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Authentic Eagles: Kelley Orcutt On Leaving

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Kelley Orcutt, A&S ’14

Leaving is like trying to take the right picture. It’s looking over your shoulder—attempting to capture the moment as it really was. It is the goodbyes I said in driveways when high school was over.  Getting in a car and pulling onto the turnpike, not knowing what would be on the other end of six hours from Jersey to Chestnut Hill.  It is the Atlantic Ocean in my rearview at the end of each Cape summer. It is my parents moving to Connecticut and walking through my empty childhood home for the last time. Opening a time capsule on my porch that the neighborhood boys and I buried seven years before, and reading Stephen’s note aloud, knowing he’ll never get to read it himself. It is the day I left for abroad, so distracted by the sight of my Mom crying on the other end of security that I forgot to take off my shoes or remove my laptop from my carry-on.   It is finals ending and my roommates packing up their things in our temporary homes in Cushing, Walsh, 2000 and (soon) Iggy. It is letters that say the things we couldn’t say every day, hoping that somehow our words might hold the things that we felt in place.

Leaving is reluctantly peeling our fingertips away from the people and places that we most want to hold close. Because it’s not so much the act of leaving, itself, that makes it so hard. It's not shutting a car door, handing a flight attendant your boarding pass, or returning your rented cap-and-gown. Instead, it is the thousand moments beforehand, in which we’re already saying goodbye; the anticipation of the everyday things disappearing. Things we didn’t fully appreciate before.

Like how starting my day with a Hillside Omelet and Sorwar’s unfailing smile made Statistics at 11 AM a little brighter. Or how I never laugh harder than when I’m listening to my roommates recount their nights when we lay around our common room on weekend mornings. Or how the steady rhythm of the entire mass holding hands and saying the Our Father at 10:15 on Sunday nights feels like peace. Or how BC’s green roofs look so damn good against a blue sky—on the rare occasion that the sun comes out.

Leaving makes us see the things we were unwilling to see before. It also makes us do the things we might not have done had there been more time to waste. At the end of the fall semester of my Junior year, I was getting ready to go abroad to Parma, Italy. I’ve been dying to live in Italy since I started taking Italian my freshman year of high school. But when the time finally came for me to say goodbye to BC, I was conflicted.

I had been denying feelings for one of my close guy friends for most of that semester—even to myself. But with two weeks to go, leaving put me in the emotional headlock that forced me to act on how I felt. Thankfully, he felt the same way. I let myself fall head over heels for him, and for a couple months, we were nauseatingly happy.

But while leaving gave me this incredible relationship, it also took it away. A month after I arrived in Parma, the shine wore off and he ended things.

Sometimes leaving means losing. I'll never forget the blunt pain of being totally unable to change his mind. Like grasping at air-- reaching for something thousands of miles away. Something that I had probably lost days before he had even hinted at an ending. I had never been so heartbroken over a guy. Worse though was that a friend, who had once said he couldn’t imagine his life without me, soon became a stranger. Before Parma, I didn't understand that leaving means giving up control of the life you left. There is no pressing pause. Things change without you.

That's the bad stuff—the inalienable truths of leaving. Saying goodbye will always suck.  Relationships will sometimes fall apart. People will often say things they don’t mean. These are things I could've learned from any half-decent chick flick. They are nothing surprising, and there is something strangely comforting about the universality and predictability of all the shitty parts of leaving.

Given the chance to do it over again, I would get on that plane every single time. If I hadn’t, I never would’ve experienced the entirely unpredictable gifts of leaving.

Like a homestay mother who wiped away my tears the night I got dumped and put me to bed with a bottle of brandy, a chocolate bar, and a kiss—a woman with a greater capacity for love than anyone I have met in this world. Or a homestay grandmother, who let me walk her to bed each night, who called me “la bionda” and who cursed that foolish boy as a “stupid fisherman” for no reason at all, except that it made me laugh. Like the new friends: the friend that stayed up with me all night in a hostel in Barcelona when I got food poisoning, the friend who I could sit with for hours each day heart-to-hearting over cappuccinos after Italian class, and the friend who I shared a room with, who I will always consider family. And finally, all the places, paintings, and pasta that each, in their own way, took my breath away.

Leaving added fifteen pounds and a million joys to the person that I am today. I would trade that for nothing.

As my final weeks at BC wind down to days, a stubborn part of me still refuses to accept that I could ever be happy in a world where my best friends aren’t a wall away, where Jesuits aren’t an essential part of my day-to-day life, and where my Sunday nights don’t end with the chorus of “We are One Body.” But while the daily goodbyes and the anticipation of May 19th slowly breaks my heart in a way that no boy ever will, I understand now that leaving can also mean a new life with more people to love and more things to learn—if you let it.

My homestay mother, Nice, taught me many things during my five months in Parma, but perhaps the most wonderful thing she taught me was the word riabbracciare. Riabbracciare literally means “to hug again.” Whenever I felt homesick, Nice used this word to explain to me that sometimes in our life it is important for us to leave the people we love. If we never left them, she said, we could never experience one of the greatest joys in life—to hold a loved one in our arms after a long time of being without them.

Leaving gives us the chance to hug again. Though many of the people I hold dear are about to start their new lives in Louisiana, South Carolina, Ecuador, and a million other places with warmer weather than Boston, I know what seeing them again will look like.

All arrival gates look the same, and I’ve held each of them in my arms enough times to know that they’re not going anywhere.

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