I've been holding off on this post for a few days now because I don't want to believe that this week is over. When I left for Illinois State last Thursday, I barely knew what STLF was, nevermind the fact that it would change my life forever. I began my adventure thinking that I would sit in the same seat every day, listening to the music on my iPod, doing service when we stopped, and sleeping uncomfortably for the next nine days. But man, as I've said before...
I was beyond wrong.
The next morning, I woke up on the comfy couch that I had, at some point, fallen asleep on. Abe had told me to wake him up in fifteen minutes, but him sleeping made me sleepy, so I fell asleep too. When I woke up, I went about my usual business of getting ready for the day, knowing full well where I would be when the night ended. We loaded the buses, and today I sat next to Erin. She was the first one I met from the mystery bus the night that the UNI committee rolled into Normal. Her free spirit had inspired me from a distance, and I'm sad that we only got to know each other on the last day possible. But our chat was still one of the best and deepest I had during the week. I scrambled to finish my Yeah Buddies as best I could, stupidly saving the hard ones for last.
We stopped for lunch at a Subway en route, and the last person I had the privilege of sitting with was my one and only accountabilibuddy, even though I had so many more people that I wanted to talk to before I didn't have the opportunity anymore. Sorry to those whom I didn't get to...we should definitely talk sometime :) We did an activity called 45 Things, in which each person was to bring 45 of the same small item to give to everyone on the bus. These were to serve as reminders of the friends we made and the great times we had on the trip. I received so many amazing items that I will keep forever, but I plan to eat all the candy once Easter rolls around! Don't worry, I'll think of everyone while I'm devouring it. Anyway, I chose to give everyone a UNI pen to remember me by. I obviously love to write, but it's also something practical - to be used every day or especially when writing letters to me! :) These simple pens are a gigantic understatement of how much they all gave to me, though, and I wish I could give them the world for all they've done and how much they've affected my life.
45 items, about two hours, and 30 Yeah Buddies later, and we were in Normal, Illinois again. We played the bus song loud and proud for everyone to sing along and share in one last moment of togetherness. I thought it would be hard to finish up my Yeah Buddies at this time, but the more I thought about these few that meant the most to me, the more I realized that I don't need to write a lot to express all that I feel. I knew the the ones that were closest to me would stay that way, so what else was there to say besides "talk to you later"? Nothing. So I scribbled down a few words on the last couple and joined in the amazing last stretch of road we had together.
We all got out and took a quick bus picture, then all tried to pile back in at the same time to get our stuff. Mine was sporadically spread throughout the overhead compartments, and I'm pretty sure I forgot a few things, but I know they're in safe hands if I did. I gave lots of hugs and assurances to be back soon, and everyone couldn't wait to get back home to take showers and do laundry. I held up really, really well until Clare gave me a hug goodbye. I don't know what it is about her that makes me break down at the thought of leaving, but it happens and it's a beautiful thing, nonetheless. The other buses weren't due to roll in for another hour and a half, so Brian, Ashley, Ashley, Ashley (haha), and Connor found a place for my things and showed me around campus for a while. It was a beautiful day, they have a beautiful campus, and I thought everything about the slow walk was just absolutely beautiful (I love that word). We enjoyed each other's company for the last time in a while, eating peanut butter and jelly crackers, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate them.
As we walked to the place where this fantasy would finally end, I held my accountabilibuddy's hand in a desperate plea for her and the rest to come with me. Looking back on it now, I wish I had held on and never let go. They said their goodbyes, and I stayed together smoothly, but as they walked away, we shared one last (and completely cliche) glance across a courtyard, and I just about lost it again. Thinking about it now, sitting here in my room watching the rain come down from the ominous sky, my eyes well up with emotion, and my head spins from the moments that are only memories to me now.
Life After STLF
Today, the sky was a perfect shade of blue, and the grass is beginning to regain its color from the mild winter we had here in Iowa. It was a wonderful 75 and sunny most of the day, and I wore my bus shirt around campus, strutting my new tan and 137 bug bites. Yep, 137. Calamine and Benadryl Gel. I couldn't concentrate in any of my classes, and homework is a complete bust until I spill my thoughts into this last post. My mind is so preoccupied on the 44 I left behind that my professors, friends, and roommates could even tell. It's like an STLF high, and I'll be on cloud nine for a while.
Sometimes it gets to me that all the relationships that blossomed on the trip are continuing where they are, live and in person, and how much I wish I could be there for every family dinner, cookout, and random sighting on campus. But here I am, listening to the gentle rain tap at my window, wondering if they're thinking about me just as I am them. Really, there's so reason to be sad at the fact that we're separated because with the help of technology, I'm always there. Our hearts and minds share the same memories, and we'll always have the bond of the nine days on a bus to keep us together. Nothing can take that away from us.
So I guess the only thing left to say is thank you. Thank you to each and every one of the people who have made this trip such a success for me. No one experienced this trip in the same way, and I have to say that I'll definitely be spreading the love and Paying it Forward here at UNI. I've already caught myself saying things like "Gerrrt it!" to friends and people in my classes. It's a little awkward sometimes. :)
Thank you to David, Cori, Krisy, and Lauren for being the best bus core I could ask for, and thank you to Bryan, Ciera, Katie, Abe, Eric, Shelby, Alyssa, Ashley M., Clare, Jess, Angie, Alex, Connor, Erin, Anabel, Stephanie, Lyndsie, Diana, Braedyn, Ashley F., Ashley K., Taylor, Lindsay M., Tori, Amanda, Sarah, Katrina, Joe, Nick, Molly, Melissa, Brian, Cindy, Cameron, Nicole, Lindsay C., Chase, Ramo, Caleb, Brittany, and last but not least, Larry, for making my adventure more than I ever expected or imagined. I love each and every one of you, and I hope this beautiful bond that we have created may always be unchanging.
It's never goodbye, it's always see you later.
"Best friends isn't being inseparable, it's being separated and nothing changes."