They sat, banquet-style, in a Hyatt Regency ballroom in downtown Denver: 146 fourth-year medical students eyeing their watches and phones. Despite the early hour, they dashed sporadically to the tiny cash bar. Exactly at 10 a.m., forks clattered on plates and the rustle of envelopes ensued. I looked at the double-creased paper my then-fiancé, Brian, had slipped out of his envelope. Around us, jubilant cheers and shrieks of relief erupted, but I couldn’t hear any of it; the two little words in that letter drowned it all out. Rhode Island.
It’s known as Match Day. But it’s really just a moment—the single moment when every graduating medical student in the country opens an envelope that contains his or her placement for medical residency. It determines where they’ll spend the next three to six years of their lives.
And so, we were going to Providence, the capital of a state that can fit inside Colorado 100 times. Brown University’s program was a great match in the competitive field of dermatology. It was the geographical implications that threw me. Although I grew up in New England, Rhode Island simply isn’t Colorado. It’s not where we learned to ski on the weekends, where we discovered that Lala’s has all-you-can-eat Sunday dinners, or where we’d eventually have our mountaintop wedding in Telluride. It’s not where we spent beer-buzzed afternoons on a blanket in Wash Park or strolled to Liks for a scoop of salty caramel ice cream. It’s not where we’d made our home.
Of course, I was beyond proud of Brian’s achievement. But, part of me wanted to stomp my foot and whine that it wasn’t fair. Some distant, white-coated medical board was uprooting my life without giving us an option to negotiate. For weeks I shooed away the feeling that a giant gust of wind had ripped through our world and left the most important pieces scattered. Where would I work? How would we make friends as wonderful as the ones we’ve made here? What were we going to do in the winter without the mountains in our backyard?
I was struggling with the idea—the necessity—of leaving behind my life in Denver so Brian could start his life in Providence when I realized two things. First, I’d never done this before—given up my security, my comfort, and my job to be with someone else. It sounds selfish when I say it out loud, but it hasn’t been intentional. It just happened. Twice, I’d chosen the place I wanted to live and moved there for a job or for graduate school. Twice, Brian picked up his life and moved to those same cities long after I’d settled in. It was my turn. Second, when we pledged ourselves to each other in marriage eight months ago, “my life” and “his life” became, simply, “our life.” My sacrifice? It’s his, too. His success and opportunity? It’s mine, too.
In a few short weeks, we’ll pack up our camping gear and ski jackets and hiking boots (along with the less important things like, you know, furniture) and head to the East Coast, where the ocean will be my surrogate mountaintop; where rainy days may outnumber the sunny ones; and where I can’t blame my fitness shortcomings on altitude. Gloomy weather aside, it doesn’t matter what we’ve left behind or what our new city lacks. Our picnic blanket works just as well on a sandy beach as in a grassy park; there’s a neighborhood pizzeria on every corner in Providence; and boating on the weekend doesn’t sound half bad.
I still remember that moment in a stuffy hotel ballroom full of nervous, young doctors-to-be, except now I can hear the elated buzz I’d blocked out that day. And those two words, Rhode Island, are no longer so jarring—because it’s not about making the future look like the past. Providence doesn’t have to be my new Denver, nor am I sacrificing what I love to live there. After all, the one thing I love most is the very reason I’m going.