When I left home, I realized my whole world was about to change. I come from a small town known as Great Bridge which is planted in the middle of Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounded by the vast cities of Hampton Roads. Although coming to Richmond seemed like a perfect plan, there were some things that made me second guess myself including the major differences between Great Bridge and Richmond, the pressure I would have to carry on my back for the nursing program, and the dangerous environment at night. Everyone in Great Bridge knew each other and we all grew up together. I was thinking we were all going to be stuck together. But not me, I was going to get away.
I had lived in Great Bridge since I was five years old and attended school with all the same people until my senior year. The year flew by and everyone was choosing their colleges. Some went to George Mason University, some decided Old Dominion University was for them, some at James Madison University, but my best friend and I knew that when we came to Virginia Commonwealth University that this was where we were supposed to be. I knew that living in Richmond was going to be very different from where I grew up. Great Bridge is almost the opposite of “city”. People in Great Bridge hunt and fish, take their big trucks through the mud, and go four-wheeling. There is absolutely nothing to do besides eat, sleep, and hang out with friends. Most of the time when I’m bored, I would go for a drive in my jeep wrangler and find the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. Great Bridge has the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Especially on a warm summer night when I had just gotten back from the beach and my hair is salty and the windows are down. Or even just taking a walk with your best friend or boyfriend talking about nothing; but talking about nothing seemed like everything in the moment when all you have to do is pay attention to the little things in life. Those were the best moments. I know that when I came to Richmond there would be no more sunsets, beaches, or long walks at night with friends. My life in the country is different from my life in Richmond where people walk instead of drive, get tattoos and piercings instead of wear conservative clothes, and live in a diverse community instead of a close-minded community. Richmond is different from my home in Great Bridge in the way that everyone here is so welcoming; they are understanding and do not care about what you look like, how you act, or where you are from. In Great Bridge people would always “dress to impress” and everyone tried to be better than others; it was always a competition to be the most popular or the most liked.
In Tell Me How It Ends, immigrants dreamed of coming to America to work, make money, and start their lives not knowing what it was like here or if they would get a job to support their families. My dream for years had been to become a nurse. My junior year of high school I attended a career school to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and while I was in this course, I worked at a nursing home and rehabilitation center and had the opportunity to care for patients and have a real experience of what it would be like to be a nurse. I knew that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew that VCU had one of the best medical programs in the state and knowing that made my decision easier. What I didn’t know was that VCU’s nursing program was extremely competitive with over four hundred students applying and only sixty to seventy students being accepted into the program. I also didn’t know that to even be considered for the program your grade point average had to be above a 3.8 and you need as many volunteer hours as possible. This made it more stressful because although I am very successful in school and maintain good grades, I know that college is completely different than high school and trying to balance good grades, volunteering, clubs, and my social life is going to be difficult.
Everyone from my town warned me about Richmond. My grandparents, who are from Georgia, are very conservative and live by family and traditions, hated the idea that this was where I chose to further my education. This was not because of the academics, but because it is a huge city with not so friendly people at night walking the streets. My family was scared for me. At home you could wander the streets all hours of the night and there wouldn’t be a care in the world, you were completely safe. Here, in Richmond, there is a possibility that something bad would happen whether it is a robbery, prostitution, or witnessing an overdose. Just like in Tell Me How It Ends, immigrants witnessed horrible things that happened to their family and their friends including being shot, gang violence and rape.
I was terrified thinking about coming to a place that I was so unfamiliar with. I didn’t act like someone who was supposed to be in the heart of Richmond, nor did I look like one. The only things giving me the strength to come here was my desire and motivation to become a nurse and my best friend, my roommate. I was a girl from the country and coming to the city where people where afraid to be themselves caused me to be extremely scared because I didn’t know if I would fit in here. I came to Richmond looking for change. I wanted something that was nothing like Chesapeake. I wanted diversity, open-minded people, adventures, and a chance to grow as an independent woman.
My journey coming to Richmond relates to Tell Me How It Ends in the way that these immigrants who are scared for their life are coming to a place that they have never seen, only dreamed. They have no idea what to expect and are oblivious to the troubles that would happen. They come to this country hoping only for good things, to start a new life in America, meet new people and live the “American dream” all while risking their lives without hesitation to get here. Like me, I came to Richmond hoping for a new place to call home, unaware of the dangers and failures that could happen. I only cared about the new life that I was about to start and all the amazing things that were coming my way as I was preparing for success, just like the immigrants in Tell Me How It Ends.
Luiselli, Valeria. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay In Forty Questions. Coffee House Press, 2017.