During my freshman year, it wasn’t uncommon for people to ask how I felt about my sister leaving for college, especially in the months leading up to graduation. In an effort to keep the mood light, I would often joke, “Well, I get to have a bathroom all to myself, so that’s something.”
Like a lot of older siblings, she never failed to keep me in line and give me advice when I needed it, so I always knew I would miss her when she was gone. Yet, I won’t deny that the idea of having half of the house to myself seemed kind of exciting, especially when much of my time growing up was spent either sharing a room or wearing hand-me-downs.
Back then, I didn’t know that adjusting to life without my older sibling would be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to experience. It also set in motion a journey towards newfound independence and confidence in myself.
The first few months without her were definitely the loneliest I’d ever been in a long time. Granted, I still had my mom to drive me to school every morning, and we’d have our morning chats in the car, but there was always an ongoing need of having to fill some empty space. Not just in the car, but at home, too. My sister’s room came to become somewhat stale, and although I would be too exhausted by the time I came home on weekdays to notice, there wasn’t much I could do to ignore the overbearing silence over the weekends.
In an effort to quell the loneliness, I made it a habit to keep myself busy, and for a while, it worked. If I wasn’t at school, I was doing laps in the pool; if I wasn’t in the pool, I was hitting the books at my desk well into the night. Eventually, if I wasn’t lonely, I was bored. Whether it’s through some petty argument or useless banter, a sibling could always help pass the time. But with nothing to say in a vacant room, what else was there to do?
Schoolwork wasn’t making it much easier, either. Between managing my first AP class as a sophomore and keeping up with the rest of my studies, I suddenly started to doubt my abilities as a student, and with new teachers came a new set of standards that I was largely unfamiliar with. Every day was a cycle of doing the homework, taking notes in class, making mistakes; rinse and repeat. In my struggle, all I could think was, “How did Gaby do this?”
The answer? By herself.
This revelation changed everything, and I only wished I’d realized it sooner. I spent so long hoping for someone to guide me that I couldn’t quite accept the way things were, that like her, I was on my own; that like her, I was going to be the one to make things better for myself. And so I hit the ground running.
If I didn’t understand the concepts given in class, I would go home and read over the notes until I did. If my notes still confused me, I would research online or watch videos. I started to ask more questions during lessons. I learned which study techniques did and didn’t work, and if I didn’t receive the test grade I had anticipated, I would brush off, start again, and try something different.
And it wasn’t just my work ethic that changed; I also began trying to be more involved in the social scene. Throughout my time as a freshman, I would always find the prospect of approaching upperclassmen intimidating, but over the course of this year, whether it be through classes, clubs, or sports teams, I have gotten to know an incredibly witty, outgoing, and compassionate group of older peers who have helped me make the most of my high school experience thus far.
After months of having bouts of uncertainty gnaw at the back of my head, I finally learned to go solo and take control of my own problems.
So, as a message to underclassmen whose brother or sister is graduating this year, take this as a big heads-up: while it may sound like a dream to have everything to yourself, the truth is that it’s awkward and unsettling to have no one there, maybe even a little bit scary.
Maybe your brother is headed to Auburn. Maybe it’s your sister, headed to Wake Forest, FSU, or Tulane. Whatever the case may be, this story is meant to show that while the idea of you and your sibling being a thousand miles apart might leave you feeling lost, you have a chance to shape a new chapter, one that is wholly and completely yours to tell. Embrace that uncomfortable, empty feeling. Use it as an opportunity to meet new people, learn to ask your own questions and get your own answers, and most importantly, build up the courage to release that familiar helping hand to decide what’s best for you.