Of my time Before Chapel Hill, I remember very little. There is the occasional memory of New Jersey: of a red car being towed away, of a playground castle under which a friend and I dug into the dirt and proclaimed treasure, of frequent trips to Dairy Queen and Dunkin’ Donuts and a still existing and fervent love for both. Before Chapel Hill exists on the edges of my childhood, more nostalgia than reality in my mind.
But of Chapel Hill, I am awash in recollection. Six years old, unsure of what “moving” even meant, I took the hands of my mommy and daddy and tiptoed up the bare-bones stairs of our new house – not much more than wood slats – and turned right at the top. At the end, I selected my big-girl bedroom, mostly because of its window seat, which looks out over the street. Later, the room would be painted green, and even later, aqua blue.
Between sidewalk-chalk creations and rollerblading adventures, I found best friends who lived just down the street from me, purveyors of playdates, partners in crime. On weekends, our parents would drive us out to the countryside and Maple View Farm, where I discovered an undying love for mint chocolate chip ice cream – my first real favorite thing. At the library, I found words, stories, an indescribable connection to both.
On the floor of our living room, my sister and I fought, cried, laughed, loved. Our best days were spent sprawled on the couches, buried deep in our respective books, or coloring together at the coffee table. The worst days were angry and full of pointless bickering – something that, I’ve noticed, is happening less and less now. At 13 and 17 years old, we are slowly beginning to listen, to understand, to share clothes, to have each other’s backs.
Upstairs is the blue workroom where I’ve spent the last seven years starting homework, complaining about homework, finishing (or not finishing) homework. My parents’ room, a safe haven from monsters in the closet or nightmares. In my own bedroom, on the prettiest evenings, the sunset tumbles onto the blankets, the carpet, the photos and musical posters and paraphernalia tacked onto the walls. Charlie, my stuffed unicorn, lounges on the covers beside the other animals that I used to meticulously tuck into bed, every night, when I was younger. It is always cold. I have learned to love the feeling of waking up, surrounded by blankets, with the chill biting at my nose.
There are five months before I leave. It feels as if something (as cliché as this statement may be) is ending. I am running out of Chapel Hill days.
Recently, my mom asked me how I would feel if I returned from college to a new house in a new city in a new state. Our family considers moving. My dad is drawn to a different town with fresh opportunities to pursue a subject that he loves and will continue to love for the rest of his days. I think he wants it more than anything. If I am writing this for anyone, it is for him, and my mom, and my sister, who, at this crossroads, are beginning to realize just how deeply attached they are to this place.
It’s a little silly, if you really think about it – the dependence. The way a house or a neighborhood or a town tugs at your soul. The way that I am inextricably linked to a location – nothing more than a name on a map – yet I feel it is a part of me, as much as my love for books, or writing, or family, or friends – as much as I want to move on.
But I have lived 11 years of Chapel Hill. Here, college basketball reigns supreme. Here, people I’ve never met say hello to me when I’m running; everyone understands barbecue and sweet tea; people use y’all almost religiously. Here, the music in local coffee shops is always good; the sky is usually a Carolina shade of blue (it’s pretty, I admit, although I am, and always will be, a Blue Devil). Here, the weather forgets if it’s fall or winter or spring, freezing my car windshield in the mornings before tripping its way, clumsily, up to 60 or 70 degrees by mid-afternoon.
Every piece of me is here. My first car. My first track meet. My first published work. My first heartbreak. Here, I have over a decade’s worth of family cuddles and fireside Scrabble to keep me warm. There is nothing scary about here.
In a time where I claim independence and self-confidence – in a time when I am trying to keep myself from relying on too many people or places or things – I am terrified of leaving home.
Now, the house always smells like baking bread, my mom’s most recent obsession. My sister practices volleyball in the foyer and sings in the shower (she’s picked up that habit from me). My dad and I eat dinner together on the nights when my sister is at practice, discussing physics, or space, or our lives. It feels like we have just found our routine – recognized and accepted the absurd idea of growing up, of settling down.
I don’t know yet if I’m okay with the possibility of a time After Chapel Hill. So I’ll wait. I’ll have dinner with my family and spend an extra half-hour around the table joking and talking about our days, then slog up to the workroom, where I may or may not finish all my homework at a reasonable hour. I’ll help my sister with Latin conjugations or Spanish translations. I’ll tuck Charlie under my arm and curl up in bed. If I wake up early enough and can’t get back to sleep, I’ll watch the sun rise and fill the room with the promise of another day.
I will cherish Chapel Hill and my home for all it can give me, one morning at a time.