How I Went to College and Part of Me Never Came Back, Pt. 2

Freshman Orientation, it is rumored, is meant to be a fun experience that ingratiates a fledgling freshman with the novelties of Liberal Arts College on a Hill’s campus. In my experience, it came close to being one of the most interminable, generally awful-without-meaning-to-be trials of my then seventeen year-old life. In fact, I think I may have found more camaraderie at the Naval Academy during Hell Week. Or at a bus station in Sheboygan.

I think my first mistake was convincing myself that I was the only one who was new to college. I do wonder, however, if I was indeed the only one on campus who had yet to:

1.) Own an e-mail account
2.) Set up an e-mail account
3.) Imbibe alcohol, take drugs other than Advil
4.) Be kissed

Freshman Orientation addressed the first two Things I Had Never Done Before College. Of course, I am perhaps, again, the only one who matriculated at Liberal Arts College on a Hill in the class of 2002 – or perhaps ever before or ever again – who thanked her lucky stars for providing an e-mail tutorial during the week when the rest of the women in my class were being lured into frat houses with promises of air conditioning and popsicles, neither of which would surface, I can now guarantee (based on what sage upperclassmen would later tell me).

As for the last two Things I Had Never Done Before College, those represent only the beginning of my vast naivete upon entering that great bastion of higher learning. And learn I did – way more and way faster than I wanted to – within that first month.

The schedule of Orientation went like this: Monday. Get up and take shower. Yeah. Within the first 15 minutes of my first full day of college life, I was already up a creek. Whilst I had been busy packing my briefcase, scale, and crystal vase all that last week, I had brilliantly left my shower shoes at home. I thusly proceeded to wear a pair of white leather sandals with a heel that I had inherited from my Nana, which meant that they were purchased new in 1973. I also did not receive the memo about the requisite knee-length terrycloth robes – don’t leave your dorm room without it. And so I proceeded to clunk my way down the hall in a floor-length fleece robe, leather sandals with heels, and my shower caddy that was as large as your dad’s Craftsman toolbox.

The sandals broke after two days and I had to go ask RA for a ride to Wal-Mart.

Seeing as RA was assigned to our “Wellness Floor” in which all of its denizens had signed a contract pledging to be substance free, it disturbed me terribly that RA was a chainsmoker. Surely there had been a mix-up and that soon it would be realized and then Glinda the Good RA would quickly come gracing our floor, waving her Wellness Wand and gifting us with shower shoes. Instead, RA would stay our RA all year. I think that our floor may have bumped her up from 1 pack to 2 with all of our requests for rides to Wal-Mart. But at some point that week, I did make it to Wal-Mart with grumpy, chainsmoking RA. I picked out some new pink shower shoes. That was only after three mornings had passed as I waited until my roommate had left the room and I secretly “borrowed” her nice purple ones which were at least 4 sizes too big for me.

As for the rest of the floor dynamic, there were many very nice girls on the floor. I proceeded to learn their names and their hometowns and actually believed that they had all signed up for a Wellness Floor with the same ardent enthusiasm I had just months before as I dreamed of us all eating carrot sticks whilst we studied and doing aerobics in the lounge – obviously, during our study breaks.

The first girl that I met and had any substantial conversation with other than my roommate was her bestie from high school. TC lived down the hall from us. She was giddy, which I considered myself to be, and she had been on campus for two weeks prior for cross country training. I consciously decided that she was a.) delightful and b.) the person to ask for all things re: campus life. The irony of my impression of TC now is shattering. Just a year ago as I write this, I had been sharing an apartment with TC in which her delightfulness was eclipsed by her complete ignorance of all things re: real life. Another memoir. Another day.

I suffered through all of the Meet and Greets, the same barbecues/different lawns, the same Name/Hometown/Intended Major spiel/different groups. The tri-state area for Liberal Arts College on a Hill consists of New York/Ohio/Pennsylvania, but really there are only five students who didn’t graduate from a public high school “Just Outside of Pittsburgh” and that included all of the international students and myself. Everyone knew everyone already. They had all opposed one another in high school volleyball. They had already figured out that they would meet one another during orientation after picking each other out of facebook, and orientation was only an excuse for them all to figure out where they would hook up – in your dorm or mine? That was the freshman class at Liberal Arts College on a Hill. Also? They all spoke the same. Strangely. They repeated back everything you said in a quasi-question. But it was with an odd incredulousness, as though saying that I just went to lunch actually merited the raising of eyebrows, the repeating back of statement in question form, with an incredulous tone, “You just ate lunch?” It was annoying and confusing and even further made me not want to talk. Of course this was all not true. But when you are a freshman in college, you think that you are the only one who hasn’t read the manual. Of course there are other people who are from Ohio. Of course there are even people who speak with your nasal Cleveland accent. You just haven’t met them yet. When you do, you’ll probably have a few things to talk about, especially as talking was a prerequisite in making friends in college, I had decided.

