There is something strangely sad about watching cars drive away, especially ones you know well. It is that feeling of an almost-loss, like you are teetering at the edge of the realization that the car is too far away to call back. Soon, it will turn the corner and you will no longer be able to run alongside it like someone from a movie, arms waving, legs pumping, yelling through the window—take me back with you. In that moment, you will transform from someone who is being delivered somewhere to someone left behind; the people in the car will transform from the family you live with to the family you’ve moved away from. A two-way exchange of leaving and being left, a feeling that sours into something close to emptiness if you look at it too long.

On the same trip that my family took me to college, they took me from home. Like a small fish transported carefully into a big pond, I slipped out of one ecosystem and into another, introduced into waters where there were more fish and more buildings and a whole campus I didn’t know how to navigate.

When I was little, I heard a story about fish and streams and dragons, a path of swimming up waterfalls and leaping into the light. If a carp could swim up the Yellow River of China and hop over the waterfall, they could become a dragon. Longmen, or the Dragon’s Gate, they call it. It can symbolize many different things—civil service exams, ascending up the social ladder, getting accepted into a university. In the college journey, this path has become less of a myth and more of an expectation piled high by parents and grandparents, teachers and friends. It is the promise of going upstream and becoming something more.

I remember this story here as I sit on my bed in my dorm, reflecting on the way in which I lay cupped in a bubble formed by my parents’ hands the past nineteen years of my life; now their fingers have opened and I swim free into a world where I am a small fish in a big pond full of dragons. I think I came here with the expectation that I would somehow expand in this space and unfurl into the role of college student, finding a home in this place I’ve dreamt of all my life. But I remain the little fish I was in my parents’ home, swimming frantic circles around a college campus too big to remember. I’m still the kid staring after the car driving away, waving until it passes out of view, half-realizing in the moment that it isn’t turning back.

I know that there will always be a home for me in the little pond of my parents’ house, that sphere where I went to elementary school through high school, where I got my first job at the park down the street. That bedroom will always be there for me with its memories and its comfort, the feeling of belonging sunk deep with nineteen years of living. It is a place to come back to, a place to return. Somewhere I will never completely leave behind because it holds my entire lifetime within its walls.

But I think it might be time for me to put down new roots in this ecosystem, to take on an active role in a new place. I am walking amongst giants, mingling with dragons. I come face to face with professors I’ve only read about online and I meet people in the halls who will change my life. Even though I’m still a small fish in a new place, this is my opportunity to grow.

So I am charging upwards along the Yellow River; I am trudging up the Hill. I am holding my breath just a minute more, ready to break the surface, swimming for the light. One day I will get there and say, I swam amongst dragons. And I became one too

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