Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Raincoats

     I needed to choose a raincoat to wear to an outdoor event I attended last night. I have two different ones: a Tulane raincoat and a UNC raincoat. I pulled on leggings, rain boots, and a shirt without second thought. But when it came time to pick which raincoat to wear, I felt my heart being dragged in so many different directions. I took each of them on and off at least five times. I stared at myself in the mirror. Why was this decision so hard? And why couldn't I just pick a raincoat?

     I finally settled on the UNC raincoat, justifying my decision by admitting to myself that it was a better match for my light blue rain boots. But all night, I felt like an imposter. Like I was wearing something that was not really mine. Like a fake Carolina student. I saw other people wearing UNC gear and many of them smiled at me in a friendly Tar Heel manner, but I missed the immediate high-fives and toothy smiles that come when someone with connections to New Orleans realizes that I go to Tulane. I experienced a brief moment of panic when we were paired up with strangers at the event, fearing that my partner might ask me about college. Should I only mention Tulane? Should I only mention UNC? Should I mention both? Do people even care that I spent a fourth of my undergraduate education in New Orleans? I certainly care. Thankfully, the man paired up with me did not ask. I was spared a pinch of heartache.

      Upon noticing that I was transferring from Tulane, an academic adviser at UNC admitted, "I went down to visit once, and I almost didn't come back." Me either, I thought, wishing that I was still tiptoeing around stinging caterpillars in a magical land full of jazzy second lines and majestic oak trees.

      Don't get me wrong; North Carolina is lovely. One of my teaching assistants during the spring semester, who spent a lot of her educational experience at UNC, was thrilled that I was going to spend the next three years of undergrad at such a wonderful place. "There is something in the water there," she said, beaming with a love for Chapel Hill that must have been coursing through Carolina blue blood.

Photo of Audubon Park from www.experienceneworleans.com
     Don't over-romanticize New Orleans, I kept telling myself at the event, tugging on the sleeves of a jacket that felt like the wrong color. The truth is, there is no way to over-romanticize such an incredible city. It is as mysterious and fun and beautiful as everyone says. The reality of it exceeds expectations of it, and the expectations of it are already very high. One of my friends recently commented, "You come to New Orleans expecting that it won't actually be like 'The Princess and the Frog.' But then you get here and it is exactly like that."

      What I do fear that I may be romanticizing is my own experience over the past year in New Orleans. If all of my positive memories, the ones that are constantly replaying in my head as I agonize over leaving a place I love, represented my reality, then I would have never left. But I spent more time in the Student Health Center than I did in all of the gorgeous crevices of the city, and my desire to sit and read under those giant oak trees was completely obliterated by the inability of my lungs to handle their pollen. I was so sick that I was only able to attend one Mardi Gras parade, and some of my professors expressed surprise that I could even finish the spring semester. Despite all of the good things, it has been a year marked by sickness and pain, and I have to remind myself of that in order to feel even the slightest bit okay about my decision to leave.

One of my favorite places to walk
through at Loyola University
     Since coming home, I have dealt with varying degrees of almost constant nausea, which has been enormously frustrating. The first weekend that I was home, I became very sick and had to cancel all of my plans with friends. While I was able to reschedule with almost everyone, I was disappointed that my body was forcing me to spend such a difficult weekend in isolation. Things improved throughout the week, but I am still overwhelmed by the unpredictability of my illnesses. On Saturday night I was only able to eat a single orange slice before throwing up. I spend a good part of each day feeling defeated. Fatigue has been a very real challenge for me over the past several months, and I am disappointed that it is still an issue now that I am home, although I know I need to give myself adequate time to rest, recover, and improve. I did have an encouraging appointment with a surgeon who applauded my decision to transfer and told me that a potential upcoming procedure could be greatly delayed or even completely cancelled thanks to that decision. It was an affirming medical appointment, and considering that these rarely exist and that I am struggling so much with switching schools it was well-timed and desperately needed.

     You know how after you don't see someone for a long time it becomes more difficult to picture their face in your mind? I am afraid of having that happen to me with New Orleans, Tulane University, and my college friends. I am afraid of beginning to forget such an important year of my life. I am afraid of watching the details fade into the background of my mind. I may have worn the UNC raincoat tonight, but I will not be throwing out the Tulane raincoat or shoving it in the back of my closet to wither away. At the end of the day, the rain will come no matter what color I choose to wear. Both are valid. Both are good. Both are worthy. I am learning how to love both.

1 comment:

  1. We'll never forget you Rachel. We were so grateful to have you and we know that you'll be a blessing to the Tar Heel community and wherever else God sends you.

    ReplyDelete

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