The 5 Stages of Leaving

He had a near full-ride scholarship to law school.

I had to say goodbye.

On my walk home from having drinks with my mentor, I felt weightless – almost giddy. I had spent months in therapy preparing for this day. The day that I could confidently commit to moving to a new city and starting a new chapter somewhere else. I could imagine the possibilities and felt the thrill of a grand new adventure.

When I got home, my elation ebbed. I looked around at our cozy apartment where we had lived for the past three years and imagined having to pack everything into boxes. I am a “nester.” I like chotchkies on bookshelves and cozy blankets and pictures on the walls. I like settling into a place.

The night we decided we would leave, [REDACTED] and I pulled up apartments for rent and researched areas of our new city where we might want to live. I had a spreadsheet of places I would want to visit and added a tab for places I might want to work.

The day had been a whirlwind. Every hour, the bundle of nerves in the pit of my stomach took on a new shade of anxiety, excitement, certainty, and uncertainty.

Getting ready for bed, I tried to focus on my breathing, calm my nervous energy, and stay present in the moment. [REDACTED] turned to me as I switched off the light. “I know you’re pretty booked for this weekend, but I think we should consider going up to see some apartments.”

A cold wash of panic flooded my body. Deciding to move was one thing, but this felt too real, and the weekend was too close. I knew we were going to move, and that meant that we would need to find a new apartment. Logically, I could engage with those facts.

Emotionally, the move felt distant. The months between our decision and when we would have to put that decision into action gave me just enough space to curl up with my warm, fuzzy, blanket of denial and sink into my desire for inertia.

“Can I think about it and get back to you in the morning?”

“Of course.”

The next morning, I left for work early. I got in to the office and opened my inbox to an email full of apartment listings from [REDACTED]. My anger flared. I had said I would think about it, and I would. I just needed time, and we had time!

I could feel our decision to leave like a rock just below my ribcage. My coworkers knew [REDACTED] and I were nearing our deadline to decide. I had to tell them.

The office slowly filled with the ripples of work-related chatter, and I composed a quick email asking to meet with my supervisor and our executive director. The three of us quietly stepped into a side room and sat down.

“So, I have some news. [REDACTED] and I are moving.”

We hadn’t ironed out the details. We didn’t know “when” or “where.” We had a strong “why” for him, and the hope of a “why” for me.

And I had come up with a solution that I thought would be perfect for everyone.

I would finish with my teaching for the summer, and [REDACTED] and I would move in early August. The law school was a mere two-and-a-half-sometimes-three-hour drive away. The plan was to keep working part-time at my beloved theater on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and then drive to the new apartment and stay with [REDACTED] on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It would be a lot of driving twice a week, but I would only be doing it for two or three months while I looked for my next perfect place.

Looking back, I imagine that my eyes took on a crazed gleam when I started describing my plan. But at the time, it seemed like the perfect way to have my cake and eat it too. I could manage the transition knowing that it would be a transition – I wouldn’t have to give up everything I loved all at once.

At the end of the week, [REDACTED] made the trip to view a marathon of apartments. He sent me pictures of a few. At the end of the day, we had signed a lease. He was right, the rental market was drying up, and we were late to the table.

I remember being drawn to the myth of persephone again and again over the summer before law school started. Law school (and the move) felt like this dark looming winter that I knew was edging closer and closer, but that I didn’t have to think about just yet wrapped in the warmth of summer.

In July, the move began to feel more imminent. We started packing things away into boxes the week after July fourth. First it was the things we rarely used (holiday decorations, tablecloths and extra dishes), then the things we wouldn’t need until later that year (winter clothes, extra sheets, replacement lightbulbs).

I had been preparing for over a year for this transition. There wasn’t a single day where I hadn’t thought about [REDACTED]’s future, and our journey through law school. I had spent hours working through the emotional ups and downs with my therapist. I had spoken with mentors, friends, colleagues, and family members.

Packing our home into boxes made me feel like I had landed back on square one.

On our third day of packing, the dam broke.

I slipped out onto our back porch and wept. I was terrified of what was next. I was grieving the prospect of leaving my job, and I was furious – at [REDACTED] for uprooting our lives, at the law school that hadn’t offered him more scholarship funds, and the law school that had kept him on the waitlist for the past three months.

And I was infuriated with myself.

I had put so much time and effort into being able to support [REDACTED] and make the transition. I could make all the arguments for why moving would be a good thing – so exciting, so many new opportunities, so much potential for growth and learning!

Still, there I was. Hugging my knees to my chest with tears streaming down my face. Why couldn’t I just be reasonable?

Why couldn’t I just support [REDACTED]?

Why couldn’t I be excited for us?

Why couldn’t I be a better parter?

Why couldn’t I just be happy?

I was spiraling.

The weeks of packing felt a bit like moving through water. Some moments felt like floating – a bit out of body and a little unfocused. Others felt like I was deep under water – my body compressed and my eyes squeezed tightly shut.

What helped was the knowledge that this time and these feelings would not last forever. There was a definite point when we would be moved, and we would begin the process of unpacking and re-establishing our home somewhere else.

Law school is only three years, and while that can feel like a daunting amount of time, it helped to remember how many years I already had under my belt and how many more would come after law school.

In the grand scheme of things, three years isn’t much.

There are so many things to look forward to that will last longer than law school.

Day by day, the month of packing passed.

I had to work the day that the movers came to load all of our carefully packed boxes into our rented Uhaul.

[REDACTED] took the day off and made sure everything fit.

Any fragile items – our potted plants, vacuum, and pets – travelled separately in a van borrowed from my parent’s.

The final walk-through was uneventful. Without our paintings on the walls, the chotchkies on the mantel, or any of our other things the apartment felt less like our home.

We handed over the keys and said goodbye to the little one-bedroom were we had started our married life together.

Our things were packed and ready to be moved in to the new apartment in the new city for our next big adventure.

Somehow, seeing the apartment without our things in it helped.

In the end it was just a place.

What made it cozy was filling it with cozy things.

What made it home was him.

If we could do that once, we could do it again.

We had a new apartment lined up.

I had to get a new job to pay for it

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