I waited to write this until I was here, in Missouri, in my apartment in Columbia. I waited until I drove home from the airport in Kansas City after Edward flew away on Southwest, back to Orlando International and the house we shared together. I waited until I woke up alone, to a day with no agenda, to read and to write instead of slipping on ballet flats, a conservative skirt and a cardigan for my painfully cold office.
My story begins four years ago, when I graduated from Stetson University. It traces the time I spent applying for a job teaching English in Spain and realizing I hadn’t included my fingerprints in the application (a sign), the day I didn’t call in for my second interview with a job prospect in Boston because, well, I had met a guy (wrong guy, but still: sign), the morning I sat for the LSAT on the weekend my car broke down, the night before when I mistakenly set my alarm for the post meridiem rather than the ante (sign), and each set of Monday through Fridays that I spent as a paralegal, reading legal documents, preparing for their execution at client meetings all the time thinking of what I would say if my life were an essay.
I wanted to return to school, to a writing environment that my small town in Florida could no longer give me, in order to work on my writing with other people who loved words as much as I did, who read different writers than I did, who would be “my people.” But I was unsure, scared, insufficiently funded. So my journey of these four years traces along the hours I spent writing on porches and in kitchens of the apartments and houses where I lived and the journals I’ve filled for and about people who I have never told.
It shows the hours I’ve stared into the sheets on my bed, stopped by a voice in a paragraph by a writer I love, the moments in which I’ve clung to great monologues in movies—picturing the shape of the letters in these words, the placement of commas, hard stops and colons. I gave myself three years after undergrad before I applied to programs. I needed time away from academia to prepare—financially, as well as mentally and emotionally—for my return to it.
The beginning of this last year would show the workshops I found so that, like an athlete who took a few years off, I could get back into shape. I wanted to acclimate myself again to feedback and to practice the shake out of my voice when I read aloud. It shows the emails to professors pleading for assurance that I was right to pursue this grad school dream, their replies that were encouraging, but still said, “That’s up to you.”
Further into that year shows Edward in our little yellow living room, watching Netflix barely above mute while I slouched over the computer in the back bedroom, sweating through my writing samples, shouting through the door that I had propped shut with a laughing Buddha statue to “turn it down, PLEASE.” Cut to him on New Years Eve, entering that same room to ask if we were going out at all, because I still wasn’t dressed. I hadn’t in fact changed from my yoga pants, focused as I was on the periods and prepositions in statements of purpose I had been constructing for months.
It shows the following months of my waiting to hear from my programs and the moments when I did. It shows the tomato juice leaking from my sandwich nearly onto my keyboard when I read my first acceptance email during my lunch break. It shows the other decisions I received, the ones that made my day and the ones that didn’t; the one rejection I remember distinctly because it came as I was enjoying red wine and live music on a gorgeous, almost-too-cool-for-sandals Florida night.
My story includes the terrifying decision of choosing between an MFA program and an MA. It should slow here to emphasize the agony of this decision and the conversations I had with the few people that were aware of my applications even though I knew, truly, that I belonged here at Mizzou.
The past few weeks should capture then the chaos of packing and reconfiguring Rudy, my small hatchback that I’ve named for the littleness of his engine and the toughness of his spirit, to fit the boxes of books, clothes and the antique door I hoped to turn into a proper writing desk. Edward drove the 18 hours here while I propped my feet on the dash. We stopped for beers in Nashville, Tennessee and then for subs in Nashville, Illinois; Edward drove us through the worst rain I’ve ever seen. We made it here to Columbia and we spent a week scouring thrift stores for dressers, mirrors, dining tables and filing cabinets.
The past days show my goodbye to him in Kansas City, leaving tiny marks on his gray shirt with my tears, the flat sound of only one pair of flip-flops on the painted concrete out of the sliding doors, the tremble of my hands when I gave over my card to exit the parking garage there. They show my grip on Rudy’s steering wheel, anxiously navigating the in and off ramps of Kansas City before I hit the just-over-hundred-mile stretch on I-70 back to Columbia.
But oh, that stretch of I-70.
The entirety of my short movie reel builds up to that drive. The mischances and the tough decisions of the past four years became signs on that drive, signs that this was the right choice. Because though I don’t know what exactly I pictured when I pictured Missouri, whatever I thought didn’t prepare me for the beauty of that two hour drive.
So I played Credence. Loud.
I learned that I needn’t be worried about my nearness to the ocean and to its waves that I desperately needed on bad days in order to reset, because the same lull and undulation of the water exists here too. The wax and wane lives in the rise and fall of Missouri’s hills, in the plush of their grass covering, in the ease of the gently-worn paint on the barns set far back from the interstate’s noise. I smiled that day at the Midwestern courtesy of the cars on the road and was careful to show the same etiquette, cognizant of my tourist plates and aware that I represented a state that needed to earn a good reputation. I settled Rudy into our right lane and only merged left to pass. We stayed there while the road stretched on forever until we got off in Columbia.
And now I’m here, in a place that doesn’t mean home yet, but might. The signs all pointed to here, where I am ridiculously tickled to be, to wake up to days to read, write and to talk about both with people who are doing the same. The past four years lead me to now, to the beginning.
Sure, my windshield cracked on the drive home from Kansas City that day, something that is covered by insurance in Florida but very much isn’t in Missouri. Of course I backed Rudy straight into a guardrail and then almost launched us both into the ravine behind my apartment because driving a standard transmission is a little different here in the hills than across the flat streets I’m used to. And perhaps you should know about the cold showers I took because I didn’t realize I needed to turn on my gas service and how the undergraduates at the bookstore have asked at least twice if I’m faculty because I clearly no longer appear to be a student. And yes, I wished sometimes that someone else were here, just to laugh with when things went wrong, or to share a beer with when they went wrong again.
But in the meantime, I will write about them here. So that if you’re reading this and wondering if you should do it and wondering about the fear of it all, you’ll know that sure, that’s part of it. But then you’ll have something like my drive on I-70 and you’ll know that everything before is just a sign pointing you in the right direction. That’s at least how I, only a week into my program, already know it’s worth it.