“in the end, she became
more than what she expected.
she became the journey,
and like all journeys,
she did not end, she just
simply changed directions
and kept going.”
Readers, I write this post having just finished my first year of law school. I am one third of a lawyer. That’s absolutely insane to me–where does the time go? This semester, as you may have deduced from my prolonged absence, has been particularly brutal. It’s been one thing after another, each day has been a battle to get to the next day, to get here–to the end. The last few weeks have been especially bad because of a series of personal struggles that have arisen. My apartment flooded, my car flooded, my brakes broke, my heart broke…all during the same week of the final finals of my first year. The semester ended the same way it began: challengingly.
I think I’ve mentioned this before–although I’m not sure how much detail I have gone into–but I transferred universities after my first year of college. I spent my first year of school in Boston. I was eighteen, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thrilled to be moving to the East Coast after dreaming of living there for so long. My mom grew up out there, and some of the best memories of my life are of eating lobster with my family along the harbor of my mom’s small New England hometown, visiting the beach and learning how to boogie-board with my dad, and catching fireflies in a jar at my uncle’s house. Every summer, we would visit the Coast, and even as a kid, I could appreciate the idyllic nature of the place. It was special to me. I remember telling my dad one day that someday, I was going to move there. I’m a woman of my word, so when I had to decide where to spend four years of college, Boston was really the only choice.
My bright eyes quickly turned to gray. As a freshman, I had applied for and been accepted to what I had believed to be a prestigious leadership group on campus. Part of being involved in the leadership group involved living in a house of nineteen other freshmen during our first year of school, attending weekly leadership seminars and volunteering together throughout the year. Although I had doubts about foregoing the dorm life experience my first year, a critical time for making friends, I accepted my acceptance into the program because I was eager to add the program to my resume. It seemed like an honor, and I eventually decided that living outside the dorms wouldn’t deprive me of the college experience. Or, at least the benefits of the program would outweigh any of the social costs I might pay by not living with the remaining 2,500 members of my class.
In the house, I lived with three other girls. We shared a giant bedroom that had no division — we could see each other all day, every day. We could not escape each other if we fought or disagreed, or if we just needed a little space. The remaining women in the program lived on the first floor of the house, and the men in the program lived upstairs. It started fine. My roommates and I got along at first, and everyone in the house seemed eager to get to know each other. These were the people we would be living with for a year, after all, and seeing somewhat regularly for the following three years.
But, what began as efforts to get to know each other soon turned to a quest to ally ourselves with different members of the house. In short, cliques began to form, and they began to form quickly. And maybe, at first, that was ok for me. My roommates and I got along–or at least three of us did (the third one seldom spoke to me or acknowledged my presence)–and I regularly spoke to some of the other girls on the floor.
But after about a month, something changed. The cliques began to talk–and by that, I mean they began to whisper. Rumors began to spread. My roommates and I stopped getting along, and once they were gone, I had nobody left (left, that is, until near the end, when I became close friends to someone who remains one of my closest friends). I started getting looks from other people, I started hearing whispers, I started seeing people exchange glances with each other in my presence. I started arriving at my room to hear low whispers between my roommates behind the cracked door, whispers that would quickly subside as soon as I walked in. People began to talk, and I knew that I was the subject of some of their conversations. Moreover, students selected to be in this program are selected for four years. So, when the upperclassmen in the program came to the house to visit, I could hear the whispers with them, too. They, too, gave me looks. They knew the gossip, whatever it was. They knew about me – or at least they knew what they thought they knew, what they had heard from others or assumed from the limited information I actually gave to them.
It wasn’t just the whispers and the glances and the rumors that started to get to me. It was the humiliation I felt when four of the boys from upstairs walked past me when I was hidden in a corner–the only privacy I could find in the house–Skyping my then-boyfriend. The boys sauntered past me in a line, each of them reciting an artificial “Hi Katie!” that had clearly been orchestrated ahead of time. It was the humiliation of volunteering in a classroom downtown one day, sitting in the front while two of those same boys sat in the back, and suddenly feeling an object hit me. It was the humiliation of looking down to discover that that object was a paperclip, and of looking at the boys across the room to see them laughing with each other, turning toward me and tauntingly asking, “What is it, Katie?” It was the humiliation of walking to another volunteer event on another day and feeling one of the boys walking on my heels, of hearing the same boys as before howling in laughter.
I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea.
My parents had been urging me to move out of the house for months. I remember going home for Christmas break and standing in the kitchen one day, talking to my mom, when she interrupted me to say, “Katie, you look really sad.” She was right – I was sad. But not sad enough to leave. Not sad enough to ignore the voice of my stubbornness, the voice telling me I had earned my spot in that program, dammit, and that these people were not going to break me.