I suffered through the following few days of Meet and Greets even though they involved stating mundane facts about myself to a group of freshmen and the Orientation Leaders, which later would make me suffer further as I had to answer back to their incredulous statement/questions, or even worse — the Bubbles woman. One icebreaker (which was performed in a dark auditorium while all of my cool friends who went off to city universities were probably going on scavenger hunts in the French Quarter) required us to state our names and then state something that we liked to do and dramatize it. The boy across from me was called Charley and he liked to program. The gurl next to me was called Austin and he liked to dunk. My name was Kendra and I liked to blow Bubbles. If there was one sentence that I’d like to reclaim from entering the galaxy, it would be the prior one. For then and only then would I have been spared the awkward encounter with the other freshman who stood behind me in line for the drinking fountain, eager beaver to tell me that she had seen Bubbles and he said, “thanks.”

I may not have understood many things about college, but I understood her sick joke and I wished I hadn’t. Nasty.

The problem was not that I was not meeting people that week. Freshman Orientation affords ample opportunities to meet new people. I just wasn’t connecting with anyone. Each afternoon, when we would break from assorted ice breaker games and financial aid meetings and pre-law orientations, I would wander back to my dorm room and lay on my yellow and white gingham bedspread which 3 months ago I had thought was adorable but now reminded me of a picnic tablecloth, from a Suzy’s Zoo sticker album. I would flip through the facebook, highlighting pictures of all of the people whom I had met that day. At this point, I know you are waiting for me to say how hard I cried and how I ripped down my stupid dorm posters and called my mama and told her how awful college was and asked if I could come home. But I hated cliches. I simply resigned myself to the fact that I was now living in a box with no carpet and a large bay window, and a blonde, sporty stranger whom I would hope would stay nice and not become psychotic or anorexic for at least the first semester. Because I so could not have dealt with any of that. I wasn’t homesick or self-loathing. I just wanted to meet someone who was hilarious – even he/she was nervous – and who wanted to be my new friend/dinner buddy, if only for the next week.

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How I Went to College and Part of Me Never Came Back, Pt. I

Like any great or almost great coming-of-age story, the story of my First Month of College involves a loss of innocence, a moment of illumination, and a part about a boy.

I cannot begin to tell this story without prefacing the fact that I had been picking out colleges since the summer after my sophomore year of high school. As a firstborn of three children, my parents bore down on me heavily regarding the prospect of college. They knew that I got good grades and that, subsequently, A. I would be able to get into a good school and B. I would be eligible for some kind of financial aid. So that summer as a rising junior, I oscillated between filling soft serve cones at DQ and filling out a spreadsheet of prospective colleges that I would like to visit that coming school year. This establishes the fact that even in my tweenage years, I was not cruising the beach, stalking boys, or vying for a fake ID. I was doing everything ethical and boring and nothing age appropriate. I was too busy preparing for college. In all the wrong ways.

By the time I had picked Liberal Arts College on a Hill and it had picked me (with a generous financial package, praise God), I was so ready to move to the western rolling hills of Pennsylvania, wild frat boys couldn’t have kept me away. I did not think much upon college as a place where one shared a shower and rumors and a hoochie wardrobe with her hallmates. Instead I thought about college as a place where I would take classes that would interest and challenge me. I looked forward to meeting people from across the country. I looked forward to not having to answer to my mother.

The week before I went to college, the bedroom of my girlhood was in a state of disarray. I was so aggravated by the messy piles of Things I Needed to Pack for College and could not wait to liquidate the room and restore it to its normal state of neatness. Little did I know but that room has remained in an artful state of chaos since that fateful week – testimony that you can never have your girlhood back.

My mother took a picture of me in that room, surrounded by milk crates and T-shirts. In the picture, I am sitting on my bed wearing my DQ uniform. My mascara is smudged and I am holding a vase of flowers from a boy who left for college that morning. He had stopped into DQ on his way – to college! – and given me a bouquet of red roses. I had thought that I was A. so glad I had worn mascara that day and B. very much just realizing that I loved a boy who was leaving for college in two minutes. He said something about “In Living Color” and I said, “Yeah, that show was cool for like two weeks” and he scolded me, which in case you skipped being seventeen, is flirting. My cheeks turned as red as the flowers and I remembered “Bye” kept happening and that it hurt a great deal. It was the first time that a goodbye had physically caused me pain. It was to be the first that week that would be wrenching.

I had great fun that last week before I left for college. I went to see a movie with friends and said goodbye to more of them under the neon lights of another ice cream stand, batting mosquitoes away as we promised to write. I sat on the back porch with my neighbor and promised her I would take some freak poetry classes once I got to college. I also made a mixtape for that boy I had decided that I loved and sent it to his dorm with a note on the only stationary I had left in my desk drawer. The header read “St. Raphael 6th Grade Girls Gold Basketball Team.”

