Juandering Out Loud: An Exercise in the Inevitability of Saying Goodbye

The author, Dallas senior Juan G. Rodriguez, looks out across a lake at a lighthouse in the distance. Lighthouses, in Rodriguez’s mind, are fixtures amidst an ever-changing, ever-fluid environment – one of the few things he can focus on amid a tumultuous period in his life (Illustration by Phoebe Holm).

These last four years have been an exercise in inevitability.

I started college knowing I’d see it through, no matter what got in my way. And it’s not just me; my family has been mentally preparing themselves for May 2024 since Aug. 2020. There was no way that I, the first of my family to pursue a college education, would ever even consider letting them down.

Dutifully, I navigated a dead campus my first year, doing my best to abide by pandemic-era policy. 

I don’t dwell much on this time, especially when I remember the ways my mental health started to dip. I kept my focus on trying to survive; getting back home to my family and friends. 

As the campus flirted with the inevitability of reopening my second year – rolling back certain COVID-era policies – I found myself processing the opportunities that were slowly coming into view. One, in particular, caught my eye: an announcement in the Albion Today that sought out students interested in joining the Albion Pleiad.

On a whim, I applied – reasoning I’d at least be doing something outside my room while getting paid for my writing. For a time there, though, I wasn’t sure of my place on staff. As much as I appreciated a few of the faces I met that fall semester, I didn’t feel I belonged yet. 

Then I met former Editor-in-Chief Liam Rappleye.

Former Editor-in-Chief Liam Rappleye poses for a picture by the rock, painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. This was the first time Rappleye and the author met (Photo illustration by Juan G. Rodriguez).

Our first encounter feels like a “canon event” in every universe – even if I hadn’t intended to make a new friend that Wednesday evening during the spring 2022 semester, I can’t imagine a reality where I didn’t meet him when I did. 

As we painted the rock in solidarity with Ukraine, he’d off-handedly mentioned he had a thing later that day. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he was doing.

He had his first staff meeting with the school paper later that evening, he told me – something he was fairly excited about attending. As we parted ways, I told him I’d see him later that night. 

True to his word, there he was later that evening. 

We grew close, fast. By the time my junior year began, we were brothers-in-arms; fellow patriots, really. Rappleye was the person who got me excited about this job; as terrified as I should’ve been about the unknown, I couldn’t help but be excited about doing this work alongside my comrade. 

I was right to feel as much. In the wake of the staff members we’d lost from the 2021-2022 school year, I found myself surrounded by many new faces. It took time, but I grew accustomed to sharing a workspace with these folks. 

As I did so, I finally found my place on this campus – the inevitable result of its opening. I began to outgrow my timid nature with every encounter I had with a fellow staff member. 

Eventually, enough encounters made it so that fellow staffers were no longer just co-workers; soon, I found myself surrounded by friends.

It’s those coworkers-turned-friends that make saying goodbye the hardest bit of this semester. Of all the inevitable consequences of graduating, this was the one that I knew would hurt me the most.

How do I say goodbye to the community that supported me through my worst moments and celebrated me every day after?

As much as I want to stay, though, I can’t afford to stay trapped in college; there’s a whole world out there for me to see. 

I’m scared, truthfully. For the first time in my life, what comes next is entirely my own decision and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice, of choosing the wrong possibility.

All of this possibility is built into the aftermath of graduation, waiting to overwhelm me. There’s too much movement, too many uncertainties and indefinites in the shape of what I want my life to be. My eyes glaze over almost entirely as I scan my surroundings for something I can focus on.

Eventually, I find my bearings when I think about the people and places I’m leaving behind; it hurts like hell. Why should I be thinking about the people I’ll miss the most, after all?

I do so because this is how I fend off a dissociative episode. As I try to ground myself, as I start to focus on the ways I’m gonna miss my friends, I trick my brain into feeling some sort of strong emotion – anything but the numbness I feel when I’m overwhelmed.

So I remember Editor-in-Chief Bella Bakeman’s patience and directness one moment and her wit the next; effortlessly flowing between helping me and ribbing me, she makes those long nights of writing and editing just that much easier. 

The author sits on a couch with Bakeman and Lord, each holding up various print editions of the Pleiad (Photo illustration courtesy of Krista Quesenberry).

I linger on Managing Editor Bonnie Lord – her encouragement and her presence a reassuring element when my nerves are frayed and all I want is to share a space, some peace and some quiet with someone. 

I give myself the time to cry with Seneca, S.C. junior Alger Reynada – my best friend up here. We joke and sing and drink as if we were two old Mexican men who’ve already lived long lives.

There’s no way these are the only people who have mattered to me in my time here on Albion’s campus; the list is long and I don’t have much time. I don’t withhold love and affection, quite frankly. If someone means something to me, I don’t hesitate to tell them how much space they occupy in my life and in my heart, as if the latter were some delicate thing to be perpetually guarded.

As much as these past few years have been an exercise in inevitability, they’ve been as much an exercise in openness. 

That, more than anything, is what sticks with me about these Juanderings. I’ve been my authentic self in the sort of way only I could manage; I’m a tad eccentric, a pinch eclectic and just a dash bit reticent. It took some time to get used to writing in such an open and public manner, but here I am.

I’ve grown fond of it, quite frankly; I don’t intend to stop being myself.

“Juandering Out Loud” will forever owe its existence to the Pleiad – its name to Rappleye, its flow to Bakeman and its illustrations to Lord – but I don’t intend on letting go of this piece of my life. Wherever I go next, this will stay with me – much like the memories I’ve made with every marvelous individual I’ve had the distinct honor of meeting and associating with these last few years.

And so, I take this with me. I start making plans to have my own blog — or something similar, a Substack perhaps — where Juanderings can live on. In doing so, I leave space for someone else to make something new – for some new column by a willing and enthusiastic writer who has a lot on their mind and few obvious options for where they could openly discuss their thoughts.

So many of the writers currently on staff do such work already – marvelously so. I can’t wait to see what else they cook up in the years to come. I’ll most definitely keep my eyes open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, eagerly anticipating my Pleiad articles for the day. 

For now, I’ll enjoy these last few days with my folks – can’t afford to let them pass me by.

There’s no other place I’d rather be, quite frankly. 

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.