Though my graduation date is fast approaching, I find it hard to believe that I’ll be leaving my home state forever to start my Master’s degree in England in just a few short weeks. Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on these past two years and eleven months with a mix of nostalgia, relief, and self-pride.
I’ve lived in South Carolina all my life, and I never liked it. I was always a black sheep, whether I was at school or at home. I was the bookworm kid stuck in a town full of rednecks, complete with their rebel flags and big trucks. All too often, I daydreamed about escaping. My mind went wild with fantasies of a lavish wedding and a honeymoon in Paris. It was a dream I desperately wanted but had very little hope in achieving; after all, I wasn’t going to get anywhere without a college degree, which my family certainly couldn’t afford to pay for.
But I bowed my head, gritted my teeth, and fought my way through high school anyway. I made the grades, and ended up earning most of a full ride to Lander University in Greenwood, the next town over. When I first started school at Lander, I was a mess. I was a frequent and destructive self-harmer, and I admitted myself to the hospital for it twice during my first year. Life had no purpose, and I had no direction. I was stuck in a hole I thought I’d never find the strength to climb out of.
Then one day I received an email from Dr. DeWitt Stone, the Study Abroad Director at the time. It was one of those mass emails encouraging people to study abroad at the University of Winchester in England, one of our partner schools. Freshman me jumped at the chance, and I bombarded the poor man with all my questions and hopes.
Little did I know that a single email and a little bit of courage would change my life forever.
Fast forward to sophomore year. After a disappointing summer of failed relationships and working two jobs, I was eager for a change of scenery. With Dr. Stone’s help, I got my plane ticket and passport, packed my bags, and headed off to my destination elsewhere. As I stood on the escalator and waved goodbye to my family in the airport, tears sprang to my eyes. My dream of leaving had finally come true, even if only for a short while.
Two weeks after I arrived, I found my grace when I met a cute guy named Adam at a bar up the road from campus. We struck up a conversation, he slipped his hand in mine like the true gentleman he is, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. As our relationship progressed, I changed my flight to spend Christmas with his – well, my – wonderful family. When we reached the end of my magical five months in England, staying together despite the distance was a question we didn’t have to ask.
We’ve been together nearly two years now, with countless flights and months spent apart in between. I returned for a second semester in Winchester this past fall. Adam proposed to me in January, two days before I was set to come back to the States to finish up my degree.
When I look at this man, I see so much more than the husband I’d created in my dreams. This is a man who made life possible again. I’ve never really believed in fate or some cosmic force that drives things to happen, but our relationship makes me wonder. We both found ourselves in exactly the right place at the right time – so many factors could have prevented us from ever finding each other, and that thought scares me.
But the fact of it is that we did find each other, and I feel like a princess right out of a fairy tale. The handsome king found his queen, and together we’re going to have a happy ever after.
Knowing this, I say goodbye, Greenwood. Peace out, small minds and ignorance. Farewell to former friends whose lack of ambition drove me away. Good riddance to the countless people in my life who let hardcore drugs ruin their lives and relationships. Sayonara to all the confederate flags and racial tensions. Goodbye to the life of poverty and strife I used to think I was destined for. I will not miss you.
But there are a few things about South Carolina that I’m more reluctant to say goodbye to – her scorching summer days, majestic sunsets, chicken-fried Southern soul food, sweet tea, vast countryside, back roads, and the easy, slow way of life. I will miss all of those things, and I will certainly miss Lander University. I’ll miss my English Dept and my Honours College. I’ll miss Dr. Craton’s sweet voice like calm in the storm, Dr. Barnette’s linguistic genius and tricky test questions, Dr. England’s spunk and grit. I owe everything to this fantastic school and the best set of mentors a girl could ask for.
Goodbye, Lander. Thank you for changing my life.
Hello, Winchester, my old friend. I cannot wait to see your stormy face again.