*Some names have been changed.
I felt miserable when I got back to IU for my sophomore year.
I had decided to stay in the dorm because I’d loved it so much as a freshman, but it felt like a completely different place now. This dorm to me, I realized, had been Megan, Kim, and Andy. And now they were gone.
And not just gone from the dorm—they were gone gone.
Kim cut off all contact with us the day she moved in to her sorority house, exiting my life more quickly and completely than anyone had before. Andy had to take a semester off because of an infection that nearly killed him. And Megan had moved off-campus and started dating her first boyfriend.
Luckily I was rooming with Anne, a friend from my freshman floor whose quirks were a wonderful match for mine. Whenever I dropped my calculator down the front of my shirt and pretended to give birth to it, she would ask how many centimeters I was dilated. When I stuffed my clothes inside my other clothes to make it look like a person, she said “Let’s name it Princess Sophia.” And when she tracked down the mystery dude who tapped on our door at exactly 11:30pm each night and proceeded to chase him around the dorm wearing crazy makeup, one rain boot, a fake penis, and my monkey underwear on her head, I was there to cheer her on and take pictures.
But Anne had an emotionally abusive boyfriend back at home who didn’t recognize everything that made her awesome. He didn’t allow her to socialize outside of our dorm room or talk to anyone besides me, and he punished her if she missed one of his calls (even if she’d been in the bathroom). She went home every weekend to be with him.
So while every other student in the world breathed a sigh of relief on Friday afternoons, I would just come back to our room after my last class feeling frantic about the empty hours that lay before me. My loneliness grew enormous with Anne gone. It filled our whole room, and it overflowed out our second-story windows. I would take a few tablets of Melatonin and pray that it could somehow keep me asleep until Monday morning.
Sometimes during these hours, I would wonder how long it would take for someone to find me if I died. I didn’t have any floormates this year, because our room was at the center of our X-shaped dorm. Just our door in the middle of an empty hallway, eerily secluded from the day-to-day sounds and sightings of the hundreds of other students who supposedly lived in the building.
If I died on a weekend, Anne would obviously find me on Sunday. But what if I didn’t have a roommate? The only other person who might notice I was gone was Megan. The time we spent together had decreased drastically this year, but she and I still met once a week for dinner at Panera. She might stop by if I missed a Panera night.
Something like this actually happened in a dorm at IU. A guy noticed an odor on his floor and filed a maintenance request. The maintenance man came but he couldn’t figure it out. He said the smell might be coming from the trees.
The odor worsened until they finally found the guy’s neighbor dead in his closet with a bucket of hydrogen sulfide. They said he’d been dead for seven to ten days.
Seven to ten days? Because of the odor? Shit. I felt that answered the question of why better than any note he could have left behind. I couldn’t blame him. Just thinking about that made me want to kill myself.
I wasn’t good at being alone. Maybe because I’d never really had to be. Claire lived two houses down from mine and had been my best friend since first grade. She came to my house after school most days for twelve years, even when all we did was nap. We used to plan our wardrobes to wear the same clothes to school on the same day. She had an official spot at my family’s dinner table.
I wasn’t used to being romantically alone either, as I had proudly been one of those girls in high school who always had a boyfriend. So when I had fantasized about coming to college, I’d always imagined myself dating many, many guys. I’d figured that college would be my chance to try it all—athletes, musicians, nerds, black guys, stoners, goths. Why not? I figured I would acquire a ton of hilarious dating stories, kiss more guys than I could count on my fingers, graduate single, spend my twenties being spontaneous, and then eventually marry around age thirty.
Now I felt so far removed from the girl who’d dreamt up that life. Now I would have given anything to have one loyal boyfriend to share a boring life with. Or to fast forward through this stage of life entirely, to a time when I had a husband and kids and never had to wake up on another Saturday morning all alone.
“I don’t get it,” Bevin said on the phone one night when I told her I didn’t know how to meet guys. “Aren’t there, like, fifteen thousand guys at your school?”
That was the thing. Technically there were guys everywhere. Swarms of them. I walked past hundreds of them every day. Every hour. If guys were dollar bills, my tuition would be covered.
At first I’d assumed that the mere statistics of it meant that romance could and would blossom anywhere—the cafeteria, the bus, a crowded stairwell on the way to class. But in reality, nobody seemed to talk to anybody else. Everyone was busy with phones and iPods. I never had class with the same person twice. I had no idea how to bridge the distance between seeing people and knowing people. How did other people do this? Most days I didn’t speak to anyone but Anne.
I felt desperate to talk to someone about the way I was feeling. But whenever I called Claire or Bevin, they were on their way to a party or some other thing that normal college kids do, making college life seem so fun and easy that I felt too pathetic to admit the depth of my sadness.
The only person I could imagine telling was Vanessa.
