The Hardest Part of Leaving

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Almost every person that I’ve spoken to has asked me this question: “Is Thor moving with you?”

For those who don’t know, Thor is my border collie mix. He’s kind of my world- which may sound crazy but, hey, I think dog people will understand. He’s my everything. I adopted him from North Shore Animal League when he was eight weeks old, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. He sleeps in my bed, he goes on errands with me, I take him on hikes, I talk to him about everything- he’s my best friend, and even after just four years together, I truly can’t imagine my life without him.

And that’s why it breaks my heart that he can’t come with me to Tallahassee.

Don’t get me wrong: I want, more than anything, to take him with me. I want to let him hop in my Jeep and drive him all the way down to Florida. I want to take him to my apartment complex’s bark park, to bring him to student dog meet-ups, to walk him around the city. I want him to be a part of this journey so badly it hurts. But, ultimately, as his human mom, I have to do what’s best for him. That’s what I committed to when I brought him home four years ago. That’s the responsibility I took on. So, no matter how much it hurts me, I know I can’t take him with me. It wouldn’t be fair.

Thor is a border collie mix (the shelter said he was a lab, but isn’t that the default for any little short-haired, black-furred puppy? I see pit bull, his DNA test said bull terrier; he’s a mutt. But he’s definitely got collie). He’s super high-energy. He needs to run every single day, and he needs lots of walks. He’s also one of the most anxious little things I’ve ever met. It’s just his nature. He’s been that way since he was a puppy, and he never quite grew out of it. I joke a lot that I got him to be my emotional support animal, but wound being his emotional support human. He needs lots and lots of attention, and thrives when he’s around his people. He’s the kind of dog that follows you from room to room. He’s a herder who likes to round the household into the living room so that he can sleep comfortably in the middle of us all. And while I, with the help of my parents, am able to provide all of this for him in New York, I don’t see our routine being sustainable once I’m on my own, in law school, in a brand new city.

Thor needs a house. He needs a yard to run and play in. He would go stir crazy in my two-bedroom apartment. He needs more than a park bark. He deserves more than that. And I know that, even if I went to every length I could to set a routine for him in Tallahassee, even if I jetted home after classes every single day to make sure I was there for him, he wouldn’t have the quality of life he deserves.

I know that he’ll be in the best hands imaginable with my parents, who I sometimes think love him more than they love me (listen, I don’t blame them - he’s kind of the best). I’ll also be able to see him on my hopefully-frequent visits to Long Island. He will be okay, and I will be okay.

But the thing that, for lack of a better term, sucks the most is that I can’t explain to him what’s happening.

I can’t tell him why I’m leaving. I can’t make him understand why I’ve been packing up all of my things, or why I’ll be gone for month at a time. I can’t explain to him that I’ll be back, but that our time together will be short. He won’t know where I’m going or why I’m going there; he won’t get why I’m not snuggling up with him at night anymore, or why I can’t take him with me on this particular adventure.

It kills me. It absolutely guts me that he can’t understand me when I tell him that I love him and that I fully intend to come back for him when I have the means to.

Throughout this process, I’ve tried to remain as positive and upbeat as possible, but this particular aspect has been the toughest to find a silver lining for. It’s harder than leaving my job of six years, than leaving my hometown, than moving away from my family for the first time in my nearly twenty-six years. It’s harder because the people I’m leaving at least understand me when I say, “Goodbye for now. I love you, and I’ll be back soon.” He’s a dog, and we don’t share a verbal language, and I can’t tell him these things in a way that will get through to him.

This was never part of the plan. When I adopted Thor, he was meant to be fully and wholly mine. He was meant to go with me when I moved out of my parents’ house. We were supposed to go on a long life journey together, to share in everything, to be partners. He’s my little buddy, and the hardest choice I’ve ever made is the decision to leave him in New York.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve thought of throwing in the towel. I got good offers from schools closer to home, and I don’t know if I can make you understand how incredible tempting it was to ditch Florida in favor of a closer school solely because it would keep me with my dog. Ultimately, this wouldn’t be the right choice. More specifically, it wouldn't be a choice made with the right reasons. Logically, I have to think about my future career. I know that Tallahassee offers me a lot of opportunities that would be harder to come by here in New York. I also know that law school is a three year commitment, and that there’s nothing stopping me from coming back to Thor after those three years. I have to make the best choices for both of us, for the best reasons, and I truly believe that that’s what I’m doing.

