by Doug Ferguson|
My life began again two weeks ago in a Chapel Hill restaurant. Lifting my glass in the air, I raised a toast to my future in another city. I raised a toast to a new beginning. I raised a toast to a new life.
The two people sitting across from me smiled and ordered more wine. Their goal had been fulfilled. I hadn't planned on accepting their job offer that night, but the thought of moving far away from this place had proven irresistible to me. I almost could hear the rattle of elevated trains and the lonely squeals of gulls spinning out over the waters of Lake Michigan as I sealed my fate with a single sip of dry red wine.
We sat outside on the patio of Henry's Bistro, enjoying the dull warmth that slowly filled our stomachs. It was clear that the significance of this night was not recognized by the two young law partners who were picking up the tab. To them, this moment was just the conclusion of a year of interviews and summer internships -- the successful termination of countless letters and phone calls designed to woo me into working 60-hour weeks behind mountains of books and files.
To me, however, this moment was not just a happy ending -- the culmination of 20 years of schooling and 24 years of life in North Carolina -- this moment also represented a new beginning. It was one of those rare moments when I was presented with the opportunity to remake myself in a different image. How could I let it pass me by?
As the white lights lining the trellis beside our table winked at me above the shoulders of my new employers, I couldn't help but think of the last time I had begun anew in this town. It was fall semester 1989, and my parents had just dropped me off by the curb at Hinton James Residence Hall.
On that day more than six years ago, I had been even more excited than I was at this moment. The feeling I had as my father's van pulled slowly out of sight was like nothing I have experienced since. It was liberation. Freedom. A chance to finally discover who I really was. A chance to let others get to know that Doug Ferguson, the college freshman, was to be nothing like Doug Ferguson, the high school senior.
Now that I'm seeking to escape this place where I've spent so much of my life, it's ironic to think that Chapel Hill once symbolized a new beginning for me -- the place where I would leave behind the constraints of my youth. But that is exactly what the town represented to me on that hot August day when I first looked out over the UNC campus from my tiny ninth-floor dorm room.
I had no way of predicting then what changes would occur in me. That I would come out of the closet, fall in love, experience the joy that being true to myself for the very first time would bring. I also couldn't foresee the heartache of losing friends I had yet to even meet, or of the sleepless nights I would spend agonizing over countless small injustices.
I've changed a lot in this place -- mostly for the better. I've grown six years older and a hell of a lot wiser, and I have the unique nature of Chapel Hill to thank for the many great experiences I've had. But although the campus is just as beautiful as it was six years ago, and my heart still stirs every time I hear James Taylor sing the praises of Carolina, I know the time soon will soon come for me to move on.
When that time does arrive this spring, I will leave behind a place that has had an undeniable influence on shaping who I've become. I'll bring with me many memories of events that will never be forgotten. Chapel Hill will be a part of me always.
In that sense, I guess, my 'new beginning' won't come about without being shaped by old times. But that doesn't diminish the opportunity I have to create a new me. That doesn't dim the excitement I have for this opportunity I have to start all over again.
Maybe it's because I chose to stay here for so long while many of my friends moved on to different cities and different schools. Maybe it's because I have accomplished all that I can here, and I yearn for the new challenges that I will face in a different place. Or maybe it's just because I desire to grow even more as a person, to change the things I don't like without being bound by the expectations of old friends and old responsibilities.
But for whatever the reason, the streets of Chicago now call out to me in the same way that Carolina's tree-covered campus once beckoned to me not too very long ago. The new beginning is no longer here, it's elsewhere -- 14 hours across winding highways to the shores of Lake Michigan.
Here's to the future! Here's to a new city! Here's to new roads to travel!
If the last six years are any indication, I can expect quite an amazing ride.