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Black Friday, 2016.

By Allison.

It had gotten frigidly cold in the few hours since the sun had set. I was sitting on Ben’s bed while he swiveled around in his desk chair; we were both getting tired but neither of us wanted to stop hanging out. It was already midnight, but I had the keys to my mom’s car and it was Black Friday. We finally decided we should down some caffeine and head to the mall.

My mom was already in a comatose sleeping off the Thanksgiving meal we had eaten a few hours earlier, so Ben and I drove off to New Jersey without telling anyone. Though I had been driving for over a year, my hands were shaking as they grasped the wheel of the car: I was driving over the Goethals Bridge for the first time. The bridge was built in  1928 when cars were considerably smaller and the lanes of the bridge were accordingly thin. Notably, the bridge has since been replaced by a bridge equipped with lanes of an acceptable width. While driving over the Goethals was a normal experience for drivers in New York, having my first confrontation with the poorly sized structure at midnight while my mom didn’t know where I was felt particularly reckless.

I made it over the bridge without incident, but when we made it to the parking lot of the mall, we were met with madness. Ben and I weren’t, apparently, the only people who decided to go shopping. Perhaps it should’ve been apparent to us that other people would also frequent a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year, but the horde of cars creating a bottle neck of traffic into the parking lot entrance came as a surprise. It only felt compounded by my traumatizing escapade over the world’s slimmest bridge.

And then a car hit into hit the back of mine. It was a red sedan, and the driver didn’t brake quickly enough to stop his car from hitting into my bumper. My car lurched forward and then rocked backward. I looked at Ben in stunned silence.

My mom doesn’t even know I’m here.

Ben was silent, his eyes wide.

I slipped off my seat belt and put the car in park. Ben opened his door and followed me to look at the back of the car. The culpable driver sat behind his wheel with an expression that made it clear he was hoping I would be too timid to approach him.

Much to my relief, the bumper wasn’t dented.

Ben, do I just leave it? He nodded, convincing me that there was’t really anything I could do anyway.

I could already hear my mom’s voice in my head, telling me that I only made bad decisions like this because I was eighteen and my brain wasn’t fully formed.

So I looked back at the driver and put my hand up in a sign of peace. He was still cowering behind his closed window.

Ben and I got back into the car, and moved forward slowly, the traffic still crawling, the red sedan keeping a safe distance between our two cars as he trailed me.

I can’t ever tell my mom. I just crashed her car while on an escapade to another state in the middle of the night. Ben laughed in response, but it was lined with a nervous energy.

In the morning, after a night of shopping and spending too much money in the Nike store, I told my brother what had happened. There’s always a few things you need to keep from mom, he told me while smirking.

It’s been a year, I’ve since gone back to the same mall for Black Friday, this time telling my mom where I was going. So mom, this is my public confession, a year late. I’m sorry for crashing your car and never telling you. There’s a small scratch somewhere on the back of the car commemorating the event. Please forgive me.

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When My Home Was Not Also My Mother’s

By Allison.

When I return home now, I am part daughter, part guest. My bedroom is still filled with my furniture, but the drawers are empty and my favorite outfits are hanging in a closet across the country. I have to ask my mom where the dish towels are kept, because she has moved them since the last time I was home. The ice machine doesn’t work, but I don’t know this because when I was last home a few months ago, it was making ice just fine.

And I have learned this routine, half home in New York, half home in Texas. I have learned to live in this divided way; I have even learned to love it. But this summer my mom came to visit me in Austin, landing in my dorm room with a roller suitcase, Italian bread, and heat exhaustion. Suddenly, I wasn’t her guest, but she was mine.

It was the first time I’d ever had to invite my mother into my life, because our existences were not already shared. I had to show her how to turn on the shower, and where I kept my hairbrush, and how to swipe into my dorm room. I was host, now, and the role reversal was palpable.

I had created enough of a life separate from her that just by sharing the simplest parts of my routine, I was bringing her into a place she was unfamiliar. I had to welcome her into a world she had never seen before, only heard about over phone calls and glimpsed through snapchats.

Though she still played mom, buying me things for my dorm and taking me out to lunch, there was a distinct difference in the weekend spend with her. I have always been her navigator to aid her lacking sense of direction, but this weekend we were in a city she had never been to, one I had become comfortable within. Each street and building was new for her, while I waltzed around with familiarity and ease. The heat staggered her and kept her in bed while I slipped on jeans without thinking about the humidity.

