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That First Night

Listen to: To Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra.

Moving away for school is a scary thought in and of itself.

But moving halfway around the world for school is downright petrifying. You would think that being in a brand new place, where you could reinvent yourself a thousand times over, would be a liberating feeling. The feeling you had been searching for since you were fifteen and had pre-emptively decided that you were an adult before you even knew how to drive a car. But that first night, when your parents have just taken off to catch their flight back home, and your roommate has yet to move in, will feel anything but peaceful. Regardless of the ocean splashing along the shores in the background and the beautiful city you overlook from your bedroom window, that night might well be the hardest moment of your life to date.

You’ll be terrified, and your throat might feel like you can’t get enough air into your body to form coherent sentences when you say goodbye to your family that night. Phrases like ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’ll remember to take my vitamins, I swear’, and ‘I love you.’ You won’t be able to get that last sentence out though. Because ‘I love you’ sounds too final and finality scares the crap out of you. So you’ll hold yourself together, only to crumble once your dorm room closes. If only all your friends could see you now: the girl who never cries, sitting alone in her room and barely holding it all together. Because deep down, you know just how many cracks you have, just how many seams ready to split open at any given moment of weakness.

You’ll message your best friend from back home, praying she’s still awake, and tell her about the storm raging inside your head. The pathetic fallacy you learned about in English Literature class seemed to be working in reverse because the outer world never seemed so serene and your headspace had never felt more tumultuous than in that moment. The chaos running wild inside you feels like it will tear you apart at the seams in a second if it continues at this rate. And you’ve always prided yourself on your calm façade, but in a matter of hours, your demeanour has come crumbling down and crashed on your dorm room floor like the tidal waves on the coast outside. Surrounded by mascara-stained tears and your fourth cup of tea, you’ll wonder why on earth you ever agreed to study so far away from home.

The lesson you’ll learn that first night is that there is a significant difference between being alone and being lonely. You’ve become accustomed to being alone, even learned to thrive off of it, but you’ve never been good with loneliness. The inner demons you thought you had tamed years ago will rear their heads once more, as if to remind you that, although time can heal wounds, not all scars disappear. They merely fade.

And in that first night, when Polaroids and your favourite books that you managed to drag overseas despite your mother’s protests surround you, you’ll close your door and pretend to be sleeping to avoid interacting with your floormates. You’re in no shape for social interaction. The Lauren Conrad-mascara tears wouldn’t make a very good first impression. You’ll see them for the rest of the year anyway; one night won’t hurt.


Words & Photography by Sarah Sutherland.

© 2016 Reef Magazine

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