We got the announcement in the car. Two hours into our twelve-hour trip from Georgia to Arkansas to spend the weekend with her family.
We started our spring break early—7 a.m. Thursday. We swallowed a road trip breakfast—greasy hash browns, a chicken biscuit, instant oatmeal with prepackaged raisins and apples. We stopped to fill the tank and our snack supply. We called our moms to let them know the trip was going smoothly.
Once the sun rose, we rose with it. Now fully awake, we screamed the lyrics to 2000s pop classics and scream-mumbled nonsense to songs in Korean, sure to give our all to the one English lyric in the choruses.
My phone vibrated. A text from my university. She turned the music down. I read the text out loud. Spring quarter would be completely online. Check email for details.
I opened the email. I read the details out loud. My voice felt like it was sitting in the backseat, saying words I didn’t know how to comprehend. Online classes. Consolidation of dorms. Housing refund. Move out. Go home. They needed our decision by Sunday.
I needed to decide if I would stay or leave. I needed to decide if I would pack everything to be moved to another dorm or if I would pack everything to send 865.6 miles home, from Georgia to Illinois. I needed to decide if I wanted to keep the life I’d created or return to the life I’d grown out of. I needed to decide if I wanted to be with my family or the friends I loved like family. I needed to decide all of this in four days.
My phone buzzed again. My job wanted to know by that night.
She called her family, friends, explaining over and over and over again what had happened.
All I heard were muffled noises, like a scene rendered in chalk. I watched the gray road roll endless beyond us. My eyes burned on the highway like the sun on our backs. I gripped the door handle but there was nowhere I could go. I could do nothing but sit and think and fight not wanting to think.
This demanded to be thought about. An issue I thought of as too far to matter was now directly in front of me, mattering more than ever. A problem I thought was someone else’s to handle was now mine to handle too.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I blinked away my daze, realizing her last phone call had ended minutes ago. “Yeah,”
“Are you sure? Because you don’t look it.”
I didn’t want to admit that I’d already processed everything. I already knew what the most logical decision was. I was desperately seeking alternatives where I didn’t have to leave everything and everyone I loved.
She watched the road and I watched her. I realized what would be hardest to leave and cried.