And so, just for a weekend, we lived in a world that was more mine than hers, and I was able to show her a place where I had become myself. I was able to give her context for each of the moments she had commented, “But you’ve changed so much,” when I flew to New York to come home again.

Coming Home.

By Allison, your local frequent flyer.

So, back to Texas again.

I am beginning to measure my life in airports and delayed flights and taxiing on a tarmac. There is energy in the crowds of people passing through an airport, all traveling somewhere new or returning somewhere familiar, moving with purpose yet dragging with a familiar weariness. I have flown a lot in the past year, between New York and Texas; I have learned the inside of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, I know where to find the Starbucks with the shortest line in Newark.

The greatest moments of reflection in my life seem to find me precisely when an airplane picks up speed and its wheels leave the runway, pulling me away from a city that I love. At that very movement, in waves of excitement and fear, I realize how much I am always leaving behind, how much I am always coming home to. Because Texas has become home now, in a way. It houses eighteen year old me, and my nineteen year old self, containing all of the memories that I have formed in this past year, cradling my growth and maturity. It doesn’t know my childhood, it doesn’t store the endless memories that Staten Island always will. It is not New York, it is not the fullness of eighteen years of identity, but still, my life has taken root here and I have given away parts of me that New York can never claim as its own.

So, I fly between New York and Texas, Texas and New York, traveling ceaselessly and dividing my existence between such different places. Weeks and months pass but I find myself seated on another plane, spanning the two thousand miles in a few hours, and, yet no matter what direction I find myself traveling, I am always coming home, I am always leaving home.

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.

 

The Brief Entanglement of State Lines

By Allison, your hamburger consumer and story telling enthusiast.

In class this week, our professor had each student share their major and hometown. After students listed off seemingly every city in Texas, I resigned myself to the fact that the only out of state students would come from somewhere near Illinois or California. I’d been quickly finding that the Northeast is always underrepresented in the Baylor student body. I had yet to find someone from New York City; a girl from Long Island spoke to me briefly at the beginning of the year, but I soon lost touch with her. So I sat, listening to each student name their small, unknown hometown, following their introduction with a hurried “it’s near Dallas,” as is the Texan way of introducing oneself. Everything is near Dallas.

Yet, finally, miraculously, a voice announced they were from New Jersey.

When I’m home, New Jersey is somewhat of a rival, a disdained second cousin which one would rather not be related; yet I was willing to make concessions under dire circumstances. New Jersey downright feels like home when Flower Mound, Texas is the next best option. So I turned around to find the speaker’s face somewhere in the back of the classroom. Immediately, her red lipstick and strikingly black hair made me comfortable; it was clear she wasn’t from here, in the same way that my septum piercing and messily dyed hair scream that I’m anything but Texan.

Later, I found her in the cafeteria and approached her.

“I heard you were from Jersey. I’m from New York, and there aren’t that many of us, so I just wanted to say hi.”

She glided onto the hamburger line with me and asked me where in I lived in New York. We began trading stories, strangers made friends through our common geographical displacement. The thin state line on a map separating New York and New Jersey suddenly tied us together.

“How did you end up in Texas?” She asked me as though it was not equally surprising that she herself was here. Everyone wants to know how a New Yorker ends up in Texas; I’ve realized that I, too, am still wondering.

I do not always have a sufficient answer to this innocuous question. Saying I came for a scholarship sounds shallow, neglecting my complete infatuation with Baylor. Saying God brought me here sounds arrestingly spiritual and can be a disarming explanation to offer someone who just learned my name. So I rambled to her about how I fell in love with Baylor, how I loved the honors program, how the community here is unlike any other university I had visited. My answer was messy though it was true, but it failed to convey my full story; a story I am still trying to figure out myself.

I asked her why she was here.

“Coming to Baylor saved my life.”

I paused, unsure of what to say, but she continued. “You know how living up there can be,” she said, knowingly, an expression perhaps only two Northerners suddenly caught in the calmness of Southern culture can fully appreciate.

I smiled, wondering what she would say if I pushed her to share more, yet knowing exactly what she meant, knowing that I could’ve begun my own explanation with the same sentence. So as the conversation turned to lunch and hamburgers, we moved on, a tentative friendship formed in the closeness of state lines, but I wondered how much my life would’ve sounded like hers if we were to share our stories, our real stories. I wondered who we are, under all of these half told narratives of identity and self that we offer to others, the stories that are convenient to share on a line waiting for a hamburger. I wondered what she would’ve liked to tell me about herself. I wondered what stories I ought to be telling about myself but neglect under the pressure of convenience and simplicity; I wondered how much is lost that ought to be told.