On I-35, Again.

By Allison.

It takes an even ninety minutes to reach Austin from Baylor’s campus. The trip is spent almost entirely on I-35, the highway practically slicing off the edge of my campus and continuing south, tracing a nearly straight line to Austin. There is little between the two cities, there are cows and trees and gas stations, little towns cropping up and disappearing almost as quickly as they formed. Fast food signs light up the highway more than lampposts in some areas. Traffic cones periodically slow the cars to a slow, steady rhythm, eighteen wheelers and pick up trucks crowd the lanes; otherwise the traffic hurtles past at 75 miles per hour.

Erica and I know distance well. We have waited months to see one another, we have spent hours on Skype, planning our next adventure in lieu of actually spending time together. Late night conversations were almost entirely restricted to text messages; we rarely got to stay up late together while in the same state, let alone room. We know distance because distance has formed our friendship. We have found frustration in the 2,000 miles that divide California and New York, we have felt impatience in the months that have created discontinuity in our interactions.

So it felt upsettingly familiar that college, too, meant different campuses and different experiences, bound together by the tenacious determination to keep our lives intertwined. Erica has established friends in Austin, she has made memories that I will never experience, she has a life carved out for herself 100 miles south of me. I, too, have my own life; professors she will never meet and friendships and laughter that she does not partake in, moments that occur without her.

But we have meet at this intersection of a Texan experience, unsure why so many people wear cowboy boots and love Whataburger. We eat In-n-Out when we are together; we are unable to cope with the stifling heat. We take buses to visit each other and beg friends to let us hitch rides so that we can see each other, just for a weekend, just for a short moment. Our friendship has grown to include Texas, though we are often foreigners in an unfamiliar place; our existence has been colored by this vast state, this new culture.

A hundred miles can sometimes feel like an eternity, but telephone wires and car engines seem to press the distance inwards, collapsing mile after mile until it takes nothing more than a few seconds, nothing more than ninety minutes, to travel the distance, there and back, there and back, and though we find ourselves apart, forever separate, dropped in the cities of Waco and Austin, we are never truly separated.

Road Trips, Airbnbs, and Dallas, Texas

Erica.
My friends and I started talking about spring break at the end of last semester, but compromising between four people only led to two months of disagreement. Flying was too expensive, the beach was too cliché, camping sounded too much like a Dante’s Inferno experience, and all in all, neither one of us had the same idea of what we wanted to do for a week in March. After finally settling on a camping trip and then me quickly realizing I would want nothing more than to not go camping, we settled on visiting the second-most exciting city in the state (due to already living in the first): Dallas.

We decided to leave campus promptly at 9am on the first day of break. By 8:45, two of the four of us were packed and ready in our respective dorm rooms, eagerly awaiting a “I’m outside” text from our friend with the car. But the minutes passed without evidence of life from the other two, so just before 9 we called and texted, only to be met with one “sorry, I just woke up,” and one “sorry, I haven’t left my house yet, but I’ll be there in an hour”. Eventually, only an hour and a half off schedule, we hit the road, the four of us eighteen and nineteen year olds and no parental supervision–truly a dream come true.

The drive there seemed eerily reminiscent of long drives with my siblings on family vacations: there was the same, if not amplified, level of bickering and name-calling, only the roasts were more well-crafted and the crying was less common. Without the safety net of the “I’m telling Mom” card, mutual dragging ensued, with everyone and the entirety of our seven-month-long friendships being fair game. Without parents to keep us on reasonable eating habits, we were excited to eat anything and everything we were craving, but by day 2 I was ready to break down into tears if someone told me I had to eat another donut. Maybe my sugar tolerance had dropped to a reasonable level or maybe donuts and kolaches weren’t actually good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the reality of getting to eat whatever we wanted seemed less fun than the prospect of it.

