When I was 15, I went on my first adventure.
It wasn’t by choice.
I grew up in Fort Mill, SC, a small town where everyone knew each other. My friends were mostly friends I’d had since childhood, and there was a certain security about knowing that my closest allies were always just a phone call or a walk up the street away.
The summer after my sophomore year was shaping up to be the best yet. We were all starting to get licences and hand-me-down cars and a little bit of freedom. I even had my first job; I was a cashier at the local Winn-Dixie, which meant I had a little bit of money (which at the time seemed like a lot of money). My friends and I spent the summer driving around town, getting into what little trouble we could at 15. Which meant lots of time playing on the moving sidewalks at the airport (before the days of heightened security), hanging out at minor league baseball games, knocking on boys’ windows in the middle of the night to see if they wanted to come out to Waffle House …
And then, in a blink, it all changed.
Dad decided to take a job in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. A way more beautiful part of the country than the upstate, but that meant nothing to me as suddenly my friends were all going to be four hours away. All of them.
And I had a week to say goodbye.
I quit my job the day I found out and refused to work a notice. If I only had 7 days left, I was certainly not going to spend them at a grocery store.
Amy and I stalked my dad’s office in Lake Wylie, hoping our pitiful looks would get him to change his mind. When that didn’t work, we went to her house and called my mom to see if we could talk some sense into her. Still, no luck.
And finally, we conceded. Jenny and Amy and Michelle helped me pack up my room, one sweater and snapshot at a time. They made promises to visit, and some would, and some wouldn’t. We talked about how surely this wasn’t for real.
And as I said my goodbyes to my friends and my grandparents and that boy I had a crush on that summer (luckily it was easy to knock on his window; there was a handy a/c unit just below it that was certainly meant to be climbed on), I’m certain that what was on my mind was how I was going to go on without the people that meant so much to me.
What I probably wasn’t thinking of was how life was going to go on without me.
How my friends would cope without me. If I would leave an emptiness in their hearts the way they would leave in mine.
I knew that it would matter to me that I was leaving this place that I loved, the only place I knew. But I’m not sure I knew how much the place and people I loved would miss me.
In fact, the day of the move, I was finally ready to face what was to come. The car was packed and Jenny walked across the street to say goodbye before I left.
I handed my sister my camera, and I asked her to take a photo of me and Jenny. A last snapshot of my time in a place where I felt safest in my life.
And as the camera was turned on us, I wrapped my arms around Jenny’s neck and smiled for the photo. And I realized, after the shot was taken, that in that same moment, she had started bawling.
And it was then that it hit me that this affected her, too. That this affected all of my friends. That it wasn’t just me that was going through a change. My best people were going through a change, too.
The photo didn’t turn out. The flash should have gone off and it didn’t. I got silhouettes of two figures, and if you look at the photo closely, you can see my smile and her tears.
My adventure was her loss. I was losing, too, but I would gain just as much. She was just losing. And in that way, my move across the state was way worse for her than it ever was for me.
I have been thinking about that photograph this week, as now I am facing adventures that are not my own, but ones that belong to others. A friend told me this week that change is constant, and this I know, I just don’t understand why everything is changing at once. And I know that’s not for me to know. That my role is to be supportive and hopeful as I send you off into your new world.
But don’t look too closely at our last moments … because I might have a hard time smiling for them.
P.S. We only lived in Beaufort for a year, then I got to come back to Fort Mill. A story for another time, but my friends had missed me, and they welcomed me back with open arms. I always know I have a home in their hearts, even today.