sometimes need to cry out of frustration, or over a boy, or about a huge life change that scares us. And with the amount of chaos in our lives, the chance of reaching an emotional breaking point in public becomes pretty likely. It doesn’t make us weak or piteous. It means we care.
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and stepped off the train at my stop. It was warm and pleasant, and for a while, I stood on the platform and soaked in how truly happy I was to be here. Then the sun started setting behind me, and I made my way home.