But eventually, they did.
I remember the day that the city of Boston shut down. It was shortly after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, while city officials searched for the men responsible. One of my few friends from campus, who had graciously allowed me to stay on his couch, went to the house with me that day and helped me pack up my things to move out while my roommates looked on in confusion. I barely responded to the chorus of “Katie, what are you doing?” that accompanied my packing and graceless exit from the hell I had been living in. I had been sleeping on friends’ couches and floors for days—I literally slept on my friend’s concrete floor, with nothing but a yoga mat separating my spine from the ground, for two nights in a row in order to get out of that house. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I told only one person in the house where I was. The rest, I let wonder.
I moved out with approximately three weeks of class left, which is a testament to my desperation at that point. The people in that house broke me down. I had gained weight. I had become consumed with anxiety – I remember going to the house a week after I moved out, and while I stood at the door, I could literally feel myself sweating and I could feel my heart beginning to race. How had I done that for eight months? My parents later told me that they were afraid every time they called me that year because they didn’t know how much longer they could hear my sobs, how much longer they could feel powerless to help me cope from 1,200 miles away. My boyfriend and I began to fight more frequently as I desperately clung to him for support, using him as a life raft as the water continued to pull me down, down, down into its icy depths.
This happened almost five years ago. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve seen how things have changed, how my life has turned around. Things got worse before they got better, that much is true. But therapy helped me deal with the impact that that year had on me – how it completely depleted my self-confidence, how it impaired my ability to make friends, how it colored my outlook on relationships and life in general. Therapy helped me heal, and I can write this now with some degree of peace and acceptance.
But something else helped. About a year and a half after I left school in Boston, during fall break at my new university, I decided to go out to Boston to visit one of my friends and to see my grandma. This would be my first time back there, and I was nervous. This particular fall was the fall when my therapist told me I was depressed. Even at the time, it shocked me that things had actually become worse than they were in Boston, that my lowest point could be so much lower. But, I was on the precipice of progress. I was on the verge of feeling like maybe–just maybe–things would begin to get better. I thought that going to Boston might help me, somehow.
After I landed in Boston, I could hear my heart pounding in my chest as I began the trek to campus. As soon as I saw the stone tower serving as the epicenter of campus life, I thought I would pass out. What if people saw me? What if I saw them? What would I do? What would I say? I wasn’t there to talk to anybody, really. I was just there to see this place that had, in a span of nine months, eaten up my dreams, my plans and my sense of self. I just needed to see it, and I needed it to see me.
I continued walking until I found myself back at the house where it had all happened. I stood in front of the house, mere feet separating me from its entrance. After a moment, I walked around back to the backyard. I don’t even know what I was planning on doing. I don’t think I really had any plans. I just wanted to look, to see it from a different vantage point.
I stopped in the backyard, the canvas of trees shielding me from the cloudless sun. It was just me, the house, the trees, the murmurs, the flecks of blue sky peeking in through the leaves above. I stood there, and I looked.
And I looked.
And I looked.
And, readers, in between the rustles of the leaves and the low hum of students off in the distance, I could swear I could hear myself inside that house, Skyping my then-boyfriend. I could swear I could hear myself in that house tearfully calling my parents. I could swear I could see myself sitting on that porch, looking out that window, walking up that path to the entrance, wondering how many more moments I had to spend doing any of those things before it would finally be over.
Tears began to well up in my eyes as I gazed upon the house. I could feel it all again. I could feel the sorrow and the pain and the anger and the fear of my 18-year-old self trapped inside that house. I could hear her heart beating, slower and slower as the world around her tried to beat the life out of it. Almost two years had passed by now, but it was all right there, right in front of me.
But, here I was. Standing outside, mere feet away, looking within. It had passed. It had all passed. I’m here, I thought, silently imploring the young woman inside to hear me, to know of my presence–of my existence, to know the woman standing outside her window only a couple years in the distance.
Reflecting upon my first year of law school, I can see that I’ve grown. I can see it when I look in the mirror, I can see it when I write, I can hear it when I speak, I can know it when I stop and think about my thoughts. I’m growing. I’m changing. And that scares me.
