By Allie Kaylor
My entire life, I have had one goal: get out of Ohio. When I moved into my college dorm in New York on August 21, 2019, I thought I had finally achieved that goal. No more high school. No more nagging siblings. And certainly no more Ohio.
I was wrong.
On March 13, I was back in Ohio, back in the house I had lived in for 18 years.
“Why don’t you take the dog for a walk across the street,” my mom suggested. I hadn’t seen him in months. He’s old as hell and completely deaf, but there are few things in the world that he appreciates more than a nice walk. The other side of the street has a sidewalk and a wide greenspace, making it the perfect location to walk a dog in our area.
I clip the leash to his collar and lead him out the door. A lot has changed since the last time I took him out.
One step — I’m in seventh grade, trying to bother my friend while he’s doing homework. Another boy, who I had long considered a friend, says “Stop trying. He hates you Allie. Everyone fucking hates you.” Two steps — I’m in eighth grade, sitting alone at lunch. One of the lunch staff comes up to me to try to start a conversation while I’m reading. Usually I try to engage with her, but I had had a bad day that day and wasn’t interested in talking. She dismisses me early. Three steps — I’m in ninth grade, walking around Magic Kingdom by myself on our marching band trip to Disney. One of my only other friends in the band wanted to spend the day with her mom, and no one else wanted to spend the day with me. Four steps — now I’m waltzing along to a silent tune at the school dances I was never invited to.
The other side of the street might as well be a completely different universe than the place I had spent the previous half year of my life. Gone were all the late nights spent with friends, bouncing from house to house, meeting people we’d never see again. Ohio had no alcohol stained carpets, no sidewalks saturated with the scent of marijuana, no wide-eyed, half-dressed freshmen experiencing their first taste of freedom. I was never much of a partier, but in that moment on the other side of the street, there was nothing I missed more than walking down Euclid Avenue late on a Friday night, living moments I would never get back.
I spent a lot of my freshmen year learning how to be myself. I learned my likes and dislikes, what I like to do in my free time, and how I interact with other people. Prior to August 21, 2019, I was always whatever was convenient to the people around me. This tended to be quiet, passive, and doing everything possible to not bring attention to my existence. At the lunch table my senior year, I never spoke unless spoken to, even when they were making fun of me to each other; if I spoke out of turn, there were consequences.
“I have four times as many followers as you do,” I laughed when someone at the table was bragging that they were “Twitter famous” for getting 100 likes on a Tweet. All eyes were on me, staring like they had witnessed me pull out a gun and shoot him in the chest. I realized that I had made a horrible mistake.
“Well at least I have friends in real life,” he immediately snapped back, each word cutting me like a knife, reminding me that he was doing me a service by even allowing me to sit at the same table as him. I didn’t dare say anything back—there was nothing TO say back. I stared down at my half-eaten pizza and empty milk carton, replaying that brief interaction over and over in my head as the rest of the table continued talking like nothing had happened. I couldn’t even try to follow what they were saying. All I could focus on were those nine words. Each one hurt more than the last. And I knew he meant every single one.
Just over a year later, I was at school at a house party hosted by someone that wrote for the school paper, which I was also a staffer for. Everyone here was friends with each other. They had worked together for years. I was sitting around the outside of the circle, listening to the conversation, but, like always, not participating. I didn’t mind listening—I learned a lot about the people that were talking, something that would come in handy if I ever had an actual conversation with them. As I was taking mental notes on my colleagues, someone I had spoken to only once before sat beside me and handed me a beer.
“You don’t talk a lot,” he said. “Have a drink.”
“I’m a much better writer than talker,” I replied, not wanting to dig into my entire high school experience in the first real conversation I had ever had with this person. Not many people had taken an interest in my life before, so someone I didn’t know making the effort to talk me was completely foreign. This was coming a year after someone invited our entire color guard team to an after-homecoming party, telling the invitees “If anyone invites Allie, I’ll chop your fucking head off.” Now, not only was I invited to a party, I was welcome there.
Walking down the familiar streets of my neighborhood, all I could think about was what it was like the last time I was here. Crying in the car while driving home from school. Using these walks to reflect on the horrible things people had said to me that week. The constant pit in my stomach every single moment I spent in this township for six straight years.
“Ohio isn’t the problem, it’s high school,” my mom would always remind me. “You like us, you like your friends, you just want to be independent. There’s plenty to like about Ohio.”
I crossed again to the other side of the street, bad memories haunting every step.
Allie is a newspaper and online journalism major with a sport analytics minor. On campus, she works as an assistant sports editor at the Daily Orange and a producer at CitrusTV.