Change is something I’ve never been good with. In fact, I hate it. Even things I thought I wanted, adventures I was excited to embark on—even these had me second-guessing myself when it came down to actually embracing the change. Once when I was feeling particularly rebellious I got my belly button pierced over spring break. Now, this is something I’d wanted for as long as I could remember. Growing up chubby, I spent my summers swallowed up in loose one pieces and even looser tankinis. The only skin I’d be showing that summer season was the tiniest strip of translucent belly. I’d sit there in my faded, waterlogged berka while my babysitter would prance around in the latest bikini trends, a bedazzled jewel hanging from the center of her belly button. There was something about the way it glinted in the sun, it just hung there so precariously, almost flirtatious in its manner. And I thought, I want that.
Fast-forward to my sophomore year of college where eating was a thing I did only if I could find time between boxed wine breakfasts and vodka dinners. I thought, now is the time. So I got it done. Even though my mother hated it, even though I was twenty years old too old for a body piercing. Later that night, I’d stood there staring into the mirror at my blinged-out stomach. It was all tanned skin until the center of me, which was puffy and inflamed and surely infected because in hind sight a tattoo parlor/motorcycle club/bar in Daytona Beach was probably not the most hygienic place to obtain a body piercing. I stood there staring at my reflection, at my childhood dream, a thing I’ve wanted for as long as I could remember—and I hated it. I disliked it so much I considered taking it out after two days. I didn’t like how flashy it was, how I couldn’t sleep on my stomach, how it pulled at my shirts. I hated it. I hated it like I hated my second earring hole, like my first bob hair cut, like my too-colorful dorm room sheets. Graduating college, I’ve discovered, is no different than my short-lived belly button ring. I hate this change too.
I’ve thought a lot about how this would go down: me, graduating college. The only thing I can say is I didn’t think it would be like this. In high school I was ready to leave, to get the hell away from everything and everyone I’d ever known. It was easy to say goodbye because there wasn’t much to say goodbye to. I had my family, whom I was sad to leave, and a handful of friends that I’d probably miss. But it didn’t hit me like I thought it would. It was more like getting to the bottom of the chip bowl at a Mexican restaurant—sad because now your hands are awkward and the chips are gone, but also okay because the waiter’s about to bring your food anyways. Anticlimactic in the worst way. This, though, this is different.
With only a week and half left until graduation, I’m really starting to feel it. I find myself breaking down at the most random moments; in the car, in the frozen food section of the Harris Teeter, over pizza and ranch at two in the morning. My friends think it’s hilarious. Sometimes they’ll hum Michelle Branch songs under their breath just to watch my lips tremble and my eyes water up. I think they’re probably different than me in that they’ve lived their big goodbye scene already. After high school they did the tears, they accepted the change, they learned to move on.
Maybe that’s why I’m so emotional these days. Like I’m in this constant state of PMS, but I didn’t mean to build a life for myself here, to put my roots down, to find a forever home. This goodbye is more than trading in my beach house for a room that’s no longer mine in a house that’s too far away from the ocean. It’s the Creative Writing department, my amazing teachers, and my inspiring classmates. It’s my sorority sisters, a group of women I never thought I’d be a part of, an organization that’s grown me into a woman. It’s my roommates, who have this thing about frozen yogurt and drink more tequila than should be physically possible. It’s the people I didn’t think I’d miss. The ones I thought I’d moved on from, a door I’ll never fully be able to close. It’s my best friends. Bonds I didn’t expect to have, and ones that I can’t imagine living without. It’s more than a place, really, or even four years, that I’m leaving behind—it’s a life.
The first time I had my heart broken I was fourteen years old. I’d spent my entire adolescence swimming. I never learned the names of the kids in my neighborhood or how to ride a bike. I gave up a childhood for swimming. At fourteen, swimming stopped giving back. I didn’t get better no matter how many hours I put into the pool, no matter how bad I wanted it. I didn’t know heart ache until that moment. The second time I had my heart broken I was twenty years old. I fell in love with someone who couldn’t love me back. I have a feeling that my third heartbreak will be the day Wilmington flashes in my rearview mirror, the smell of salt and sand disappearing down the interstate.
Here’s the thing: even though I hated that belly button ring at first, I ended up keeping it. It grew on me. I felt like a badass with it because even though my mother detested it and I was twenty years too old for body jewelry, it was the first risk I’d ever taken as an adult. So it kept it. A few months later it got infected. My beautiful, innocent belly button had turned purple and started gushing this really weird fluid. For health reasons, I was advised to take it out. And I hated that. Taking it out meant admitting my mother was right, it meant saying goodbye to a childhood dream. My point is this: life went on after the belly button ring. Don’t get me wrong, I did mourn the loss of that body piercing. I kept the ring. It sits in my jewelry box to remind me that I was once a badass. I’m even proud of the disgusting scar the ring left behind on my skin. Life went on after the belly button ring, just like life will go on after college. It may break my heart, it may even leave a scar, but, as I’ve learned, some things are worth scarring for.