My Best/Worst Decision // Chelsea Francis

It is 2013 and I have just graduated college from an incredibly evangelical university that I'm already having mixed feelings about. I am so happy to be out of college that I can barely breathe, but I'm also incredibly nervous to move forward in my life. My husband, Tucker, and I have been married for almost a year. Neither of us really know what we're going to do for work, neither of us knows how to create the life we want, we're both feeling stuck but we're not quite sure how to articulate it. I'm also, for the very first time, experiencing the physical symptoms of the General Anxiety Disorder that I have no clue I even have. Panic attacks, severe anxiety and dread, disassociation, and this dreaded egg-dripping-down-my-neck feeling I get every time it gets bad. 

At the time it just all felt stale, it didn't really feel awful. Things were not good, but they weren't too bad either. I personally just felt like this was the kind of thing everyone went through when they'd just graduated from college. 

And then, just as easy as the existential dread set in, everything sort of changed. 

Tucker and I very nervously accepted an invitation from a dear friend to a Memorial Day cookout at the house of some people we really didn't know. 

The text said something like: '1114 Ashley Drive. BYOB. We'll grill hotdogs. You know Jon Smalt, right? '

We were desperate for friends. Desperate to have some fun. And mostly just bored that day so we said: "We'll be there". 

It's hard for me to talk about the next year or so without getting incredibly emotional. I'm typing this out with tears dripping down my face as Explosions in The Sky plays in the background. 

Those times were some of the happiest moments of my life to date... they were the very definition of sublime, though they were nothing extraordinary at all at the time. We had only the slightest inkling of what we had there, but how does one really even know that they've been seen and understood for the first time. We spent most of our time together drinking Yuengling in the backyard, listening to music, and just talking. There was a lot of sitting on hand me down furniture in a living room that was decorated by newly minted adult men and coming to terms with our own humanity. There was a lot of drinking too much and dancing for hours until one of the neighbors called the cops, who kindly asked us just to be a bit quieter and never gave us any trouble. Sometimes there were a lot of tears and a lot of debate. Through all of that, a dash of heartbreak and recording a single album, we forged a friendship that to this day feels otherworldly. 

I bet you're wondering now where this turns into the title? Where could this possibly go wrong? 

The problem is, it really didn't. 

For one year, seven months, and six days I lived in the same state as the people who see me the clearest, understand me the most, and love me the fiercest and I never thought twice about it all ending until it did.

And when I say that I really mean it. I have receipts. 

There was the time the bottom floor, and consequently the sewage system, flooded and Tucker and I brought over 6 pepperoni pizzas and vacuumed water and raw sewage out of the floor with everyone. Then showered one by one. And then consumed almost a full pizza each in silence interrupted by belly laughs at the horror we'd just experienced. 

There was the time that a friend made a swift exit out of our lives, destroying little bits of us, and all Tucker and I knew to do was to drive to Ashley Drive and wait for someone to come home. When they all got home they made up silly songs and made us laugh through our total heartbreak. 

There were so many heartbreaks. 

There was so much laughter. 

There were 32oz beers at West Side Deli for $5. 

There was a lot of Rivermont Pizza. 

There was so much love. 

In the spring of 2014 Tucker Francis and I knew our next step in life was moving to Austin, TX, and though despite my best efforts to get them to move with us, their paths were bound for Nashville, TN. We could feel it in our bones that Austin was calling our name.

Right before we left, when our house was almost emptied and what we owned would fit in a GMC Safari (and a small Uhaul hitch trailer we really didn't even need) I caught on that a surprise was being planned for me for my December 20th birthday (right before our New Year's day move). 

I came home one afternoon to candles lining the steps to our apartment. The doors opened and I was greeted by 15 of my best friends sitting in what used to be my living room at one long table. They'd thrown me a birthday dinner and turned my living room into a restaurant. They made a menu with the help of a chef at a country club they worked at, but they'd executed it all themselves in our kitchen. There were three courses with beverage pairings. There were Cornish hens made in both our oven and the oven of our downstairs neighbors. Red velvet cupcakes that my friend had called his mom to get the recipe for. There were margherita pizzas on naan. It was beautiful. I've never felt so loved in my life. 

Almost as quickly as we all met and fell in love, our friendship as we knew it would end.

On December 31st, 2014 we had a New Year's Eve party, danced in the living room together one last time, took lots of pictures, and toasted to the end of an era. At one point that night I went into the bathroom to cry alone, and found two of my nearest and dearest there already, losing their shit just like I was. I will never forget sitting in that bathtub and trying to pull myself together so I could go back and dance some more. It never happened. I cried for 5 hours straight that night and I danced just as hard. 

The next day, January 1st, 2015, everyone came to our house, packed our things in a Uhaul, and Tucker and I drove out of Lynchburg for the last time, with all our belongings in tow, and headed to Austin, TX. 

The months after that were hard. My anxiety got worse. I was an extrovert living in a new place with nearly no friends at all, but I also had the void of knowing what I'd just left. I couldn't find work, and even though I'd start to soon, I had no clue at the time. It felt like three months of torture. No one would hire me. Tucker decided on a career change once we got here, that was very needed but put him working at Starbucks which felt like a bit of a fall from his corporate design job he'd left in Virginia. Speaking of Virginia, things weren't going great there either. We got a lot of very sad, very drunk phone calls that left us just as shattered. Their plan was to move to Nashville in April, but about three weeks after we moved to Austin, we got the call that they were moving in early February. They couldn't stand it. It just wasn't the same. We agreed. 

If I could go back in time and give myself advice during those first few months alone, I'd tell myself to take it easy. It's just how these things happen. I would tell myself that it was really all going to work out better than my wildest dreams. And eventually, I'd be able to say I wouldn't change a thing. I would tell myself that our friends would move on in such beautiful ways. Some would have babies, some would get married, some would stay in Lynchburg and hold down the fort. I'd tell myself that I'd go on to build my own business doing what I love and that it would pay our bills and allow me to travel. I'd tell myself that Tucker would be so much happier doing something he loved and that he'd get a job at a place that valued him. I would tell myself that the boys would eventually get jobs at a winery in Nashville, and meet a really talented singer that they'd start playing music with. I'd tell myself that eventually they'd get signed to a major record label. I'd tell myself that I'd Facetime the boys weekly most of the time and that my friendship with them would only get better. I'd tell myself that the boys would visit us multiple times a year, and fill our house with more people that it can sleep naturally. I'd tell myself to never dwell on what you'd do differently because try as you might-- you can't change the past. And lastly: I'd tell myself that I'd still get to experience that friendship, just in different ways that are more fulfilling.

How do you make sure you appreciate the good old days while you're living them? I don't think it's a question I can answer for you-- but for me, it took uprooting everything I knew an loved because I knew my life was headed in a different direction. I had to learn to trust the process. 

And the process brought me a happy life full of incredible friends in Austin, TX, and equally incredible friends to visit in Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA, and all over the US (and occasionally Scotland!)

For Jon (Happy Birthday!), Taylor, Jake and Sage, Bryce and Harper, Joel, Ryan Thomas, Sally and Ben, Jane, Jake, Stephanie, and Tucker. 

 Me in the kitchen of Ashley Drive, 2014.

Me in the kitchen of Ashley Drive, 2014.

Chelsea Francis is a photographer, editor, connector, and creative director out of Austin, TX. She's most passionate about making people see the beauty in their own lives, a good cup of coffee, and a great slice of pizza. When she's not answering emails, she's editing pieces for Pass/Fail, hosting networking events, and shooting photographs for incredible companies both in Austin and elsewhere.