And with that decision made, all that I can do nowis make the most of our time together. I can take him for walks and hikes, I can take him for rides in the car, I can shower him with all the love I have and then some. I can make memories with him. And I can promise myself to do the same whenever I do get to see him.

But it is difficult. It’s the hardest part of all of this, and I know that it will hurt. I know that the sting will last for a while. But I also know that it’s a choice made out of love, and that Thor and I will be okay. We’ll absolutely be okay.

I Climbed The Fire Island Lighthouse

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When I first thought that I might move away- before choosing a school or even applying to one, before the LSAT had been taken, back when everything was a question and I couldn’t seem to find the answers -I knew that I’d want to visit some of my favorite places in New York before heading off somewhere new.

The first such visit was the Fire Island Lighthouse.

My mom and I had been talking about making the mile-long hike from Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park to the lighthouse for a few summers now. We’ve talked and talked and talked. We’ve sat on the beach and looked at the shadow of the lighthouse in the distance and mentioned friends who’d walked on over to it. It’s remained a passing fancy for years now, and so, on May 19, we decided to finally do it.

It was a mild day- not too hot, not too cold, but there was a generous wind sweeping off the waves by the time we got down near the water. It had rained earlier in the morning, leaving huge puddles rippling across the parking lot (for the briefest of moments, we regretted our choice to wear flip flops). After carefully maneuvering the minefield of deceptively deep rainwater, we made it onto the boardwalk and began our hike toward the lighthouse.

As we walked, I was struck by a memory: me, somewhere between the ages of eight and ten, clinging to the steep stairwell toward the lighthouse observation deck. It was the day I discovered my fear of heights.

I thought of this as we approached the Fire Island Light Station, deciding to take a look inside at the historic Fresnel Lens. The lighthouse loomed out the window. I couldn’t look away, and as I studied it from the safety of the light station, I couldn’t shake that image of a little girl having what she didn’t know was her first-ever anxiety attack.

“I wonder if we can climb it,” my mom said.

“I did once,” I said, recalling the story.

“Do you want to do it today?”

The question hung there like an offering. I placated it with a maybe, and then an I think so, and inside I was screaming yes. I knew I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to make the trek up those 182 stairs to the very top of the lighthouse. I wanted to stand on the observation deck just to prove that I could. I wanted to a conquer a fear for my younger self, because my older self is about to tackle something much scarier than Long Island tallest lighthouse.

This whole process of moving has been a lot of things, but terrifying most of all. Terrifying because it’s new. Terrifying because I don’t know what to expect. Terrifying because everything could go wrong at the drop of the hat, and I don’t know if I’ll know how to handle it. But I’m doing it- despite mental illness, despite fear, despite everything. I’m doing it because I want to. I’m doing it because I’m ready. And if I’m ready to move to a brand new city in a brand new state all on my own, then I’m ready to climb to the top of the damn lighthouse.

We bought our tickets, I turned in my backpack, and off we went.

The climb up was not as scary as I remembered. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and, therefore, everything around me felt proportionate to my twenty-five year-old limbs. My heart still jumped right up into my throat every time one of the creaky old steps trembled beneath me (did I mention that there were signs throughout the museum downstairs urging patrons to donate to the restoration of the very stairs that I was walking on? comforting is a word that does not come to mind).

The thick rope banisters cut into my palms, but I still held fast. I dragged my hands along them to keep myself steady. I paused at each window, for breath and for bravery - and occasionally to question whether or not I wanted to turn around. I didn’t.

When we got to the homestretch- two steep, narrow staircases that look more like ladders -my mom climbed up ahead of me. I watched her go, holding onto the ropes for dear life. The last time I had held those ropes my hands had been much smaller, but I had been just as afraid.