Due to none of us being old enough to get a hotel room, we ended up at a charming apartment via Airbnb in the middle of downtown. There was something about the fifteen-foot ceilings and free range of the apartment that amped up the “look at us, we’re kind of adults” feel and made the problems stemming from lack of comfortable sleeping arrangements, poor window insulation, and lack of hairdryer seem minuscule. Apartments were more exciting than dorm rooms, and the full-size fridge and multiple couches made it feel like a luxury vacation.

At other times, it felt like a family vacation with four overgrown kids with drivers’ licenses and high school diplomas. The childlike enthusiasm was still rampant, but geared towards historical events and live music instead of carousels and ice cream parlors. One friend was giddy with excitement about spending hours at the museum on Kennedy’s assassination, buying a JFK shirt from the gift shop, immediately putting it on after we left the museum, and continuing to wear it to bed for the rest of the trip. Another friend beamed ear to ear about finding a restaurant with live jazz, sitting in fascination for hours and and basking in the music as the rest of us exchanged dying glances. It became routine to stop and stare in awe at well-designed buildings and remark on impressively-designed highway systems–cities were like zoos for the civil engineering majors in the group, the jungle-animal enclosure being replaced by a concrete jungle. Every time we’d come across some poorly engineered aspect of the city, someone would remark about how someday, somehow, they’d build something better.

So for several days we went around Dallas, visiting a bevy of museums, eating at the most Texas of places, listening to live music, sitting in pretty parks, and taking enough pictures to stockpile for Instagram posts and Facebook profile pictures. And every night, drained and finished with the excitement of the day, we’d get back to the apartment, crash on the couch, and watch movies and TV shows until 1am. And that was spring break.

Trips like this always seemed like a “when I grow up” kind of thing. “When I have money.” When I’m older.” “When I can do things on my own.” And even though we still can’t check into hotels or have a particularly large amount of money to spend, those ‘when’s are slowly becoming nows, with every school break and lump of money that comes along. Even though this spring break we could only make it several hours away from home, with more time and planning, soon our lives will point to bigger adventures in farther places. Maybe Chicago, maybe Boston, and maybe even overseas. More breaks are yet to come, studying abroad is becoming more of an option, and who knows where it will all lead.

There’s something about new cities, new skylines, and new places to be that makes traveling exciting–and with the addition of new friends, adventure seems limitless. This spring break wasn’t the family vacation I was used to, but nevertheless, it was a memorable sort of vacation with a different sort of family.

Headlights

By Allison.

It was two a.m., and I was sitting in my car outside Ben’s house, the headlights providing just enough light for us to see the silhouettes of each other’s faces. The ten minute car ride between our homes always seemed to provide enough time to delve into a deep conversation and we had spent countless summer nights stalling in front of his house and talking. We talked about college and our goals and the people we wanted to become. We talked about our messy families and our confusing friendships and our need to move somewhere new. We talked until the summer dusk turned to a dark night, fighting over who had better taste in music and who should control the radio, laughing over our endless inside jokes, praying that the moments we shared together wouldn’t end.

This had become a summer ritual, sitting in the car at some ungodly hour, Ben silencing calls from his mother so that we could talk for just a few more minutes. We shared things that we had never told anyone else, we talked about things we didn’t dare discuss with our other friends. It became a sanctuary, the car, the stillness of night, the knowledge that our lives were deeply, deeply similar and that whatever was said would somehow make our friendship more dynamic, more fluid. We weren’t afraid to share what was going on because the other person always understood, always accepted even when they could not empathize.

But then college rolled around, and Ben headed up to Boston while I flew to Texas. Our night time talks became relegated to Skype calls and long texts, but the endless demand of exams and papers threatened even that precious time. Ben ran from meeting to meeting every day and was caught in a cappella rehearsal while I slaved over chemistry problems and calculus. Our schedules turned our friendship into brief texts and intermittent phone calls. Thanksgiving break was a much needed relief from the strain of a long distance friendship. We quickly fell into our usual patterns; hanging out all day and testing the limits of how late we could talk before one of our parents would demand we return home.

