I moved away from home for college in the fall of 2016. I was seventeen years old at the time, and I had never done anything so courageous in my life (I have gone on to do more courageous things, but the world was smaller then and I couldn’t see into the future far enough). I left behind everyone and everything I knew, and moved to a new city to a new school with no one I knew from high school.
I am not used to letting go of things. Packing up my room the summer before I left took months. I sifted through piles of school papers tracing all the way back to middle school wiring assignments, and wanted to reminisce upon each one as I boxed them up. I leafed through a closet cluttered with old clothes, favorites I wore in 5th grade and 8th grade and on the first day of high school and I sat there on the floor, struggling to select what to keep and what to gift away. Everything held meaning in that room, in that small, simple, space. The scratches on the wall from the time I broke my foot and my cast scraped away the bright, green paint greeted me. The stains on the wood of my dresser, where my hair oils, all the brands I tried throughout all of the years and phases of my hair (short to long to healthy to not), fossilized their scents into the furniture and turned a room into a home.
So, when I packed up the clothes, the dresser and closet doors didn’t come with me. The bed and the doorway, that my parents once exposed when they had the door removed for months, did not come along to bear witness to a new beginning for this body and this mind and the little girl who stretched them both out to make room for a bigger self. I left home with just me and a car full of new things and the backseat simmering with the whispering of the people I loved who would leave me there and come home to the bedroom without me in it.
I had to learn to shed myself, begin to peel off the worn, comfortable, but nonetheless old parts of me. Learned how to be okay with being confused and lost and left waiting for a new and improved version of me to show up at my doorstep just in time. I found other things to do with my bulky inexperience through midterms and the MSA banquet and the very first Jummah I would attend on my own. I let go, of the things I held inside, of the hurt I had bottled up and I had to send it tumbling down the sink with the rest of the cup of noodle water that simmered in my first late night bowl of ramen noodles. That night I washed off my soul, that night before I prayed Isha outside in the cold wet grass, in the dark, in the dorm courtyard, and people stopped and stared but I needed God then I wasn’t home and the big tree there felt like some version of it. I grew bigger, burst through the carefully sewed seams of the girl I had practiced for so long, the performance I had mastered then, of someone’s daughter and someone’s friend and someone’s American Muslim. I was all alone then and I was just Me and no one knew any different.
So again, I’m at a crossroads, as I often seem to find myself, making choices and carving out my place in the world. I have settled into invisibility, fallen in love with the way I blend into the Philly skyline and I don’t need to be as loud anymore. I have stopped being startled at my own voice and have learned to think more before I speak and have learned to love to think even if it is never spoken and that has changed everything.
Growing up is not as a neat as tidy as it seems to be, as I imagined when I closed my eyes as a little girl and saw the woman version of myself standing taller, stronger, with a new voice and a new stance. It has been clumsy and awkward, a frantic scramble to try on persona after persona to see what fits. Each version of myself stitched together in the darkness of my bedroom and between hours of choking back tears and often-damp textbooks and waiting. I think that was the worst of it, the gruesome, lingering, itch of the wait: for a test score for a train for a bus for a class to begin for the grade to appear for the winter to melt away. I gently crafted each new Me. I tried different styles of myself, hoping to stumble across a design who could withstand the next heartbreak and embarrassment and disappointment better than the last. Perhaps that is adulthood, the pulsing and sore fingertips and worn out heart of someone who has tried and tried and pleaded and continues to pray that she figures out life before it figures out her.
I have thought more about death now than ever before, and yet, I am at my least morbid and the most life-ful than ever before. Perhaps that’s age too, when your years increase faster and faster and time starts to slip away and so you race against it anyway even though you’ve read a thousand books and the Greatest Book and they all tell you who wins in the end.
And I’m okay with that. I am okay. I am content. I am here and I am safe and I am grateful and that is what matters. I am okay with the moments I can make for myself, I am confident in my ability to hem and trim and redesign and throw it all away and I can let it all go and I will be okay. I did it before and I can do it again. I have left everything behind and still I was here, and I was me, and I know that I am not the sum of all the papers in my room or the stains on the dresser or the sad and weary gaze of the doorway in my parent’s home that I have come and left so many times now. I have survived giving it all up and I have survived being a stranger and I have learned how to find God once I lost Him and I can pray outside when I need to. It always feels good to be clean again.
I can build home inside of me, and I have learned now to shed the old things that hold me back and keep me from becoming more beautiful (pride, pain, someone’s expectations that are not Divine). I can be enough for myself and I can allow Allah to be enough for me, no matter where in the world I go. Alhamdulillah.