I took a breath, and then a step. And then another step. And then another. I hauled myself up those two flights and stumbled, euphoric, onto the lighthouse deck.

I had done it. I had conquered my childhood fear.

As we made our way around the sweeping circle of the deck, looking out over both the ocean and the bay, I was elated. I was proud. I was ecstatic, and I was in awe. I felt unstoppable.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still scared of heights. They’re scary and I don’t like them. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is my perception of that fear. It’s not a barrier anymore - it’s a challenge. And isn’t that the way to look at fear? To let ourselves be challenged by it? Maybe. In this case, I think yes.

I walked away with a Fire Island Lighthouse tea towel for my kitchen and the knowledge that no matter what happens in Tallahassee, no matter how hard things get or how much I might want to come home, I can handle it. It’s a challenge, and I can conquer it, just like I conquered the lighthouse.

On another note, I felt new vigor for an old novel I wrote one National Novel Writing Month about an island-dwelling apocalypse survivor who lives in a lighthouse. So, two good things came out of one scary climb. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Leaving Long Island: The First Visit

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As you know from last week’s blog, I’m leaving Long Island.

I’m also documenting the journey, and the first step of that journey is visiting my new home.

The process of being admitted to school / accepting the offer was a quick one. On Wednesday, May 1st, I got a call from the school informing me I'd been admitted to their J.D. program and that my admissions packet was in the mail. I had two weeks from that phone call to give the school an answer. I spent the remainder of the week on pro/con lists, research, offer comparisons, and anxiety. When my admissions packet arrived in the mail on Monday, I felt pretty damn confident as I checked Yes, I will accept on the decision statement. The next day, I had tickets booked to fly down for an admitted students event.

Whirlwind is a word that comes to mind.

My dad used his three days off to fly with me and explore the area, which I’m extremely grateful for. We had a quick trip planned- traveling on Sunday night, spending Monday and Tuesday exploring the area, and attending the event on Wednesday before heading back home.

— SUNDAY, MAY 12. —

I clocked out of work early on Sunday to do some last minute (read: all of my) packing.

After cramming way too many clothes for a three day trip into a carry on, downloading an audiobook and a movie for the plane (who knew what I’d be in the mood for?), and triple-checking that my plane ticket was in my Apple Wallet, off we drove to JFK.

We had an 8:30pm flight to Jacksonville, where we would then pick up a rental car and make the two hour drive to Tallahassee. We got to our hotel at the wee hour of 2am, and after a good 20 hours of being awake (minus some power-napping during our travels), I crash-landed on the bed. Lights out on a long and busy Mother’s Day.

— MONDAY, MAY 13. —

After a later-than-usual wake-up and some extremely hot McDonald’s coffee, we decided to jumpstart our search for Baby’s First Apartment (am I adult enough for this? I guess I have to be). We spoke with a local police officer, who gave us some great insight on neighborhoods and complexes that would be A) in my budget and B) close enough to commute to school but far enough to escape the rowdy undergrad vibes in “college town”.  From there, we went to a couple of leasing offices.

When I say “a couple”, I mean it.

We visited two apartment complexes because I got that this is my home feeling. Before I knew it, I was filling out a rental application and measuring the distance between my new front door and the nearest supermarket. 

Have I mentioned that this process has been a whirlwind? Because, seriously, it keeps on turning. 

A little shocked (but very relieved) that the biggest item of our three-day agenda had been checked off so quickly, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We stopped by the local mall, grabbed some lunch, and ending our day with a celebratory viewing of Avengers: Endgame and a couple of beers. I’m...honestly still shocked that this happened, and happened so quickly. Someone out there is looking out for me.  

— TUESDAY, MAY 14. —

With the bulk of our itinerary handled, we really weren’t sure what to do with Day Two.

We started out by taking to 15-minute drive from our hotel to my soon-to-be apartment. From there, we checked Google Maps to see what stores were around, locate the nearest church, the post office, a DMV and started driving. We did a lot of exploring, trying to get some legwork done to make my move a little easier. Then, as an islander does, we decided to find a beach.