Vanessa was the young graduate student who taught my creative writing class. I was confused by my desire to confide in her, because we didn’t have any kind of special relationship. I couldn’t explain it, I just knew she was the one I wanted to tell. She was gentle and kind. And if she had chosen to be a writer, then I figured she must have some wisdom and understanding of life’s pain.
I e-mailed her and asked if I could meet with her after our next class to ask some questions about an assignment. She said yes.
After class she and I walked together from our classroom to a nearby lounge in the building. I was flushed and shaky, unsure of what exactly I was going to say to her, unsure of why.
I pulled my phone out of my bag to have something to fidget with as we entered the lounge. I glanced at the screen. Five missed calls, three messages.
Vanessa and I slid into the chairs of a table and I tossed my phone back into my bag.
She smiled, and asked me what I wanted to talk about.
My mind went back to my phone. Five calls and three messages? For someone who had no social life?
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Would you mind if I checked my Voicemail real quick? I have a weird feeling.”
“Of course,” she said, gesturing for me to go ahead.
Two of the messages were from my mom, who normally only called on Sundays, asking me to call her as soon as I could. The other was from Bethany, a friend from home I hadn’t spoken to in ages. Her voice in the message was cracked and sad. She asked, “Is there anything we can do for Claire?”
Vanessa glanced around the room as I called my mom three times in a row. She didn’t answer. I called Bethany.
“What does your message mean?” I asked Bethany when she picked up. “What happened?”
“Oh my God,” Bethany said. “I figured you already heard.”
“I’ve been in class all day. What happened?”
She paused. “I shouldn’t be the one-“
“Tell me. Please tell me now.”
She let out a breath. “Claire’s brother died.”
I thought it was only in movies that everyone wore black, so I wore turquoise. I could not have been more wrong.
It was like a crashing black ocean flooded the church that morning. Young men in black with shocked stone faces, young women dripping black tears onto their black blouses and skirts. My dad used to joke that there always seemed to be a trail of adoring girls who followed Claire’s brother everywhere he went. They were all still here. All dressed in black.
Brandon was everything everyone wanted to be in high school. Football player, volleyball captain, homecoming king. Over the years he had transformed in my eyes from neighborhood playmate to Claire’s cool older brother to a kind of high school royalty who I felt privileged to have a connection to, if only because of my friendship with his sister and the fact that we’d grown up two houses apart. He drove Claire and me to school that overlapping year when he was a senior and we were freshmen. And I always felt so lucky to be seen riding in with him, in all my undeserved freshman glory.
He’d been living in Seattle as a Marine when he died. He was twenty-two the night that car flipped, killing him and his three friends instantly.
Bevin and I had gotten in to town the night before the funeral. We’d whisked Claire away from her house full of relatives and taken her to Dairy Queen and then to a couch where we watched Grey’s Anatomy as we laid tangled up in each other, our limbs interchangeable, our faces sore from shock, our bodies tensing anytime a character in the show mentioned death. The room went silent when the episode ended. What was there to say in a moment such as this? How could we keep pretending this was normal, all of us home from college on a Wednesday night in early October? How many more ways were there to not talk about Brandon?
And then Bevin lifted Claire’s shirt, shaped her lips around her belly button, and blew. Claire squealed and laughed as loud smacking sounds reverberated off her stomach. Then I pressed my lips to her belly button and did the same thing. And then Bevin and I did it to each other. And none of us could stop laughing. We laughed so hard that tears streamed down our cheeks, we laughed so hard our stomachs ached, we laughed until we couldn’t breathe, we laughed until we peed. We never laughed as hard as we did the night before they buried Brandon.
Back at school, a thick layer of grief settled over my loneliness. Whenever I forgot Brandon long enough to make it to that moment between wakefulness and sleep, that’s when the memory of his death would jolt me awake again. That’s when I would lay in the dark trying to grasp how someone who had been so alive just weeks ago, someone who had lived his life in the same schools and on the same driveways I had, could now be gone from this world forever.
But with my grief also came a small relief. It was strangely comforting to have an understandable reason to be sad all the time. A reason I could explain to Anne and Megan as the reason I did not want to do anything but lay in my bed and cry. A legitimate, non-pathetic reason that I could pretend was the real reason.
So with my relief also came guilt. Because Brandon wasn’t the real reason. He was part of the reason, of course. But he was not the main reason even though I felt he should have been. The things I had planned to tell Vanessa until I got the news that day were still true. I was still overwhelmed by my own loneliness. And how dare I indulge in a feeling as petty as loneliness in the face of the hugeness of Claire’s family’s suffering?
I needed to escape my brain. I wanted to run as far away as possible from this Indiana dorm room and all the sadness and shame I had filled it with.
But how? It seemed like it was too late to transfer. And I didn’t want to delay my graduation by taking time off.
