What I remember most clearly is being alone in the elevator and my heart pounding. I watched as the floor numbers climbed, getting higher and higher as my ears began to pop. I had left my parents behind in the lobby so they could bring my stuff up while I got signed in and I was glad to have a moment to myself to take in what was going on.
I reached my floor, 23. I quickly found the room matching the number on the key. I took in the blue carpet that led down the hallway and the flickering fluorescents that accompanied it, laughing when it occurred to me that this was my new entryway.
I unlocked the door and my breath caught, because through the door — my door — was Chicago. I quietly stepped over to the window, completely disregarding the rest of the tiny dorm room for the moment, and looked out at the view spread out before me. I remember holding my breath as if I was afraid I would scare it away.
I could see Navy Pier from the window, my window. And there was Grant Park, green and lush with the ends of summer. I could see the Prudential Building and the lake, blue and glimmering with endless possibility, and all of the buildings that I would soon learn the names of. Skyscrapers surrounded me, stretching to the sky, beckoning me to join them, calling me to the opportunity to be great.
I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I had done it. I had nearly convinced myself over the months that I had made all of it up; the acceptance letter, the scholarship, my new life. But it was suddenly so hard to argue with the view in front of me. All of my hard work had paid off; all of the AP classes, the late nights pulling my hair out over homework, the extra shifts I had picked up at the ice cream shop. It had all paid off.
Chicago was laid out right there before me, making me believe in my own future for the first time in years.
My parents walked in, finally catching up with me, hauling my stuff in with them. They joined me at the window and pulled me into a hug, commenting on the beauty of my new view. My mom recalls seeing the skyscrapers and thinking about how different this life was going to be than the one I had left behind in my small Missouri town.
“We are so proud of you, Evs. You did it,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
Unbeknownst to me, my mother had convinced herself that this was temporary. As hard as I had hoped and tried to convince myself that this was permanent, she had done the opposite. She told me later that she was sure that in a week, they would be picking me up again in the minivan as if I were going away to summer camp and not college.
As my parents began to unpack my things and help me figure out where it would all go, I did my best to help, but couldn’t keep my eyes off of the window, off of Chicago, my new home. I remember feeling a smile begin to stretch across my face, finally allowing myself to believe that I was exactly where I had wanted to be for the past four years.
I eventually had to kick my parents out the door, needing some time to adjust to the new developments and unpack by myself.
So, I walked my parents downstairs and out the revolving doors, finally turning to face them as we reached the sidewalk. Wabash Avenue was still hectic with move-ins and cardboard boxes and green T-shirts, but we were able to find a corner that was a bit quieter.
My dad recalled thinking that this was the big moment where their lives were going to change forever. It wasn’t going to be the four of us doing things together anymore. It was going to be them and my little brother, with their “little girl” up in Chicago, away at college. He teared up some when they hugged me goodbye.
I watched them cross over to the other side of Wabash Avenue as a rumbling train passed by overhead. They all piled into our old green minivan and peeled out of the parking lot with lots of waving hands in my direction.
Then, I turned my back, spun through the revolving doors again and headed back up to begin unpacking my new life.