It’s odd to think that one of the things that has defined my time in Washington is boxes. Lots and lots of boxes.
During the past five years, I’ve zig-zagged this city with a mind-boggling eight moves: dorm rooms; summer sublets; ex-boyfriends; group houses – and that doesn’t even include my stints in New York City and Sydney. For better or worse, packing and unpacking on a regular basis is something I’ve become accustomed to. In many apartments, I never fully unpacked because I knew another move was imminent.
Yet there’s something about this move that feels immensely unfamiliar from the previous eight. I’m permanently leaving Washington, embarking on a two-day drive back home to Chicago. But there’s also the fact that all but one or two of these boxes won’t be immediately re-opened – they’ll be going into storage until early/mid-2017. I’m quite literally packing away my life. Perhaps that’s a melodramatic way to put it, but it’s a weird feeling boxing up belongings that have become part of my day-to-day routine for years, knowing I won’t see them again for a long time.
So long, stuffed animal golden retriever. Farewell, panoramic photograph of DC.
How do I describe my thoughts on leaving Washington? The prospect of getting out of the Chicago suburbs to attend college in Washington was a driving motivator when I made the decision to come out of the closet as a fifteen year old high school freshman. This city served as my guiding light for so many difficult years.
And then I made it here.
My second week in this city, I was participating in GW’s Freshman Day of Service alongside First Lady Michelle Obama. During my third month, I traded a seat in one of my classes (ahem, ditched) for the second row at Senate Armed Service Committee hearings on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” My second semester, I was interning in the U.S. Senate with my home state representative, Senator Mark Kirk. The following summer, I met my first boyfriend and the man that I’d share my life with for more than three years. Running to the White House amidst news of Osama Bin Ladin’s death; attending President Obama’s second inauguration in the blistering cold; cheering with total strangers on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court when the “Defense of Marriage Act” was struck down, and again two years later when gay marriage finally went nationwide. These were all transformative experiences that defined my five years living, loving and learning here.
But beyond those grand moments are the little things. My first venture into a gay club, the since-shuttered Apex, paired with my first time being groped by a drag queen. My first bad date, my first time going to a bar alone, and my first internship rejection. The first time I was appointed president of a student organization in college, but also that time I ran a student body presidential election for a friend – and lost miserably.
This city has given me so much, more than I could ever hope to give back in return. Marina Keegan’s famous essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” is a perfect encapsulation of my feelings at this juncture: anxiety coupled with unadulterated confidence; nostalgia alongside the utmost level of excitement. I might have contradictory emotions, but I know that 2016 is the perfect time to start a new chapter.
I’ve engaged in a maddening amount of self-reflection over the past several months in preparation for Remote Year. I strongly believe that not doing so would render the trip a waste, as there’s simply too much to consider about what I’ll be doing, seeing and experiencing this year. But at the same time, I’m making pains to refrain from setting any substantive expectations. If I’ve learned anything from coming into myself as an adult in this city, it’s that planning for the unknown is a futile effort and setting expectations can pave a treacherous path to disappointment. I’ve found that the most wonderful things often result from being open to new adventures, wherever and in whatever form they appear. I’ll be jumping on a plane to Montevideo on January 25th with no idea of what comes next, and I’m completely content with that.
This blog will be many things over the next year. It will serve to house my regular freelance writing, which I’m beyond thrilled to have lined up with Mic and CreativeMornings. It will also be a public forum for me to engage in self-reflection, sometimes in a stream-of-consciousness format like this, but also with photo essays and serious think pieces on the cities I’ll be calling home. I’m particularly excited to explore the local Jewish and gay communities in each of the cities that I visit. Especially the latter. Definitely the latter.
I’m cognizant of how lucky I am to be setting off on this grand adventure; my fellow Remote Year participants have all become accustomed to saying that we feel like we’ve won the lottery. I’m know that I’ll be a very different person when I touch back down in the United States on February 1, 2017. I’m excited to meet that person, but in the meantime, am fully concentrated on the journey that will carry me there.