I was contemplating this urge to escape while browsing Facebook one night. I stumbled across the profile of a girl I’d met through APO last year. My eyes fixated on a particular thing she had written. Thanks to my I-House family for the best semester of my life. If any of you ever find yourselves in Indiana, I have a couch with your name on it!
Intrigued, I started to do some digging. I gathered clues from her wall posts, status updates, photographs, and Google to reveal what had accounted for such a happy semester. I solved the puzzle within minutes. She had studied abroad at the University of Wollongong. Wollongong was a small, scenic city on the coast of Australia. “I-House” was an endearing nickname for International House, a dorm for students who came there to study abroad from all over the world.
By the time I crawled into bed that night, I knew I was going there.
It turned out that IU had a Study Abroad office, which surprised me since I hadn’t heard anyone else in Indiana ever mention the idea of studying abroad. I went there the very next day. The walls were packed with hundreds of binders. One binder for each of the places around the globe that IU could ship me off to, each filled with its own potential for friendship, romance, and adventure. Each with its own possible recipe for happiness.
I told the student working there that I wanted to go to Australia. She showed me to the Australia section and pulled out a dozen binders for a dozen Australian universities. She stacked them on a table and I flipped through each of them, making thoughtful sounds, pretending to carefully weigh my options based on several important factors.
But I was only pretending. I already knew I was going to Wollongong and I already knew I was going to live in I-House. I already knew everything I needed to know: I would get to live in a dorm with interesting people from all over the world where everybody wanted to make new friends, nobody was from rural Indiana, nobody went home on the weekends, and people thought of each other as “family.” Oh, and it was on the beach.
People were surprised by my decision. Honestly, I was kind of surprised too. I had never really been one to try new things.
I had been on a college visit with my dad a few years ago at the type of school where all the students were ambitious.
“Who here is planning to study abroad?” our tour guide had asked.
I had been the only prospective student who hadn’t raised my hand. Because I had already anticipated becoming so acclimated to college life that I wouldn’t want to step outside my comfort zone.
But that was before I knew my comfort zone would become a major suckfest.
By Christmas break, all my paperwork was turned in. I had one ticket to fly to Australia in July and one to return five months later.
Ok this is weird. You are the second random blogger I started following who I later found out spent time over here in Aus on exchange, the first was Finding Gravity, who spent time in MY town, Newcastle, and now I see you spent time in our south of Sydney equivalent. Yay!
Haha, very strange indeed. I LOVED Australia. Where in Australia are you?
I’m in Newcastle, which is about 2 hours north of Sydney. It’s basically the same as Wollongong: beautiful beaches, big uni, industrial. Some things about Wollongong are better, but some things about Newcastle are better too 🙂 Newcastle will always be my home 🙂
Wow! So many of your college experiences sound eerily similar to mine. I think part of it is that college is so eye-opening, so life-changing, so fraught with new emotions… When my college experience ended, I was relieved that I didn’t need to expend so much energy on stress and emotion anymore. Life afterwards was so much more manageable. ; )
Very touching post. Looking forward to reading about Australia!
I definitely relate to that insight of life being so much more manageable after college. I even found grad school to be way easier, emotionally. College is a weird time. And a lot of pressure, with so many people insisting it is the best four years of your life. Australia, on the other hand, DID turn out to be the highlight of my life. I hope to start doing some writing on it soon.
I loved this so-called “dark” post. You should write like this more often. I don’t think you don’t lose your usual humour — in fact, it comes through with even more depth and clarity.
As a current college student, I can completely relate to your anecdotes. I hope the study abroad was everything you’d dreamed of. Personally, any time I’ve been able to leave the country, I had a fantastic experience. 🙂
Thanks for reading! Totally agree about leaving the country. It did turn out to be a fantastic experience- hopefully I will do some writing on it soon.
Don’t let your roommate iiimtndate you with put-downs and rudeness, as my freshman year roommate did. You can be neutral and know that you’ll find a great roommate as you get to know more people on campus. It took me 2 years to find a roommate that really worked for me and to know just what I needed. My last 2 years of college were much happier than my first two. I’d also record via photo, YouTube, etc your favorite parts of college life; I don’t really have many photos (My college days predate video) and even my Dad’s camera unknowingly broke at my college graduation. I do have vivid memories of wearing hot pants under my gown for my 100+ degree outdoor graduation, that I hope I’ll never forget.I did have great fun packing up for college and picking up extra items at local stores once I got there. My family helped so much by buying me items I needed and by doing that feeling they were a part of my experience. Neither of my parents were able to go away to college or even attend day courses; both worked and went to business school (my mother) and to the-then Carnegie Tech at night on a full scholarship (of $300 a year how about that? That was no small amount in 1939. I didn’t even apply to CMU due to costs). The summer before I headed to William and Mary was one of my favorites.
