It’s mid-afternoon, and you’re folding laundry on the tile floor of your mother’s living room. Everywhere else in Florida is a sauna. Even your bedroom is intolerable. The air conditioning schedule doesn’t kick on until later. Adjusting it just for you feels selfish. The blood has stopped circulating through your legs, and your feet are as cold as the tile you’re sitting on. But you don’t care. Cross-legged is the most comfortable way to sit, until it’s not.
You separate clothes into stacks, weeding out things to pack for a month in South Korea. You’re going because it’s good for writers to ingest new cultures. That’s what you are, a writer. You’re confident you will be published and prolific. It’s what you’re meant to do. You can feel it in your bones.
Everyone has asked if you’re excited, and you smiled, nodding enthusiastically. But this is your first time traveling alone. You don’t know how you’ll make friends. You think you’ve never understood how to do that. But this trip makes you an adult, because you’re twenty and bought the tickets with your own money. So, you don’t speak your fears aloud, not yet, at least.
At this point, you don’t know that this is your last Florida summer, that in a few years this house will belong to a stranger, or that only one person will keep up with the 13-hour Korean time difference. He’ll tease you about moving to Seoul because you’ll probably fall in love with someone there. You’ll email almost every day.
In four months, he’ll write you a letter, and you’ll reject him. You regret it. For months, you’ll ask your friends if it was the right decision. You drive them crazy. You’re indecisive. In a year, you’ll ask him out. He lives in Tennessee, and you live in Mississippi. But you’re the exception, and not the rule. You make the long-distance work, until it doesn’t. You’ll move to Tennessee. He’ll propose; you’ll get married. Saying yes was the easiest decision you’ve ever made. In ten years, you’ll have been married for five and a half of them.
At 3PM, a storm clouds the sky. Rain thunders down on the roof. You like that this hasn’t changed. You’re already nostalgic for your childhood. You wonder, vaguely, if your sister remembers that it is Flag day. The day she’s promised to love you and no one else. A promise younger-you stole when she was engaged, and you were afraid of change.
You are still afraid when you graduate college, spend a year drifting, start a graduate program in Vermont, spend a month in Guatemala, and move to Nashville. But the fear doesn’t stop you. You make friends anyway.
You would never guess that you end up unpublished and working at a marketing company, and that one day you’ll start a photography business. You’ll find you have a knack for building rapport and an eye for posing. But ultimately, you take photographs to help women fall back in love with themselves.
In the next ten years, you’ll finish your book and learn that it’s not good enough. You’ll finish your degree and get another. You will get a job that provides enough, but you’ll still want more. You will be married to a man who believes better things for you than you believe for yourself. You’ll live without a safety net. You’ll still write. You’ll still feel it in your bones.
These are the things you don’t know as you are sitting on the cold tile floor in the house you think will always be your home, packing up two weeks early because you don’t know how to fit a month of your life into a suitcase.
Christina Gustin is a writer and photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her books, her fur babies, and her husband. Her photography can be found at JoyGustin.com
Christina encourages people to support End Slavery Tennessee. This is an organization working to end human trafficking in Tennessee, and also tries to help the victims of human trafficking. Visit endslaverytn.org.