“Andy Jacobs,” I muttered beneath my breath as my hands curled up into fists at my sides.
I was standing in the center of what was once my living room, surrounded by black trash bags and packed boxes. I was wearing a bright yellow dress that made my mama tell me, “You’ve never looked more beautiful than this moment.”
It was the only thing I could think to say when my roommate poked her head out from the refrigerator and asked me if I wanted to keep the kettle. Otherwise, she would throw it out. Just a few days earlier, this had been our apartment. It’d been home to us. Memories were taped up on the doors. The ceremony was over. I had ten minutes to gather the rest of my stuff. My mother told me my relatives were waiting to celebrate my graduation nearly 45-minutes away. I told her I needed more time for goodbyes. She told me I had ten minutes. I balled the cap and gown up into a brown Trader Joe’s bag. And all I could think to murmur in that moment was the name of my eighth grade boyfriend: Andy Jacobs.
The Great Romance of Andy Jacobs and I ended quickly with a swift and merciless breakup.
It was a sudden sting. I lied about that breakup for several years and told all my friends we both decided it was over. I was just that young and embarrassed by it. In actuality, I was over-the-moon during the days when I had a “someone.” The cool ones had a “someone.” And I was legitimately thrilled to check my AIM profile every hour or so to see my name sitting there in his status box. I checked that thang nearly every day just to see my name. And it was always there. Until one day it wasn’t. He’d made his status “Single and loving it” before he even broke up with me. He was eager to tell the world I was gone. When he called me on the phone to tell me it was over that night, my fingers tangled and shaking in the curly cords of the rotary phone, I whispered back, “I know.” Because I already knew. It was over. I proceeded to write super dramatic poetry in my diary. There would be no Hannah Jacobs. Ever.
But here I was again— surrounded by black trash bags and expired memories and the remnants of my college life packed up into cardboard boxes. College was breaking up with me. We were really over. The letting go was so quick, as if it was ready to release me all along. And I was surrounded by people who I knew probably understood but I still felt like no one understood. That’s what happens when you go through something that thousands upon millions of others have gone through before— you still find a way to convince yourself that you’re the only one.
People will tell you the first year after college is the hardest one.
It’s not the case for everyone but I’ve witnessed it to be a true statement for most. Makes sense, though. For the last few years, you’ve built up this solid sense of belonging. You’ve taken classes. You’ve invested in a campus. You’ve had those nights— you know the ones. And then life changes and shifts and the whole thing ends. It feels very unnatural.
And the weirder of the weird things— it goes on without you. Other people enter in as you push out. It’s like watching your ex fall in love with someone new. You knew you couldn’t stay there forever but it still stings to witness all that newness curl in around someone else for the very first time. You still see people enjoying what you once had and you start whispering things you know will never be true, “I could stay. I could really stay. I could live in the past of this thing. I could occupy this space forever.”
Turns out, you can’t. Your life is not a Throwback Thursday. For lack of a prettier way to say this– It completely nonsensical to live in the space when things were better & brighter & sweeter than this. There is no backspace button. Very little of the time are we granted the redo. It was meant to be this way. We never got promised journeys with no turbulence. We never were told, “Well, you’ll always cry happy tears. And you’ll always feel like you belong. And you’ll always have the answers.” The tears will be ugly. The outcast feelings will be real. You’ll never have the answers. The answers are never the point.
You’ll have a lot of downs. You’ll feel a bit like the shoes don’t fit on your feet anymore. You’ll ask all the bigger questions you never bothered to mouth when your friends were there, and the fridge was stocked with wine coolers, and the biggest thing on your brain was a term paper. When the moments are good, you never stop and ask: What is the point of my life? Where am I going? Where do I belong? How, oh, how do I do something that matters in this big world?
It’s like any breakup— you either live in the past of old sweaters and best nights and questions you can’t possibly answer or you refuse to be defined by a relationship you outgrew.
I met up with a new friend just the other night at a pretty little placed called Dr Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.
She and I, we’d never met before. I’ve just come to accept that some of the best friendships— the kinds of friend who send you poetry in traffic jams— are usually an instant sort of thing. You both come into it with enough resolution to say, “This is where I’ve been. This is how I’ve felt. This is what I am looking for. I’ve got no interest in friendships that won’t be real to me.”
And we sat among stacks of books in a city I call “new,” pursing cups of tea between our hands and talking about the moment when you know it is time to go and breathe. The moment when you know, it’s time to leave.
“I had to leave,” she told me. “I had to leave and let go because it wasn’t my space anymore. Someone else would come in and they would do an even better job than me. And I would have to go and occupy new space.”
Occupy new space. That’s the sort of thing they should say when a diploma gets passed. When someone leaves a city they’ve loved with their whole body. Instead of good luck. Instead of, “it will never be this way again.” Someone should get up real close to you and say, “You must go out there and occupy new space. Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment. Choose ready.”
Occupy new space. Embrace the awkward momentum of something new. Get your feet wet. Don’t worry so much about looking like you have it all together— you’re more put together than you can probably see or notice. Be good to people. The real world is all about those real people. And no, there’s never a reason not to serve. Press into life with gusto and other Italian nouns. Commit to what is around you. Be grateful.
When people try to tell you that college will be the best four years of your life, politely decline that misconception. College should never be the best four years of your life— that’s a disservice to a future you’re called to make bright and purposeful. When people tell you that you can’t make a difference, politely tell them no. They’re wrong. Don’t listen. And here’s the moral behind every one of those conversations you have: not everyone will be your cheerleader. Not everyone will understand. Let people think you are crazy. Crazy is a good thing. Wild hearts are necessary. The world needs wild hearts. Stay thick with wanting to change the world, that will be your golden ticket one day.
Own it. Go all in. Lay it all on the line. In the end, there is no other option than this. You either occupy the space you’re in or you don’t. You either went out there and did it with all you had or you didn’t. Either way, the choice was yours the whole time.
You must go out there and occupy new space.
Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment.