See ya around.”
And so, with a proverbial kick to the chest, my college life had begun. I didn’t hear from my parents very often that first semester. Busy sorting through the broken pieces of their marriage, caring for the three younger ones at home, they had neither the energy nor the time to check on children that had already fled the nest. I was on my own.
And although I didn’t hear from Darren, exactly, I certainly heard about him. I saw him, too, around campus. Quite the ladies man, he was, and I was devastated. I had tried to talk with him a couple of times in the beginning, with horrendous results. He didn’t want to talk to me, didn’t want to see me. What he wanted was his freedom, in no uncertain terms.
In many ways, Darren had been a parental figure for me, guiding me into adulthood when no one else could. It was Darren who taught me how to drive, and Darren who took me to my first dental appointment at the age of seventeen. And always, it was Darren to whom I ran when things at home were too awful to bear.
I missed him, and even more than that, I needed him. I had no idea how to function in the grownup world in which I found myself. All semester I’d been afraid, hiding in my dorm room, clueless as to how to fit in with these students who seemed so much older and more sophisticated than I. While groups of sparkly, giggling girls paraded by on their way to holiday parties, I hid my face in my pillow and cried.
Now here I was, faced with the prospect of going home for Christmas, wherever – and whatever – home was.
Four hours and a smelly bus ride later, I found out. It was a typical company home, run down, in need of paint, appearing lopsided from the street. I had known many of these houses during my childhood. The inside, I knew, would be furnished with castoffs; a couch propped up on a brick, a wobbly table with a lamp strategically covering the water marks, gold scalloped carpet, stained and worn.
I hesitated in the darkness of evening, my breath creating plumes of fog.