We turned to talking about school, about the semester, how much we had accomplished, how much we still wanted to accomplish. Lofty words dripped from our lips, the names of prestigious fellowships and graduate programs floated around the in the darkness of car. Law school and medical school danced around us and PhDs seemed to wrap themselves around our laughter, the promise of growth and development both terrifying and invigorating.

And so we sat in the car, talking about grand futures, yet I felt discouraged, so far from the things that I wanted. I was dragging through a chemistry class that was a far cry from organic chemistry research. Ben, filled with hopes to pursue entirely different goals, couldn’t understand why I would so badly want to spend my life in a laboratory, but he encouraged me as if chemistry were his own passion. He told me to boldly pursue what I wanted; he told me doors weren’t opening simply because I wasn’t trying to find out if they were locked before I walked away. I wasn’t doing research, he reminded me because I had never asked anyone to let me work in their lab. He talked for almost an hour, reminding me how far I had come from my days of being at Tech, and how far I could still go, if only I started to take hold of the things in front of me.

The ringing of his phone and his mother’s pleas for him to come inside interrupted our talk and he slipped into his house; I turned on the car engine and pulled away from the curb, the sudden silence giving me room to digest everything he had said. The red glow of a streetlight flooded my car as I idled at an intersection, my thoughts suddenly filled with hope about how much I could accomplish in the short time left in my first semester, how I could set up my second semester of college to be what I really wanted. Inspired and encouraged, filled with the confidence that has always come from this friendship, my fears about the future seemed to fall out of my car, left scattered across the road under the blinking streetlight.

 

101 Miles Till Home

by Erica

676.

Our Snapchat streak is at 676.

This obnoxiously long and overall useless achievement has been, since day 1, one of our frantic flails to hold onto this friendship we hold dear. Calling each other best friends even though we lived on opposite corners of the United States always seemed ambitious–surely there were hundreds of other people within a mile radius of us that could fit the bill instead. But our online high school directed our lives into a head-on collision at just the right instant, sending the both of us spiraling into a friendship neither one of us had prepared for.

Conversations in Organic Chemistry soon transcended the classroom, and eventually we settled into the routine that still holds true today. Since junior year, we’ve spent weeks together exploring New York and sitting in hotels in Pennsylvania and going from beach to beach in California. The amount of stupid conversations we’ve had and arguably risky decisions we’ve made is abounding–the need to condense three months of adventure into a single weekend is forever ingrained in our minds.

But this unexpectedness, this sporadicity, this surprise in every turn lends to a friendship worth bragging about and a bevy of stories worth sharing. When people ask me about my happiest memories, my favorite trips, and my wildest adventures, this friendship in all its glory comes to mind every time. Granted, goodbyes are always agonizing and ‘see you soon’s never seem promising enough; but time goes on, sometimes dragging, sometimes flying, until our countdowns hit zero and we say hello again. It’s an unpleasant progression, but such is the nature of it all.

This whole long-distance friendship manifests itself in the occasional Skype call, the unending stream of texts, and the collaborative blog that would cause less rifts in the relationship if some people (me) actually started writing posts when they (me) said they would. Roasting each other on social media has become the norm–perhaps peppering conversations with joking ‘I hate you’s and other feigned remarks will somehow make it easier to cope with being apart.

We now go to college thirty times closer to each other than we went to high school, and admittedly an hour-and-a-half drive is nothing to scoff at when it used to be forty. But some days, anything farther than walking distance still seems like too much.

Regardless, whether it be three thousand or one hundred miles apart, I’m forever thankful for this friendship and everything it entails. I would have never spent so much time in NYC, or cultivated such an intense passion for zoos, or fully understood the resilience of friendship despite time zones and state lines–and a life void of those things doesn’t seem like much of a life at all.

