I moved to Washington, D.C. when I was 22, on the heels of a cross-country road trip, and before that, a terrible but well-paying office job, and before that, four years at college. I moved here for graduate school, and orientation started before my lease did, so a friend and I split a basement studio Airbnb for a week. We subsisted mainly off trail mix and watched the first season of The OC in our shared bed. After my first night in that basement, I went to orientation, where I sat in a big auditorium with all the other sharply dressed, wide-eyed students-to-be in the school of international relations and heard the word “networking” used to characterize this city, and graduate school, and going to graduate school in this city, so many times that I started to keep a ironic tally in the branded padfolio we were gifted. I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I thought I had maybe made a mistake. I didn’t tell anyone.
Had I made a mistake? It’s been more than six years and now that I am staring down the reality of leaving this city, of course the answer seems to be “of course” and “not at all,” and also “there’s no such thing.” A corny Instagram self-help account recently told me that there’s no such thing as wrong choices; you just have to make a choice and then, if it doesn’t work out, make another choice. Oversimplified, sure, but liberating. Who taught me that every path was supposed to be linear? Of course everyone else’s path looks linear from the outside and circuitous from the inside. Of course mine does too. And why prize linearity at all? If I’m grateful for where I am now — and I am — couldn’t I just be grateful for all of it?
All week I have been thinking about where that supposed mistake led me, and how easy it is to simply say that things “worked out.” But if I had dropped out of grad school things would have “worked out,” too. If I had made any number of choices, really. Whatever you choose will be the right choice, because that’ll be what you chose, a dear friend told me once in college. At the time I didn’t know if I believed it, didn’t know how to metabolize what she said, but I passed it on to another friend years later, and again and again in the years after that. This weekend, a friend several years older than me characterized that concept, and the wisdom of the corny Instagram caption, as being endemic to your early 20s. Maybe so. I think I am still learning it.
But in any case, I am grateful for all of it: the week in the basement studio and the big apartment in Dupont and the beautiful row house I’m now saying goodbye to; all the jobs and internships that didn’t work out and the ones that did; the intercultural studies course that was exactly why I went to grad school and the statistics class I hated. Every show at the 9:30 Club, even the one during the first week of my internship where every member of NPR Music got onstage for a group picture except me; every show at the Black Cat; at DC9; at Comet; even every show at Rock and Roll Hotel, especially the one my band played; especially every show in a house that got shut down the next year. Every overpriced sandwich, scone, and cold brew but especially every one I got around 3 p.m. on a walk out of the office with my friends and especially anything I got for free when Matt was pulling shots. Every single run in Rock Creek Park. Every time I cried in the quiet room at work. Every time I cried on the metro. Every trip to every free museum. Every full moon ceremony, queer ladies dance party, drag show. Every speeding ticket heading into Dave Thomas Circle. Every fake first day of spring, every real first day of spring, every snowstorm, every “snowstorm,” even the unbearable summer. Every single day that I felt like a gravitational force pulling all the most wonderful people in the world together. Every single lonely day. Every single day I felt myself falling into an orbit so much bigger and more wonderful than my own. And yeah, I guess, for all of it.
My friend said, by way of consoling, that I have more to be excited about than to mourn. Which may be true, but to be honest I don’t mind the mourning — or maybe it’s just that it doesn’t feel like those experiences, anticipation and grief, exist on the same plane. Or maybe it’s just that it doesn’t feel like grief so much as a closing door, and I am just trying to peer into that room where I can see my younger self and all the choices ahead of her for a little bit longer before I shut it. Who could regret that?
Here’s to the next choices, this week and into the future. Thanks for reading.