Catching Our Trains

Among the freshness of first years, fourth years fret

There’s a strange mindset that accompanies the beginning of my fourth and last year here at U.Va. It’s a sort of inner pang or homesickness for something, but I don’t really know what. It could be that fresh sense of expectation that accompanied my first year, the feeling of newness mingled with uncertainty. It could be the cocky, almost self-centered mindset that came with being a second year – thinking I now know everything and that nothing can faze me. Or maybe it’s the quiet certainty of third year, the relaxed ease of existing in a place in which I felt established yet comfortable, the newness gone and replaced by familiarity.

I don’t really know what it is that I’m feeling, or exactly what to label the strange bundle of anxiety, nerves and excitement I seem to be carrying around right now. Maybe it’s the not knowing that bothers me the most – the not knowing how I feel about this time in my life or where I’ll be in a year from now. I’ve been a student for as long as I can remember, always knowing that, no matter what, come next fall I would be studying in a school somewhere. But after this year that certainty comes to an end. And I’m not sure what goes in its place.

I spent this past summer embarking on that classic endeavor of the New York City internship – getting paid literally nothing and sitting at a rickety table next to 30 other confused kids my age all furiously typing away on our laptops.

I would stop on my way home from work and buy a bottle of the cheapest wine I could find, eat a bag of popcorn for dinner with my roommates and sit in our windowless kitchen laughing about how broke we were. It was a taste of what life would be like throughout my 20s: trying to figure out ways to drink for free, waking up early to go for runs before my commute to work, flipping through magazines in an attempt to find easy recipes I could make for cheap. Yet the whole summer almost felt like it was all pretend, like I was playacting at being some young professional, because it was only for two months before going back to my actual life at U.Va. But what will it be like when that is my actual life, when I no longer have the safety net of college waiting for me just weeks away?

Sometimes when I took the subway home at night, I would think about how strange it was that all these bodies were crammed together underground, no person speaking or looking at the one next to them as they rattled off into the darkness toward their unknown destinations. A feeling of aching would come over me in the pit of my stomach with a force that caught me off guard — a feeling similar to the one I am experiencing right now. I feel like I’m waiting for a train to come and watching others move past me to take theirs, but I don’t know where any of us are going or how long it will take to get there.

But I know I will end up somewhere eventually. I will turn to someone next to me and share a smile or some words and will feel a bit better. That pit in my stomach will slowly start to fade as I rush forward to wherever my life may take me.

related stories