While I was in college and seeing a therapist, she told me once that part of the reason she thought I was depressed was because I stopped believing in the magic of the universe. As she was analyzing my thought process throughout each session I spent with her, she could see that, for me, my “homeostasis” was a perfect balance between being realistic and being optimistic. She didn’t want me to lose sight of reality. She didn’t want me to live with my head in the clouds, as it were. But she drew my attention to the fact that part of my identity–an integral part of my identity–is having hope and trust in the world, in people, in the plan. More than that, it’s having this faith that things can somehow be better than what they are, better than what we so readily accept as enough. I’m a romantic. It’s who I am. So it was when I started becoming more and more pragmatic, it was when I stopped dreaming, it was when I lost hold of the profound beauty and mystery of life that things went to hell for me.
Reflecting upon this year and the years that have passed since I was a freshman in college, I can tell you a million different ways that my dreams and my heart have been broken. I fell in love, and he left me. I fell in lust, and they left me too. I failed. Employers said no. Universities said no. Leaders said no. Hell, a whole city said no. I saw death and I saw people lose themselves in love and loss. And little by little, I became a little bit less romantic. My heart became a little weaker, my dreams a little quieter. On one hand, rejection and disappointment became a little bit easier. But, on the other hand, looking at myself in the mirror became a little bit harder. Who are you, I would think as the woman in the mirror stared back at me. Some days, I couldn’t even recognize her. Where there was once an overabundance of dreams and hope and wonder at the possibilities, there was now practicality, there was now only the dying embers of the fire that once burned within. I could see the smoke in her irises, in the fine lines at the corners of her eyes. It colored the bags underneath her eyes, and it was sometimes reflected in the tears that escaped.
I felt that a lot this year in law school. We often talk about things being “fungible” in the law–that is, we talk about things that are replaceable or not easily distinguishable from other things. A contract might deal with fungible commodities, for example. Or, drugs produced by one manufacturer may be identical to those produced by another. Each pill’s origins, therefore, aren’t easily identifiable because the pills are exactly the same, or fungible. And I often felt like I, too, was fungible. We are all smart here. We are all driven here. We are all competitive here. And every day, the only thing that we are evaluated by is how smart and competitive and driven we are. The rest–well, the rest just doesn’t seem to matter.
It’s been difficult to write this post, readers, because there’s not a lot of room to be a dreamer or a romantic here in law school. There’s not a lot of room to be wistful and imaginative and artsy because every single day is crammed with work, reading, stress, stress, stress. It’s not even necessarily the time constraints that have prevented me from writing. It’s the fact that my brain is oversaturated with law and applications and jobs and rankings. It’s so full that I haven’t been able to really see everything around me, to put it all into perspective, to step out of the world of law school and into the real world–the real world in which I have a place to find.
As amazing as my first year has been, I’ve had some really challenging moments. I’ve had moments of profound doubt, sadness and loneliness. I’ve had moments when I’ve been so consumed by anxiety that I have become physically ill. There have even been some moments when the anxiety has paralyzed me, has chained me to my couch, has left me unable to move, unable to eat, unable to sleep, unable to speak. I’ve had moments of fear — fear of losing myself, fear of becoming fungible, fear of being forevermore unable to finish my blog posts because the simple miracles of my every day life have become invisible to me, have been diverted from the path to my heart toward the depths of my saturated brain.
But, through all of that, some part of me has kept going. Some part of me has continued to move forward, to face those fears head-on, to look at the girl in the mirror and say, “I know you’re there. You look different, but you’re still there.” Some part of me has fought through the tears and the uncertainties and the unknowns, has fought through the lonely, sleepless nights. Some part of me has continued moving, continued believing.
And I think that it’s because I know that I’m here. The wiser, stronger woman that I am becoming is with me every day, guiding me along the path, looking in and watching over me. She’s here, even though I can’t always see her. She’s here, even though I can’t know who she is or what she’s done or what she’s doing or how, exactly, things have turned out for her. But I know she’s here. And more than that, she must have retained the hope and the faith fueling her on her journey, keeping the fire alive within her and pushing her forward even when she couldn’t always see it. Like the woman in the mirror, it is difficult to recognize that hope and that faith sometimes. At times, they look different because they, too, are growing and changing with her. But they are still here. After all, they are an integral, indispensable part of who she is, of who she has always been and who she will always be.
It’s ok to grow, and to change, and to be afraid of growing and changing. It’s ok to doubt ourselves and to get lost on the path. What gives me hope, though, is the girl that stood outside my window from a couple years in the distance. She stood there in all of her fear and her sadness and her pain, and instead of running away from it, she stared into its eyes and said, “You will not win.” She was so sad, yes. But at her core was fire. The fire pushed her there in the first place. The fire pushed her to keep fighting, to keep believing, to keep hoping, to keep dreaming, to keep going.
And she did.