I agree with Ms. Terri, that Regina seems sincere right now. But, of cuorse, tomorrow is another day. And she did change her mind and not burn the book stashing it away in case she might need it later.As far as Cora being the Queen of Hearts I don’t know a lot about the Alice in Wonderland story (never was a fan) so I can’t comment.But I will say this Mulan is getting on my nerves! Didn’t like her last week and even though we only saw her for a short scene this week I didn’t like her again.
1) I had a crush on Brandon since we went to the same daycare and he used to offer to carry my cot back to the pile after nap time. Such a gentleman at only 8 years old! Then add in volleyball player and concert pianist?! shivers!
2) I recently transferred all my emails to a new email address, so I got to see a lot of old letters flash by in the process. I remember writing you after a certain IDS post that I really related to, but at the same time had a hint of darkness I wasn’t used to. It’s amazing how the years can pass, circumstances can change, etc., but who we are and our desires can stay relatively constant. In a world where everyone is trying so hard to be unique, sometimes I think it might be easier if we all just admitted that all we really want is to feel accepted and connected to people. Kind of vague ramblings for a comment section, I know.
3) Also in the email transferring process, I realized I never replied to your response! Man, I wax on about the universal desire to feel connected, and I can’t even keep in email contact with people?! 6 years late, but sorry for the non-response!
4) I’m an engineer, so I enumerate my thoughts instead of thinking of transition sentences.
i’ve only lived near Boston two years and haven’t made it to NYC yet. BUT, if you’re coming in late ocoebtr, you’ll have the most breathtaking view of the leaves changing.i’ve never seen anything like it.Georgia can’t compare!
I kinda’ love you…like a LOT. Thanks for sharing this today.
Thanks! It was kind of scary to hit “publish” on this one, so I’m glad that people have gotten something from it.
Wow. I wish I had known you and I were going through the exact same things when I met you freshman year! Substitute both my grandfathers for Brandon and subtract your roommate and we were living identical lives.
I had no idea how to tell anyone how miserable I was, either, and like you, studying abroad saved me from all of it.
I’m so glad to see that you’re still writing! I’m sure I’ve told you at least twice, but that whimsical IDS column you wrote about the rain boots still sticks with me. You should re-post it here sometime when it’s right. 🙂
Aaaah we should have talked and hung out more back then! Oh well, even now its strangely validating to know we were going through the same thing. So glad the boots made a lasting impact- I just found them in my closet the other day, maybe I will have to write a sequel…
*sophomore year. I’m not sure why I said ‘freshman’ in the first place.
Well, maybe if you had been able to write an essay like this in high school, I wouldn’t have HAD to write your Personal Statement for your college applications. 🙂
I’ve been with this since the beginning but this is the first coenmmt I’ve posted. I am amazed at how well this is working out. The sense of mystery draws in readers. Keep up the good work! :3-Incantation
This episode helps us uasnrdtned how Regina gained her powers. Considering I thought she was born with them, I liked that they explaind that. I am also curious about why Rumple held Regina as a baby. Now onto the StoryBrooke timeline, everyone there is freaking out, which is uasnrdtnedable. Prince Charming to me though seems a little boring, so Im not to big of a fan of his. Snow White though I like, she is a fighter and has spunk. But my favorite is Regina/ Evil Queen, she has so much depth to her, she is so evil but inside all that hate is still good, which emerges in rare cases .You tend to love how evil she is but also are pulled in by her pain and want it to help her. As she gained her powers back in this new episode you saw her true colors return. Letting you know trouble is on its way. Overall, I liked the episode and have high hopes for the remainder of this season.
I honestly got lost in your writing–and I mean that as a compliment! I forgot I was reading a blog post; felt like I was in the throes of a great novel. Awesome!
That’s really good to hear- because I’m writing this as part of a memoir I’m very slowly writing. Thanks!
I never, ever read blog posts this long! I just couldn’t stop reading, great post.
Thanks so much! 🙂
I’m sorry to hear about your emotional stress, yet relieved that I’m not the only one who experiences it. I’m in college now, and have/do feel the same way. WHY IS IT SO HARD? I really just want to focus on school, but the stress of having a social life, or at least SOMETHING is amazing. I’m glad to hear it gets better. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know why its that way. Maybe because there IS so much pressure in the messages we get about how much fun we’re supposed to be having when we’re young and in college. So then even when things are going well, we can still feel like we’re doing something wrong if we’re not super happy. But college is such a transitional time. There is so much up in the air-careers, relationships, location. There’s something very unsettling about all of that. I think that things get easier a fewer years later, when we have a more stable concept of who we are and where we’re headed. But I don’t know, that’s just my theory. What are your thoughts?
Thanks Karen .I am looking foarrwd to you being one of the new additions to our class lineups.This will give you an opportunity first hand to see the enthusiasm these classes can create!
Cathing up on your old posts, this is just lovely!