I was sitting in a cold, cushion-less patio chair, shifting my weight from one side to the other, shivering slightly from the cool spring breeze. I was anxious and uncomfortable–mostly because that chair really shouldn't be used without a pillow of some sort–but also because I couldn't keep this secret anymore; I needed to tell someone. And if it was going to be anyone at all, it was going to be him because he wouldn't judge me. Or, at least, he wouldn't judge me as much as everyone else.
"I have something to tell you," I said.
I didn't wait for the slight panic in my high school boyfriend's eyes to register before I nervously followed with, "I think I want to go to culinary school."
And there it was: my future, lingering in front of us – waiting.
But he didn't miss a beat. "That's awesome!"
With an are-you-so-sure-about-that expression slapped across my face, I immediately started questioning him, daring him to wonder how that was a viable career option or where culinary school would take me in life. But he didn't, and the longer we talked about it the more real it became.
I was going to become a baker. And that was okay.
I don't remember when I changed my mind.
It was early junior year when I visited the Culinary Institute of America with my mom. CIA was the first of two schools I was looking at that day, and we had woken up at the crack of dawn to drive up to Hyde Park. I didn't even sleep much in the car because the sound of the pouring rain was that loud.
But when we arrived to the school, my heart jumped.
You know that feeling when you just know? About that guy you've been texting, or that apartment you just found, or the college you thought you fell in love with the minute you stepped foot onto its campus? That was me and CIA: obsession at first sight.
But a few months later, something changed. One minute I was dreaming of wearing a chef's jacket, and the next I was touring campuses in the South.
Culinary school wasn't something you were supposed to do. At least, not where I'm from.
In my hometown, not going to college isn't an option. It's not something you earn the right to attend, or think twice about. Getting a degree is a part of life, simply the next step after high school.
"You don't want a normal college experience?"
"Aren't you afraid of what you might miss out on?"
"What happens if you change your mind, what will you have to fall back on?"
I wasn't strong enough then to withstand the pressures that society placed on me. My future was already mapped out - why else would I have grown up in that town? But they didn't get it; that I could be someone other than who everyone else was, who everyone was supposed to be.
So I gave in. I looked at colleges. I stared at lists of potential majors for hours, trying to convince myself that my future awaited in one of those categories.
But even then, in the back of my mind, I knew I wouldn't find it there.
My FOMO (the fear of missing out) was real.
And honestly? I was scared. Mostly of making the wrong decision.
It's a big burden to bear as an 18 year old: choosing your identity. Thinking back, how was I supposed to know who I was meant to be? And why the hell does the world think I was ready to tell society to fuck off–let me be me–when I'm not even allowed to legally drink alcohol?
So I couldn't do it. I couldn't flip off my friend's parents who judged me, family members who scoffed when I said I didn't need money to make me happy, and a possible education that would guarantee me a good, safe life.
And part of me wanted that life. Facebook made it especially hard to ignore that fact.
"It's the four best years of your life," they said.
So I went.
And you know what? I wouldn't trade those four years for the world. But all the while I still had a lingering drive to wear that white jacket. And now?
I finally am. And I wouldn't trade this life for anything, either.