“When are you going to get your tattoo?” my girlfriend Melissa Garcia asked me last night.
I said (or threatened, depends on who you asked) I would get one around a year ago.
Then, I was wrapping up my first semester at this intimate and profound newspaper. I haphazardly declared my intention to stain my skin with a tribute to this newspaper and messaged Alligator alumnus, Ethan Bauer.
“What does your tattoo look like?”
He sent me a Snap of the bold lowercase A sown on his forearm.
But for the three semesters that followed, I didn’t give the idea much thought. How could I? Doing so would mean coming to terms with the mortality of my career at this newspaper.
So I put off thinking about the design. Lowercase A? Maybe one of the alligators on our shirts. And the location. On my shoulder? What about my ass? My back?
I only knew one thing:I wanted one. But how could I rush a decision like that?
I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a journalist. I didn’t realize my desire to religiously pursue this career until my third year at FIU. So, I dropped out and quickly enrolled at Miami Dade College for a fresh start.
I joined the student newspaper, The Reporter, and set my sights on the future. I wanted to go to UF. I didn’t consider another school. Because I wanted to write for The Alligator.
So from 2017 to 2019, I wrote and edited with the dream of becoming an Alligator writer. It was the best student newspaper in the country, I thought. If I wanted to make something of myself, I couldn’t write anywhere else.
So I arrived at UF in August 2019. The boy who grew up in Miami idolizing the Hurricanes was a Gator. But I wasn’t an Alligator.
So I applied, waited, waited and waited some more. Finally, I got an email from then-sports editor Tyler Nettuno. I didn’t get the job.
Are you kidding?
That dose of reality struck me like a freight train, but I needed it.
I kept my heart set on this damn newspaper and applied in the spring. Thankfully, then-sports editor Kyle Wood took a gamble and hired me to cover lacrosse.
The rest is history. And I don’t want it to be. I really don’t.
I’ve lived in Gainesville for almost two years now. I’ve come to appreciate this little city. But it’s not home. Maybe because it’s hard to find a half-decent croqueta. Or because I never imagined living somewhere where deer sightings are casual.
The Alligator was a home.
That small newsroom. Whose walls are decorated with hate mail. Whose smell is tastefully musty. Whose chatter echoed through the empty Gainesville Sun offices during unholy hours. I made friendships I’ll cherish forever, even after we went virtual.
The long hours editing. The frustrated hair pulling. The elation when a story came out just right. Watching writers improve throughout semesters. I loved it.
Because by virtue of love or patience, we went through it together. Whether it was as a writer or editor, I was never alone.
I wrestled with how to write this column. Saying goodbye is hard enough. Putting my thoughts into words is harder. Condensing four semesters of memories is almost a Herculean task.
But maybe the reason why writing this was so hard is because the future is unknown. I feel like a little kid afraid of the dark. One who asks their parents to check for monsters and leave the light on before going to bed.
Life outside college is going to be scary. I don’t know what will jump out from the dark. But what I learned at this newspaper is invaluable. It’s my night light that keeps me safe.
It’s why I want to honor it by permanently staining my skin. So that when I’m scared of the unknown, I can look at wherever I decide to mark myself and feel at ease. Because I’m reminded of home.
Thank you, everyone I worked with, for making these four semesters the best of my life.
Christian Ortega was the sports editor and editor-in-chief.