Finally, the Sunday morning arrived when my mother lent my father the minivan (they had separated that past November) and he, my little brother, and I packed up the van with assorted Things I Thought I Would Need at College. The contents of the van included a briefcase (because I was planning to be the first college student to make them cool), a scale (for weighing my freshman 15), and a crystal flower vase (for putting in all those other bouquets of red roses that I would surely receive from college suitors). None of these items would return with me to school the next year and have never resurfaced in any living space I have occupied since.

I hugged my mother goodbye but had not wanted to linger for any sentimental moments. I had given her hell that year as I would for many years henceforth until I learned that oft-repeated lesson that parents are human beings, too, and that they cannot be blamed for everything that goes wrong or will go wrong in life.

I do not remember talking much with my father or brother during that drive. We got slightly lost when pulling in to Collegetown, USA, but then found our bearings and were greeted by a spirited coed girl named Tara who asked us where I was rooming that year. Baldwin Hall I told her. “Awesome!” she said and directed us to the lot where parents deposited their freshman with their milk crates and T-shirts. “Why was that ‘awesome’?” my father asked rhetorically.

I remember the first boy who walked out of the stairwell of our dorm. He was wearing a tight navy polo and he was tan. He was everything that a college boy should look like, I thought, and he was living in my building! I wondered for a fleeting moment if my father had seen a boy walk out of the dorm and if he had deduced that that boy was going to live in that same dorm building as I was. Of course my father had seen the boy and that he was aware that the boy would be living in my dorm.

Of course he knew that I was both thrilled and terrified as I hauled up my first milk crate of possession to dorm room 305C of Baldwin Hall. Shortly thereafter, I met my roommate who was blonde and sporty and quite nice.

She would continue to prove herself blonde and sporty and nice throughout the year. She would also fall hard for the boy in the navy blue polo. I have recently been in touch with her and she reported that she saw the boy in the navy blue polo at a wedding recently, a couple years after her own wedding at which I was a glad attendant.

There were two major events that occurred that day that I moved into Baldwin Hall 305C. The first major event being that I broke my new cordless phone. My father proceeded to go on a reconaissance mission for its unbroken counterpart at Wal-Mart. I would spend many many hours on that phone that year, both with the boy that I decided that I loved and with my father, whom I loved very much.

The other event is that I said goodbye to my father. I had to meet him outside of Baldwin Hall at 3pm which required leaving an important seminar with my advisor who was fabulous and completely understood. I really thought that I would be fine, that I was happy with my present set-up – my coed dorm, my roommate, my cordless phone in tact. But my father leaned over to hug me and a few tears crept out of the wrinkled sides of my eyes. I knew that I would not see him for a long time.

(To Be Continued.)

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Jolly ol’ Brits, and Les Frenchies

Lovey Loverpants and I took a spring break trip to London and Paris to celebrate the gestation period of our marriage. Nine months after our most happy day, our lives are still full of laughter and mirth and without a honeymoon baby (which afforded us the time and money to take a spring break trip).

As an interracial couple, traveling anywhere foreign usually proves to be an interesting case study. We do not usually receive stares on our subway rides in Boston or questioning glances in the supermarket. Our home of Boston is fairly diverse in terms of race and attitudes toward interracial marriage. London and Paris, however, did not seem to share the same landscape of diversity. We received many looks of interest from subway passengers or from passersby as we ambled along holding hands. In shoppes/boutiques, women looked at John as though he was unattached (probably carefully waiting for his Asian counterpart to latch on to his arm momentarily). Upon presenting our passports to customs agents, the agents typically raised an eyebrow to our striding up to the desk together.

“You are traveling together?”

“Yes.”

Surely upon seeing our common last names on our passports, even more curiosity was piqued since we are not only of different race, but both appear to be too young to vote much less marry. I am probably just hyperaware.

We saw 1 or maybe 2 interracial couples during our weeklong trip. They seemed to be happily strollering their beautiful mixed babies around their metropolitan burroughs/arrondissements. I wondered what kinds of discrimination or prejudices they faced in their experiences as interracial couples, and what kinds of experiences their mixed children would encounter in their young lives.

While we are never fully comfortable in our so-called comfort zones – there will always be a disapproving Asian grandma averting her eyes to our reality – I am yet undaunted by the minefield of racial prejudice. My comfort comes from a love that is not colorblind but color aware. My love for my husband is informed by all the colors of his personality, his talents, his cultural keenness which enrich my life and will hopefully enrich the lives of our future children. Those children whom we will hopefully someday bring to London, to Paris, to other cities and countries and continents where attitudes toward race are distinct from our own. It is my hope that our children will have an even more acute perception on where their comfort lies, and that it may not be shaken but rather emboldened by understanding other races, cultures which make our world a rather beautiful place indeed.

eiffel tower

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