A Goodbye Letter to Me

Kassidi McKayla Kaminski is a sophomore studying Psychology in the Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin. After graduation she hopes to attend law school and is currently a member of Delta Gamma and a Young Life leader at Reagan High School.

COLLEGE DAZE | Writing The Next Chapter | By Kassidi McKayla Kaminski –

As I sped down Highway 36 and passed the “Welcome to Fort Bend County” sign by Brazos High School, I turned off my Spotify music and smiled, grateful to return to the territory of my old home radio stations. But as I clicked through my presets, my smile faded. I didn’t recognize any of the songs on the radio. I had never heard of the movies advertised on the stations, and Fort Bend County news shocked me. I realized that I didn’t listen to the radio at college, I didn’t have time for television or movies, and the only news relevant to me was that in Austin. I felt like a stranger in my own hometown.

Sibling support at Homecoming 2015: Kolton and Kassidi Kaminski.

I was returning for my high school’s homecoming game. My brother Kolton had been elected to Homecoming Court, and my two best high school friends flew in from their out-of-state schools for the occasion. I drove past all the familiar sights – my grandparents’ house, my family’s daycare businesses, my favorite hospitals (yes, I’ve been to enough hospitals to have favorites) – until I finally arrived at the two-story English Tudor I grew up in. It’s old and simple and surrounded by large oak trees that trigger my family’s allergies. It’s the place I know and remember the best. The good and the bad, the happy and sad: it all began here.

It’s comforting that I still know the rules and routines here. I bang the front door with my left hip before pulling it forward; otherwise it won’t unlock. I still know better than to toss my backpack on the furniture in the living room because Mom will have a fit. The upstairs A/C weirdly concentrates in my room, so I rush upstairs to open my bedroom door and let the cold air out. My brother’s bathroom never has soap, and I walk slower on the fifth stair because it always trips me up. These are the things I do without thinking. At first, it doesn’t take much effort to be home and to live like I did for 14 years.

But in some ways, these idiosyncrasies now make me a foreigner in my family’s home. I can’t come home too late at night because the hip-banging on the front door will awake my parents. I’m not allowed to touch the thermostat now that my brother lives alone upstairs and has his preferred temperature. I don’t leave my stuff in the living room, but my mom apparently feels free to cram my closet with various random items: sports accolades, picture frames, etc.  My room doesn’t seem to belong to me now. My brother often comments, “You don’t have a say because you don’t live here anymore,” immediately squashing all my hopes of inclusion. I am a guest here – a role I still don’t quite know how to play.

Kassidi and Patti Kaminski at 2017 Delta Gamma Mom’s Weekend Brunch at the University of
Texas at Austin.

My mom, brother and I pile into Mom’s black Mercedes and follow the familiar path to my old school. When we round the corner to find parking, the nausea hits me. My eyes lock on the faces of teachers, which drive me instantly into a retroactive state of my high school self.

In high school I was the smart and friendly girl who never got in trouble. Teachers, coaches and parents adored me and put me on the highest pedestal. I took all of the honors classes, played all of the sports and won all of the awards; I was untouchable. But in college, I struggled to make an A. I went to frat parties and got reprimanded by a cop for swimming in the UT fountain once. I wore shorts that stopped well above my kneecaps (scandalous!) and sleeveless dresses (inappropriate!). In that moment, I made a mental list of every choice I had made in college thus far and regretted them instantly (even the ones that truthfully weren’t that bad). I was scared of my old teachers’ disapproval and the interrogations they would give me.

As we navigated the crowds and made our rounds of hellos, I noticed some things. I stood straighter than normal and rested my folded hands in front of me. My voice reached a higher, childish pitch, and my words sounded forced and scholarly. I was shelving the person I had become in college and squeezing myself into an old costume that looked familiar but now pinched in several places.

Later that night, sleep evaded me. I tossed and turned for hours; my old mattress wasn’t comfortable anymore. I stared at my white ceiling and felt as if I were morphing into the high school girl I used to be – the girl who suffered nightly from insomnia and terrible nightmares, the girl who cried herself to sleep over a guy’s mistreatment of her, the girl who felt numb and empty after another night of family drama. I didn’t want to be this girl again. College was the remedy I needed to move on from this girl.

Every return home now reproduces the same experience. So many terrible events have happened in the past few years that make my home feel more like a time machine prison than a refuge. This place houses the memories of my dog Boomer’s death, my own multiple surgeries and long recuperation on the couch and the tragic death of my brother’s best friend. Coming home leaves me feeling helpless and confused. My home is a museum of my darkest days, and I pay the cost of admission heavily every time I visit.

What troubles me the most is the fact that these bad memories overshadow so many of my happiest memories at home. I used to love waking up on Saturday mornings, because that meant watching Disney cartoons with my dad and suiting up for a softball game. On Sundays, after a long bike ride or a movie marathon in the afternoon, my dad would grill, and as a family we would watch 60 Minutes and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. My brother and I spent many afternoons swinging on our playset and making up songs. I remember the magical feelings of Christmas and Easter mornings and my restless anticipation the night before. To me these memories encompass childhood innocence. They are nostalgic and pure and sweet for reflection, but they are overshadowed by some truly awful memories.

But I grew up and out of that bittersweet mold. I’m no longer the child seeing the magic in holiday seasons or the girl making the perfect grades in high school. Life happened, tragedies struck, and I went to college. I don’t like the fact that I’m not allowed to adjust the thermostat, and I hate the new color my mom painted the living room walls. But I bite my tongue and accept that I am, as Kolton reminds me, a guest in my own home.

I won’t ever forget the girl who still lives there, locked away in my family’s treasury of good (and bad) memories. She helped sew my new costume and gave me permission to go out and wear it. This new college costume will eventually need remaking, too. I hope the girl I am now will learn how to let out the seams. Much of the material is still good; it’s the fabric of my life.