“Oh God. This was a huge mistake.”
After driving five hours and schlepping my belongings from a U-Haul into a 1930s apartment in a city I didn’t know, these uncharacteristic words of doom crushed me.
Thankfully, my dad was standing nearby to pick me back up.
One year ago, I moved 360 miles south of my beloved Indianapolis to Nashville, a city where I knew only loose connections, a city where I never imagined calling home.
I know myself very well, which is why my sudden regret and gloom caught me off guard. I’m constantly gauging my emotions; up until that point, I had this undeniable, optimistic tug to link arms with opportunity and move to Music City.
Change has a funny way of presenting stark, stripped-down fear and dulling any other emotion capable of combating it.
After a summer of job searching, I was offered a position with Warby Parker, a company close to my heart where eyewear and vision meets giving back. After interviewing with people who exuded warmth and humor, my mom and I visited Nashville for the first time to see if I could imagine living there. I ate Jeni’s ice cream for the first time, stars aligned, and I became one of many who mosey on down to this magnetic, friendly, flirty town.
I did this before, moving 280 miles north to go to college in Milwaukee, a city much harder to fall in love with than Nashville. But college has a beginning and an end; after four years punctuated with holiday breaks to go back home, you’re done. Making a move after you’ve had the last 17 years of life relatively scheduled, without a summer break or timestamp or date of return, is scary. But I couldn’t be more grateful that I did.
After two days of unpacking the U-Haul, eating takeout on my small IKEA table (thanks, Zach), and making Walmart runs for extension cords and trash bags, it was time to drop my dad off at the Greyhound bus station. I sobbed, I searched the nearest Target on Google Maps (which, I later found out, was not the nearest Target), and I happened upon a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way. The sweet high school boy at Dunkin’ pretended not to notice my red, raw eyes and didn’t question me when I stuffed more brown paper napkins in my pockets than a medium coffee warranted.
Leading up to the move, I had the immense joy of working with the Indiana Writers Center again at St. Florian Leadership Camp through a program called “Building a Rainbow,” helping Indianapolis youth who are considered at-risk tell their stories and publishing them in an anthology at the end. During one of the last days of my internship, before I was trying to figure out my next move, I was sitting at a table helping our young writers fill out evaluations of our program.
The questions on the evaluation asked what the students liked and disliked about the program, what they wished they could’ve done, and what they took away from writing with us. One of the questions asked about the interns–what the students liked or disliked about what we did.
I was helping Jeffrey, an eight-year-old who lost his mom recently and who showed maturity and bravery beyond his years, fill out the evaluation. I worked with Jeffrey consistently all summer, helping him tell his heartbreaking and hilarious and profound stories. One day in particular, as I held the microphone out to him to read his story for Author’s Chair, he asked me to read it for him instead. (Sometimes the kiddos love the attention of reading their own work at the front of the room, and sometimes they’re microphone-shy but still want to be heard, so the interns read it for them.) I wasn’t sitting at his table that day, so I didn’t know what his story was about. As I began to read his handwriting, my stomach plummeted.
His words told the story of the day he found out his mom died.
I read his heart out loud to a room full of curious kids. When I finished, some shared sympathy and some asked how she passed away. I looked at sweet Jeffrey, inspiringly and bewilderingly composed, and told him he didn’t need to answer any questions if he didn’t want to. Understandingly, he shook his head. I tried to explain to the group how brave Jeffrey was for sharing a story that was so incredibly hard to share.
As we were filling out the evaluation, I asked Jeffrey what he thought about the interns and if there were any of us in particular who helped them. He looked at me and told me to write, “Miss Lauren gave me courage and helped me be brave.”
I have never held someone’s words more closely to my heart than what Jeffrey said to me that day. I looked at this little courageous boy in front of me and said firmly, “Jeffrey, you taught me how to be brave.”
Weeks later, I felt far from brave when the reality of being alone in an unfamiliar city hit me. My first week of my new job, I got a flat tire on the way to work and a man from a nearby shop lectured me about female emotions when he noticed I was crying. My bed’s box spring came unhitched, and for the first time ever, I didn’t know a single soul to call to help me with the task. (In an act of inexplicable strength and sheer desperation, I somehow managed to hoist my mattress onto my back and fix it.)
Days passed and courage began bubbling up inside of me thanks to my home team. I’d probably still be wiping tears off my face with Dunkin’ napkins if it weren’t for phone calls to my mom and dad, encouraging texts from one of my oldest best friends, reassurance from my trailblazin’ musician BFF, and FaceTiming with my college roommates who let me cry and ask silly questions like, “Why do we grow up and move away from our mamas?”
Mat Kearney, one of my favorite musicians, has a line in one of his songs that goes “Said why not Tennessee // got fire in my bones, boy, got words to say // Lord knows I’m not home but I’m on my way.” This little mantra stuck with me on the first drive down I-65. A few weeks ago, my brother was visiting Nashville and we ran into Mat at a coffee shop in a blissful storm of serendipity. Exactly one year ago, unloading that U-haul felt like a bad nightmare, and I desperately wanted to wake up in my old room back home. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back I feel so grateful to see the dots connecting. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, I’ve eaten the best BBQ and hot chicken pizza of my life, and I’ve grown in bravery along the way.