As someone who has lived in Gainesville since she was seven years old, I can attest to the fact that coming to UF as an Alachua County Resident (ACR) is an emotionally draining trek. When accepting my slot at the University of Florida two years ago, I did not realize that going off to college was not going to be the freeing and life-altering adventure I imagined it to be. When I went to college, a new chapter of my life did not begin.
Instead, going to college in the town where I grew up feels like I am stuck re-reading the same chapter in a book while waiting to move onto the next one, and I have no idea when I will ever get to read a new page. If you talk to anyone from Gainesville who came to UF, they will tell you that you experience a different side of the city, and while this is true, your emotions, your trauma and everything from your ACR adolescence haunts you as you drive past the same places and see blasts from the past every day.
In my first semester of college, I struggled to make new friends because I kept hanging out with my two best friends from high school. I was constantly annoyed with myself because I knew I wanted to make new friends, but as an ACR, it was just too easy to hang out with the same people I had been with for the past four years. When going to college in your hometown, it’s harder to branch out socially because it is comforting to stay with what you know while changing your academic environment.
On the other hand, when I finally broke from my shell, being an ACR worked to my advantage when making friends. Because I knew so much about the Gainesville area and had access to a car and a house, people would always ask me questions about the city or for rides. I was able to make friends with those that did.
However, as I drive around town, I drive by all of my exes’ houses, the place I had my first date, my old dance studio, and my old high school — all of which are reminders of painful memories of my past.
I can’t drive past Lincoln Park without thinking about my first love. I can’t go to Payne’s Prairie without remembering how I used to go there with my friends from high school that I don’t see anymore. I can’t even go to Library West without remembering the summer I spent there scouring the shelves for books about jealousy and relationships while at a high school summer camp with a broken heart.
When I went to choreograph a dance at my old high school last year, looking at the familiar spaces and faces and smelling the teenage sweat brought me back to every new and broken relationship I experienced in the auditorium. I looked into the faces of people who were friends with my foes and felt trapped. In my anxious mind, I was surrounded by people who hated me and disrespected me simply because they reminded me of my past.
Sometimes I feel like this entire town is trapping me here as someone I no longer want to be.
All of these places for people who are not ACRs experience it for the first time and enjoy the fresh memories, but I can never visit without being sucked back into the body of my 16-year-old self.
Whenever I see people from high school working at a restaurant or a store in the mall, which happens year-round rather than while summering at home for me, I just think back to how people treated me in high school and who I was back then.
Staying here for college was the best option for me, personally, and the University of Florida is an amazing school. I love my classes, my sorority, my professors and my new friends, and I value all of the new experiences I have had.
But every new experience is overshadowed by my past. It is hard for me to grow and become the best version of myself while I am stuck in a place that holds who I used to be. Every time I think I am moving on I drive by a place that makes me remember. Without the change of location for attending college, I have not been able to forget the pain of my past and grow into my true self.
Instead, as a Gainesville resident, I attend UF while still waiting for the day when I can walk past a building, go to a restaurant or hang out at the park and not feel vulnerable and broken like I did in high school.
As I drive down the same roads and walk past the same places, I hear the “Tangled” song lyric “When will my life begin?” playing in my head. The reality of going to school here at UF after growing up in Gainesville is you feel like you are in limbo, waiting for your life to start.