The MacBook start-up chime, frosted animal cookies, cucumber melon lotion and the jingle at the start of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”
Those sounds, smells and tastes instantly take me back to a hollow point in my life.
Freshman year of college.
Although only two hours from home, the Baylor bubble and surrounding Waco area were a completely different world to 18-year-old me.
Sure, I battled the same bi-polar weather we had in Decatur and the scenery looked the same.
But I went from knowing everyone, or at least most of everyone, in my classes to knowing only a handful of people. The rest weren’t even familiar faces.
I even did my shopping at a different store. Back home, there was no such thing as a quick trip to Wal-Mart because I always ran into someone I knew and a 15-minute conversation always ensued – which stands true to this day.
It had seemed like an inconvenience then. But while doing my shopping at the endearingly dubbed Ghetto HEB in Waco, I longed to run into someone I knew.
I had never been immersed in so much unfamiliarity. Of course I’d traveled outside of Decatur and Wise County. But even when it wasn’t with my family, it was with a group of classmates and teachers or friends.
There were always familiar anchors. There weren’t too many at Baylor, and I didn’t deal well.
I remember counting the number of months I had until I could transfer closer to home and my comfort zone. Pitiful, I know.
But fortunately, I didn’t. I went on to have the best three-and-a-half years of my life.
I got to know my classmates and dorm neighbors. I was able to establish invaluable friendships with others riding in the same boat of unfamiliarity.
Those girls and I learned together how to grocery shop, put air in low tires, change burned out blinker lights (or to befriend the boys who would) and to clean out a fridge. We helped each other learn to be our own alarm clock and how to manage our time.
Together we learned – sometimes through burning, sleep-deprived eyes in a biology lab – that just because we could go out didn’t mean we should.
When graduation rolled around four years later, I clung to those memories. I wanted a do-over of that first semester. I regretted ever not wanting to be there.
It’s a cycle, I guess. Change is the only constant.
Although it’s a continued struggle for me, I’m getting better at embracing and adapting to the ever-changing nature of life. And it’s because of the heart-wrenching emptiness I felt but later filled with priceless memories and experiences.
In the next two weeks, my family will send my twin cousins off to college – one to Oklahoma State University, the other to Tarleton State University.
It makes my heart heavy to know that they, too, may soon feel the same hollowness when they find themselves in a world of unfamiliarity – especially being without the other twin.
But it is my hope that they – and all other college-bound freshmen – overcome that and thrive in their new element. I hope they come away in four years with plenty of memories intertwined with laughter, learning and discipline, and that in the meantime they get a better understanding of the mark they are to leave on this world.
Good luck, you two.
I’ll be sure to send plenty of bags of frosted animal cookies to help you through.
Erika Pedroza is a reporter for the Wise County Messenger.