I exhale and watch my breath materialize before me, stars clouded above, on a Tuesday night. I am sitting beside a dingy snow bank on the dingy sidewalk of a dingy Waffle House, in a town that I do not know. My boyfriend and an untouched meal remain inside, awaiting my return.
What is wrong with me? I think to myself fiercely.
If my father were here, everything would be okay. I need my Dad. Just one more time.
And with that thought, I begin to cry.
I have never felt so lost or alone in my life.
Before me, I face what feels like the most important decision I will ever make. Life determining. No turning back. Forever.
My boyfriend of one year and I are planning to move in together in just a few short weeks. We have been talking about this, planning this, working hard for this, for months. I have taken on extra jobs to save money. After months of searching and interviewing and tie selecting, he landed a fantastic job in the city to support us while I finish my degree. We have visited countless apartments, made numerous budgets, and we have been to Ikea three times in the past two months.
This. Is happening.
But for some reason, I cannot shake this sinking, panicked feeling. It feels like, for the first time, the globe has been cracked open in front of me, waiting for my hands to shovel out as much earth as I have ever wished to possess. Now, with the whole world seemingly within arms reach, I feel like I cannot make one wrong move.
It is terrifying.
Before I attempt to unpack all of that I must rewind a bit, to one and a half years previous. I was twenty one, and in the middle of my first year at community college.
This sounds pretty unextraordinary. To me, however, it was huge.
I come from a household that was run, without exaggeration, like a cult. My parents had a vice grip upon everything I did. To paint a brief idea of what my adult home life was like, I offer three fun facts:
I was not allowed to go anywhere, talk to anyone, or do anything without permission.
I never received permission.
I was not allowed to shave my legs.
I was homeschooled for a majority of my educational career, and spent every possible moment with my parents. It was a damn miracle that I was allowed to go to college.
In an environment that operated with this level of control, there came a point where I found myself both old enough to legally drink but oddly (disappointingly) unable to attain a driver’s license. I could not make simple decisions for myself, such as when to go to bed, or what deodorant to choose, and I had never been alone in my life.
There was also the constant turbulence in the house to consider. Not one week went by without a knock down, drag out fight. Even as an adult I would sit with my back to a wall if my mother entered the room, as she had a tendency toward surprise attacks when she was upset with me. If I could see her coming, I could avoid the swing of her fist. And as much as I love both of my parents, as much as I respected them and tried to do things their way, I eventually reached a breaking point.
Eight months into my journey at school, I started to realize just how much I had missed over the course of the last two decades, and how much growing I had to do in order to keep up with the world around me.
In early August I moved out of my home and now, a year and a half later, my family will not speak to me. They were always against the idea of moving out, and refuse to forgive me for my choice. They ignore my attempts to contact them, and forget about me during holidays. My father, who was once my hero and my best friend, has stated that he likely will not come to my wedding. (That was kind of a bummer.)
Overnight, I went from having constant guidance to being entirely on my own, and I feel that acutely tonight.
It has been a struggle to adjust in the past year, as my daily life has changed dramatically. Something that my boyfriend has to practice with me often is making decisions. He sits back, with his chosen indifference, as I panic about whatever task is on my current plate. Where do you want to eat, Mavis? What movie do you want to watch, Mavis? What would you like to do this weekend, Mavis?
It sounds silly to have to practice such simple questions. I had never been able to exercise choice before. It terrifies me to think that I could choose the wrong option.
I look up at the grey-purple sky, the Waffle House sign glowing dimly yellow in the foreground, and wonder what to do. I wonder why I am like this.
The argument that I just walked away from replays in my mind, slowly, as I attempt to piece together what happened. I am pausing and rewinding, searching for what I did wrong. Suddenly, I flash back to age thirteen. All I can see is grey carpeting, which is pressed in my face as my father twists me into a painful post-argument pretzel on the floor of his office. I had never been afraid of him before that happened.
I realize: Although I know my boyfriend will never hurt me like that, I panicked because we were arguing, and then I ran away.
Then, like an avalanche, a slurry of worries hits me all at once; everything that has been bouncing around in my subconscious for weeks. What if moving in together doesn’t work? What if he finds out what I’m really like? What if he gets bored with me or frustrated with me? What if something goes wrong and I lose him forever? What if the decision becomes the worst mistake of my life? What if I can’t make it better?
Feeling this panic rise within, I try to gain control. What are my options? I ask myself aloud, panting like a marathon runner. I’m rocking back and forth, gripping my boots with my fingernails, leaving little crescent moons behind in the leather.
Am I giving away my independence by living with him? Am I finding it? Did I ever truly know what independence was to begin with? Is my life over? Is it just beginning?
What is the right decision here???
And then, I whisper to myself, “Slow the fuck down, Mavis.”
Shivering, I stare at the ring on my left hand. It is thin and unassuming, made from black ceramic and dark coffee-colored wood. He and I had pored over the selection of these rings many months ago, to be our promise rings. When they arrived in the mail, and we placed them on each other’s hands, I felt a warmth roll throughout me. I knew that with him was where I belonged. I remember the moment he offered to marry me, so that I (with my myriad of medical concerns) could share his outstanding benefits at his new job. I remember the tears of relief that I cried when he explained me that, “two people who love each other will work through anything” because my family didn’t want to work through anything. They just abandoned people.
And staring in wonder at this meek little ring, I realize… The decision has already been made. I have already chosen… him. There was never a question about that.
I had made a decision and I didn’t even know it.
Sitting in a dirty Waffle House fifteen feet away from me, probably worried sick right now, is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have the thing that everyone searches for. There is no settling here, there is no ‘eh, this will do I guess.’ It doesn’t get better than this.
He is planning our future together, and working hard for it. He puts me first. He proves, time and time again, that my happiness is his utmost priority. He is willing to put up with my weird challenges and default settings and I know that he would move as many mountains for me, as I would for him.
In my mind, everything falls into place like it was never in shambles. Everything aligns smoothly as if Martha Stewart had invaded my mind for an organizational intervention.
We aren’t playing at something fantastical anymore. We plan to get engaged in the next six months. Everything is going to change, a lot. And that’s okay. Whatever comes our way, whatever happens, we will figure it out.
Feeling steady once more, I stand and inhale the cold winter air before opening the door and reentering the restaurant. I take my place at the bar by his side, knowing that in the end no matter what choices I make, or what mistakes I stumble over, we will be okay. I know where I belong.