This was supposed to be some kind of birthday homage, but I, true to character, didn’t finish writing until four days too late. Happy late birthday, Allison, and thanks for everything.

The Abbreviated List of Unreasonable Things I Have Anxiety About When I Run Out of Realistic Fears to Fret Over

Allison here, your local teen with an overactive imagination.

  1. When I walk into a familiar public bathroom, say in a school building I frequent on a regular basis, I’ll fail to check the sign on the door labeling the gender and the male and female rooms will have been switched since my last use of said bathroom and I will unknowingly be using the men’s room.
  2. Calculus II will suddenly begin to involve such difficult mathematics that I won’t be able to complete my homework assignments, I’ll fail the course, and I’ll have to switch majors and my dreams of becoming a chemist will be dashed by my inability to solve a definite integral.
  3. The law of gravity might suddenly reverse and if I am outside I will be sent careening into outer space unless I grab onto a nearby tree or telephone pole.
  4. I’ll die alone with 8 cats, surrounded by tuna fish and poorly knit sweaters, and when my corpse is discovered by my neighbor, my house will be repossessed by the government and turned into a meat packing factory.
  5. I’ll have developed a severe peanut allergy since I had last consumed the legume and I’ll go into anaphylactic shock but I won’t be equipped with epinephrine due to the fact that I have literally never experienced an allergic reaction to food once in my life.
  6. I’ll discover in the middle of an important job interview that I accidentally put on two different shoes when getting dressed that morning.
  7. My cat won’t sleep in my bed because she actually does hate me and thus I am failing her as an adopted mother and it’s not that she’s ignoring me simply because she’s a cat and cats have never cared about human emotion since the beginning of their existence as a species.

From Faces to Friends

Erica.

The most difficult part about going to Texas was the sheer magnitude of uncertainty that surrounded the next four years of my life. What would my classes be like? Would my grades be okay? Would I go to the gym on a regular basis? And above all, who would my friends be? These were all questions that could never be answered in a single moment, only unraveling as time went on.

I spent many nights lying in bed, trying to conjure up ideas about the kinds of friends and the kinds of times I’d have in college. Attempting to imagine multiple distinct, vivid personalities was hard, but I wanted to know what life would be like. My future days, nights, weekends, friend groups, these were all complicated, jumbled results of the people I was about to meet in a few short months.

It was, thankfully, more exciting than frightening.

This vast undefined expanse has been a theme of college so far—knowing that there are good things that are going to happen that I can’t fathom quite yet, so many fun trips and good laughs, things I’ll learn and things I will be glad to have gone through. Constantly reminding myself that good things lie ahead has been crucial to making leaving home the first and second time easier. Jumping in is a thousand times harder when you don’t know what you’re jumping into.

img_7844In every new class, or club meeting, or lunch table I showed up to, I’d be met with a miscellaneous arrangement of eyes, noses, and mouths in combinations I’d never seen before. I’d wonder which faces would become familiar, which would become friendly, and which I’d never think twice about again. Meeting new people was a constant wondering of “who will they be to me in the future?” The answers to that question were never clear to me then, but as the weeks passed by, I began to have clarity.

The boy hunched over his notes two desks down in my Dancing America class? He’s one of my best friends now. The people in that cramped classroom in the basement of the civil engineering building? They were the nineteen people I credit to my first semester’s success.img_5437

It’s scary, no doubt, knowing that I’ve only known these people since August at most and the depth of our relationships is still developing. It’s only been half a year, and while in some respect it feels like forever, it’s only a small fraction of the time that I’ve known some of the other people in my life.

But my friends here at UT are always evolving, fading, and appearing, all in all coalescing into a support group that I could never handle college without. And while I am forever wondering about this semester, next semester, and the rest of college as a whole, with every new person I meet, I slowly expand the circle of “people I’d consider saying hello to if I ever saw them in passing”—making life on this fifty-thousand-student campus seem a little less daunting.