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.)