It was a beautiful morning to say goodbye.
I gave my younger sister a hug to seal our unconventional parting. Instead of the celebratory college move-in I anticipated months ago, I spent much of the morning by myself. Left alone with my thoughts and hungering for closure, I set out the door to walk through Harvard’s campus once again.
Typically in late August, the courtyards of the dormitories and houses swarm with eager students, tutors, and deans trying to help their newest residents feel at home. There are first-year receptions, sophomore outings, and a multitude of welcome-backs for juniors and seniors. Students, staff, faculty, and administrators reorient themselves to the unparalleled rush of campus life. But most of all, I remember ear-to-ear smiles, indicative of the apprehensive joy a new semester brings.
This August, the houses were quiet. Their residents didn’t congregate in the common spaces, and incoming students wrestled their belongings inside alone. I counted less than a dozen people in Harvard Yard, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t see anyone standing on Widener’s steps.
Looking out across the scarcely populated campus, I said goodbye — for now — to the school I knew and loved. I consider myself an optimistic person by nature, but something in me grieved for what could have been. I now find myself scouring emails more closely for anything that transports my mind to campus. I’m grateful to those who have made every effort to connect me to Cambridge, and I’ll hold onto all of it for the time being. But as I turned my back on the college that became a home, I grappled with the thought of driving back to North Carolina with one less passenger.
My younger sister has been a built-in best friend for more than 18 years. She was the sense of normalcy and comfort I found in returning home. No matter where we lived — and we moved often — she was there.
For years, we shared a room and exchanged stories before bed. Our parents coordinated our Halloween costumes when we were young and matched us in photos. We sang in the car on the way to school and curated playlists for the drive.
We exchanged glances and facial expressions without speaking, communicating in the way only sisters can. We agreed, bickered, and apologized often, repeating the natural and unavoidable siblinghood cycle. My moving to college hundreds of miles away disrupted this.
On campus I was swept into a packed routine: I checked in from time to time, but distance and overcommitments prevented me from witnessing those high-school-defining milestones. Her recounts of homecoming proposals and dancing with friends at prom were told over the phone rather than face-to-face, and I was the second to know about preparations for college applications and their respective results. I recognized she was growing up, but getting a secondhand experience stopped me from registering that it was happening so quickly. By the time I returned home this past March, it was hard to comprehend that she would move out in only a few short months.
When I left home for the first time, I tried to imagine what it would be like for my younger sister. The bedroom down the hall is suddenly quiet. A pair of running shoes rests by the front door, unmoved. Drives to school, once hastened by Taylor Swift’s entire discography, feel strangely quiet without company. But the truth is, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be the one left behind — until now.
Memories of my first and last days on campus continue to circulate on my phone. The two mile distance separating my sister and me stretched to hundreds of miles apart. Plans for Boston meet-ups will stay unfulfilled. I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to be the sibling at the house: It’s a continuation of remembering what was, what could have been, and what is now.
Selfishly, I wish she was here. The soothing series of routines we fell into over the past few months have faded into the unsettling quiet she experienced years prior. But the promise of this quiet pales in comparison to the pride I felt in watching her start this next chapter of her life. Brilliant and bold, she’s ready to tackle the challenges this year and the forthcoming years will present, even if I can’t move beyond the image of the dependent co-passenger I still hold in my mind.
Fully absorbed by the emotions accompanying solitude, I’ve rediscovered gratitude for our sisterhood and a commitment to more frequent calls. No longer in the same city, I’ve been cast into the role of cheerleader, enthusiastically encouraging from the sidelines. But most of all, I’ve realized I have the privilege of watching my best friend grow up — without the unsolicited advice from her older sister.
There’s a certain beauty in goodbyes, too, I suppose.
— Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.