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I took another sip of coffee, contemplating the road ahead. At that point – midnight –the coffee was less for taste than for me to stay awake behind the wheel. My mother dozed in the seat next to me, while my younger brother and sister slept cramped together with our labradoodle in the backseat. It occurred to me that the car was the only thing in life that I had any control over. It was two days after Christmas and we were moving, leaving the comfort of home in Atlanta, Georgia and headed for a new life in New Jersey. I’d never moved before. Speeding along the deserted highway, I realized I was terrified, overwhelmed by a cold and biting numbness. The steady drone of the motor gave me time to reflect.
Much of my life has had to adapt to the needs of others. My fifteen-year-old brother Nick, one of four children in my family, was diagnosed with severe autism when he was three. While people are warmed by stories of adolescents who shower their disabled sibling with love and support, these depictions of altruism offer only a glimpse of the challenges that these siblings face every day. As Nick’s educational and vocational opportunities dwindled in Georgia, my parents looked elsewhere for improved special needs services, ultimately deciding on New Jersey. It was the middle of my junior year.
People often express a desire for a fresh start. Prior to our move, I would have considered myself to be such a person. But I wanted change on my own terms. Although I imagined myself interested in adventure and new experiences, if I was honest, I preferred the safer choice, the comfort zone, and what I could point-plot and expect. I identified with the people disdained by Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road: “Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.” After some effort in avoiding the inevitable, I was finally forced to accept that I was leaving my private school, friends, and city I loved, possibly forever.
Having so little say in the matter made me feel powerless. But as my thoughts sped along the lonesome highway, I began to see things in a different light. Perhaps this was a challenge that I was simply meant to overcome. Though I would be going to public school, it was small and highly scholastic, ranked fifth in the state. Maybe if I could adjust and continue to achieve good grades, the academic and social transition to college would be made easier as well. What people knew about me was that I always had a coffee in hand, a well-loved classic novel under my arm, and a passion for writing, learning, and everything cultural. If I had friends who appreciated me in Georgia, then I would be able to find new friends in New Jersey.
I was at a pinnacle in my life; everything was behind and before. Behind me was rigorous academic achievement and several close friends, but I could not help but acknowledge that this life was tinged with mediocrity and trite sameness. I was unsure about what lay ahead, but I was confident that in new things there was potential for challenge and even happiness. If true self-actualization lies in new experiences, then I was now in the position to be irrevocably fulfilled. The sadness that came from saying goodbye to everything I had ever known was still tangible. However, I began to feel not only in control of the road I was on, but closer to embracing the unknown, that which would challenge me to act and take me where I had never gone before. If I could succeed in this transition, I knew I could succeed in anything. As I continued forward, I contemplated a new and more exciting road ahead. A road full of adventure, wonder, and promise.
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