On a bench outside of South Hall, in 20-degree weather, I sat, sobbing. My dad had just called to tell me the worst news I have heard in my life: my baby, my 15-year-old Pomeranian, Chickie, had just been put down. Logically, I knew she was old, I knew she was sick and getting sicker. I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t take knowing that I wasn’t there. To make it worse, I was supposed to go home Saturday for someone’s birthday party. My dad called on Thursday.
Leaving Chickie had been the one thing I was dreading about going to college. When my eyes watered at the sight of my house in the rearview, it wasn’t for anything but her. Leaving her home was the single hardest thing about moving away. And when I did come home for the first time six weeks later, the first thing I did was hold my puppy.
Of course I eventually got used to being away from her. I grew accustomed to doing my homework without her on my lap, eating my dinner without her under my feet, going to sleep without her snoozing on the corner of my bed. I started coming home less, wrapped up in my new college life. I even left the country for a study abroad program the summer after freshman year. But I always knew she was still there, she’d still be waiting for me when I did come home. She always was.
The Thursday my dad called was the week before finals, just before I went home for winter break my sophomore year. I remember walking in the door, trying to brace myself for the lack of fur rushing to greet me. It didn’t work. I spent most of my winter break lying in my room, more depressed than I had ever been. Perhaps that seems silly, like she’s only a dog, but to me she was much more. Chickie was the one thing that really rooted me; she was home.
People warn you that going home after being in college can be odd or different than you expect. They warn you that your parents might treat you like a kid, that your friends may be different, that you might be different. But that you might come home to find that something so important is simply not there anymore, well, that’s one of those things nobody really tells you.
Now, what I’m telling you isn’t that things happen and they’ll drive you into a deep depression; that’s a terribly sad message to send. No, what I’m telling you is that it happens, and you move on. You can’t expect everything back home to stand still while you’re away; it won’t. But you’ll be okay, still. Eventually, you settle with the notion that your world at home can shift dramatically, that it can really rock the boat, but you’ll still be able to stand up after the fact.