Six months in and I finally got a chance to catch my breath.

The first semester in Texas was exhausting. Needless to say, between the relentless rush from school to crew to homework and back, the excitement—and fear—of new people and places, and just the chronic state of sleep deprivation seemingly endemic among juniors, I was ready for a break by the time December rolled around, bringing with it California.

We flew out the 27th for six hectic, over-scheduled days of skiing and visiting.

Tahoe was as beautiful as always and made up for last year’s lackluster performance by dumping snow on us.

We visited some friends, missed others regrettably, skied all day and stayed up far too late at night. It was a fun but emotionally exhausting experience.

I don’t think I got the chance to slow down until the last day, when we made a spur-of-the-moment detour to Country Day.

We pulled into the parking lot and climbed out to explore the familiar sprawl of the campus.

As the gray afternoon light faded, we walked through the high school, admiring the improvements, the newly polished and professional look of the fresh paint, new windows and awnings. The quad looked revitalized, inviting and clean (though that might have been the absence of students). I loved all the improvements, the attention and care the high school had long needed and deserved, yet I didn’t feel connected to them.

This wasn’t my quad, filled with scattered backpacks and chattering friends; it was empty, pristine and foreign. The windows were closed, doors locked, lights out and shades tightly drawn. Not even the ever-watchful Mr. Wells was there to pop his head out his classroom window and call cheerfully across the lawn to unsuspecting passersby.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. Not some fanfare, to be sure, but, at the very least, a sense of homecoming, of belonging.

Some naïve part of me expected to slip back into the familiar embrace of Country Day, to pick up where I’d left off as though nothing had changed.

In hindsight, it was probably better to visit an empty campus; it kept things in perspective.

That breezy, overcast afternoon at Latham was, in a way, emblematic of my entire time in California. Visiting Tahoe and Sacramento was wonderful in the whirlwind of reunions, catch-ups, and reminiscings, but between these golden moments I was coming to some realizations.

I love California. My time at Country Day, my teachers and friends there, shaped me irrevocably and I’ll never forget that.

But I’m not who I was six months ago, and neither is anyone else. It’s disorienting, really, but it’s also liberating.

The juniors are now seniors, consumed with college apps. Last year’s seniors have moved on to college—Country Day is so last year to them.

For me, the changes are bigger, broader, and still very much in progress. Right now, I’m not exactly sure where I stand—I still have trouble describing the John Cooper School with pronouns that include myself, and I’ve forgotten my address in several embarrassingly public situations. I’m certainly not a Texan, but I’m not a Californian anymore.

The next time I fly west I don’t think I can honestly say that I’m headed home.

But though the school may be different, relationships changed and my perspective shifted, I do know that I’ll always be able to say that I’m headed to see people I love in a place that helped make me who I am.

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