Siri took us to a small beach in Wakulla County, where we hung out for a bit and chatting with some locals who named some waterside restaurants to check out. We wound up at a tiki hut cafe in St. Marks, where we enjoyed some lunch by the river before heading back to the city.

After some unwinding back at the hotel, we had diner at an Italian chain we were familiar with from back home (not the Olive Garden - although even my Italian American self wouldn’t say no to those breadsticks). Then it was back to the hotel where we grabbed a few beers from the lobby marketplace and caught the end of the hockey game (who was playing? what was happening? I don’t know. I don’t understand sports. I was in it for the beer).

— WEDNESDAY, MAY 15. —

 Wednesday was the Big Day for a lot of reasons.

It started with an email from the property manager at my soon-to-be apartment complex informing me that my application had been approved and that I would officially have a 2-bed, 2-bathroom apartment come June. After paying the lease fee, we dropped by the complex to take a second look at the model unit and go over the lease. Then, it was time for the main event: Admitted Students Day.

We arrived at the school early, and were soon joined by two other prospective students and a pair of student ambassadors who had just finished their first year at the law school. We spoke with the staff in admissions, then the ambassadors gave us a campus tour on which many questions were answered, tangents were gone on, and fears alleviated (or elevated - the jury’s still out). We ended the day with a Q&A session with the school’s mock trial coordinator (a local attorney and alumnus) and the admissions directors. With our welcome packets in hand (I’m nothing if not a sucker for a free t-shirt), we thanked everyone for their time and hit the road for the two hour drive back to Jacksonville International Airport for a flight that got us back in New York at 10:00pm.

And there you have it. That was my first trip to my new city. It was eventful, to say the least. Exciting, and overwhelming, and just…a lot to take in.

Each step forward further solidifies the fact that this is real. A lot of people have asked me how I feel about that, and I don’t know when my answer will stop being, “Weird”. That’s all I’ve got for you. Excited, yes. Nervous, sure. But ultimately, if you want to know how the move makes me feel, the answer is weird.

It's Official: I'm Leaving Long Island

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It’s official. Like, officially official.

If you follow me on social media, you might know my past year has been filled with test prep and exams and scores and essays and resumes and lots and lots and lots of waiting. And, if you follow me on social media, you might also know that all that work has finally come to a crux. I’ve been accepted to law school!

This news comes with a lot of emotions- excitement, of course, but also a bit of fear and uncertainty and more than a twinge of anxiety. The school that I’ve chosen, that I’m absolutely honored to have been admitted to, is…well, not on Long Island. It’s rather far from the island, in fact. It’s nestled in the panhandle of Florida. And so, for the first time in my twenty-five years, I’m leaving the comfortable nest of my parents’ home and venturing out on my own. Cue more emotions- excitement, fear, anxiety, repeat.

This kind of move is a change I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I’m ready for it, even if it scares me. But I still feel a little sad at the thought of leaving the place that raised me.

It’s not just the fear of losing familiarity with the land around me. It’s the knowledge that Long Island is a part of me. It’s in the way I speak, and the way I don’t. It’s in the way I carry myself. It’s inspired my work. It’s taught me to respect my environment and the creatures I share it with. It’s introduced me to people and places that have shaped and changed my life in countless ways. Long Island is my home, and I think that it always will be, no matter where I live.

I knew from the start that if I was going to move away, I wanted to document the process. I know that these next few months will be a frenzy. There’s packing to do, an apartment to lease, lots of back-and-forth traveling, goodbyes (rather, see-you-laters) to be said. In between all of that, there’s a lot of room to miss moments, and I don’t want to miss a single thing.

I suppose, then, that this is the start. I’ll be blogging about the move here, as well as doing a little photo diary on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #LexLeavesLongIsland.

I invite you come on this journey with me, if you’d like to. It’s probably going to be a little weird and quite emotional, but I’m excited to embark on this next chapter of my life and to bring you all along for the ride.