Editor’s note: This is a personal narrative by Talisman writer Rachel Phelps as she reflects on her upcoming graduation from WKU. Rachel has been a Talisman web writer since fall 2016 and will be moving to South Carolina to work with Teach for America.
This semester, I took a job at a before-school program to make some extra cash. Each morning, I wake up at 5:30 a.m., grab clothing that takes minimal effort to put on, pour my coffee and head out the door in order to arrive at work by 6:15 a.m. Waking up that early never gets easier, but this has given me glimpses into Bowling Green’s early morning life that prior to this semester, I had never been privy to.
I see the same runners out every morning no matter the temperature, presumably preparing for some kind of marathon. There’s a house with a bedroom lit up in rainbow lights that wink through the curtain. And until daylight saving time ended, I witnessed each morning become bathed in sunlight a little bit earlier every day.
The drive back to my apartment after I get off at 8 a.m. is my favorite. The sun is out in all her glory, and more and more residents of Bowling Green are beginning their day. I drive by Spencer’s Coffee, which is only host to a few early risers at this hour. Students walk up College Street to their classes, and Cherry Hall proudly stands at the top to greet them, washed in a soft morning glow.
I’ve never had to consistently wake up this early in college before this semester. Even when I had early classes, I was never up before the sun. And maybe this is just my nostalgia talking, what with graduation happening in just a few weeks, but seeing Bowling Green in a way I never have before is beautiful.
When I graduated high school and prepared to come to WKU, I was ready. The feelings I had for my hometown were the same as any small town survivor: You hate it, you love it and when anyone other than another local insults it, you breathlessly and passionately defend it. Somerset would always be my hometown, but it had ceased to feel like home. I was ready to plant my roots somewhere else, and that somewhere else was Bowling Green.
As I prepare to move to South Carolina after graduation, I’m waiting to feel the same thing about Bowling Green as I felt about Somerset: a home that no longer felt like home. As maudlin as it seems, this feeling helped my transition from Somerset to Bowling Green become a lot easier. I was aching to leave. But as I drink in the sun coming up over the horizon every morning on my way back from work, my feet become even more planted in this place, and the aching I feel this time is an ache to stay.
Transitioning from high school to college is hard when you move away from home, and I was nervous, but I took comfort in knowing that college would still provide structure and have predetermined paths to traverse. I can’t find that same solace as I prepare to graduate college.
Yes, I know what I’m doing, and yes, I have a good job lined up, but the real world isn’t something I can measure in course catalogs and iCAP reports. I knew how many times I would wake up at 5 a.m. to schedule classes. I don’t know how to measure my life after May 12, when I will have a brief few weeks of rest before packing up my entire life and moving to begin a job in a new town that I will become acquainted with through the sunrises I’ll see on my way to work each morning.
It took me four years to see Bowling Green the way I’ve seen it over the past couple of months, both literally and figuratively. If this has taught me anything, it’s that I want to begin my time in South Carolina the way I’m ending it in Kentucky: slowly washed and coming to life under a soft morning sun.