Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finding My Way

It's that time of year when new college students stuff their possessions into a trunk of a car and jet off to what they believe is the beginning of freedom, future success, and happily ever after.

And to that I say, get real.

You're going to get fat. You're going to miss your Mom. And you're going to want to suffocate your roommate in her sleep within the first 30 days.

Or maybe that was just me.

Whenever I think of my freshman year of college, all I get is chills down my spine. It was a mess.

It started by loading my luggage in the back of my roommate's Dad's pickup and making our way to the University. Only the tailgate of that pickup fell open, and one of my pieces of luggage skidded out. It was full of my sweatshirts, namely a brand new yellow sweatshirt with my beloved college's name on the front.

I was crushed.

But in hindsight, I could have let the bag be squashed in rush hour traffic for as much as that school eventually meant to me.

But, I'll get to that later.

(The police department called my parents a couple days later when someone had found ithe bag and turned it in - all contents still in tact. Even my cherished yellow sweatshirt.)

En route to campus, we decided to stop and shop for furnishings. And spend too much money on puffy pillows and antiperspirant.

But we had stars in our eyes and big plans.

We could have purchased sleep-inducing-drug-laced pillows and I still wouldn't have gotten a decent night of sleep my entire freshman year, either. It wasn't always because my roommate was inviting her boyfriends (yes, she went through several) over, or talking on the phone into the wee hours of the night to one of them. No cell phones back then. I know. Shocking. She actually had to use a phone with a cord.

A cord that didn't go nearly far enough out of earshot, mind you.

But anyway...the bigger reason for my insomnia was the creakiest, most frightening loft bed ever created. My roommate purchased it from a former student and we were excited at first because it provided much-needed floor space. Only, we were afraid of setting anything under it in fear of the crash that we concluded was certainly imminent. And since my roommate had seniority, I was relegated to be the one to sleep on it.

Amazingly enough, it never did collapse. Which is shocking in itself for all the weight I gained that year.

When you start the year as the thinner roommate, and by Christmas break you have to swap jeans, you know you have a problem.

But that was only a slice of my problem. And by slice, I mean pizza. I ate a LOT of pizza.

I felt lost.

You have to understand. I was, what my roommate referred to as, 'the jock.' I wore sweatshirts and jeans every day, did my hair the same every day, and wore very minimal makeup because I didn't really know what I was doing in that category of personal hygiene.

To my roommate, that translated to: The Maxine Project. It's sad, really. She curled my hair and dressed me up in frills and pearls and sent me to the Underground. Don't worry, that was really a legitimate place. "Safe" college hangout.

But it had to be incredibly obvious I was a jock dressed in sheep's clothing. No, really, I think I wore some kind of wool sweater. Because it certainly didn't help my social life like she thought it would.

By the time I was half-way through the second quarter, I knew I would be transferring to somewhere more "jock-friendly." The University was a good school, but pretty artsy. I'm not artsy. I had no friends, no car (a fairly critical component to living independently, I found), and no life. And my roommate was "in love" and wallowing in all that it implies.

I, on the other hand, was swooning over a guy I was tutoring in math. (Now, for those of you who know how pathetic I am in math, please pull yourself up off the floor from laughter and continue to read. Because actually, I was stellar in Algebra. And that's what I was tutoring him in. Maybe it's because there are letters in the equations.)

Unfortunately, I don't think the guy saw me as anything other than his ticket to a passing grade. And even though he was awfully cute, he was dumb as rocks. So, it wasn't too tough to say goodbye to him.

But I had bigger problems. I was barely passing one of my classes, myself.


I blame my high school History teacher for my lack of knowledge in this area, though. All I learned in his class was how to fall asleep during yet another boring film with my head upright.

However, if it hadn't been for that college History course, I may not have discovered my life's work.

You see, History exams were multiple choice. But I found out several tests later, that you could opt out of them if you preferred essay tests.

I figured I couldn't do any worse with essay questions, so thought I'd give it a shot.

And guess what?

I found out I could write my way to a passing grade. And not just a passing grade.

I was able to pull my low D up to a high B by quarter's end.


I started my sophomore year as a transfer student at University #2. And my journalism teacher whipped me into shape.

I thought I could write until I met that guy. He could make Walter Cronkite cry.

But he made me better. And I still feel him peering over my shoulder when I'm writing a news story, critiquing every sentence. It keeps me humble!

So even though "Freshman Year" might be the pits, it doesn't last forever (thank God!).

I eventually learned how to eat pizza in moderation, get back into my jeans, and actually enjoy my old roommate again (she really did mean well).

But please don't ask me what year Taft became president.

Because then you will be forced to listen to me talk about how he was such a large man he got stuck in the White House bathtub, that he liked to play tennis, and that he never really wanted to be president...meanwhile I will hope to lose you in the dialogue enough to make you think I answered the question.