I had a very hard time when I first went to college. I had no mentor. Nobody had gone before me but my sister, a few years ahead. I hope to change this for my son, if he goes.
My late high school existence had been rule-free and lived to the edge of rebellion and excess. I felt dorm life to be restrictive, stupid, overly loud and distracting. I brought ear plugs to my work a few days ago because at times it can be like a dorm, with people chatting about the latest development in a TV show or whether or not we are having a lunch meeting, and I’m trying really hard to understand what ANSI Cut 4 level means or am writing stuff about how used fryer grease gets transported out of your fryer and I can’t really think about zombies or unfairly convicted criminals or whatever. No wonder I never got anything done when I lived on campus.
A friend of mine recently accepted a teaching position at Kent, where I went to school. So much has changed since then. Adriatico’s pizza is gone, and so is DuBois bookstore, both of which were super close to my first off-campus apartment.
I tried to start an artists’ commune when I was at Kent. I thought it would be a good way to pool our expenses, group study, and bring artists together under a single roof. I still see benefits to this way of life. I developed a newsletter for our commune and a lot of people thought it was a great idea, but in the end, we didn’t have the money or the drive, and it didn’t happen.
I met a boy when I lived in the dorm. He made us stay up all night long and sit atop a hill near the Geology building so we could watch the sun rise together, as that was the best place in town to see the sun rise, or so he said. He was right. I remember watching it to this day. I remember how the grass was cold and wet even though it had been a warm night, and how I dozed under his jacket, and we drank the cheap beer that we brought, and how nobody bothered us. Nobody even knew we were there. The sunrise was so, so quiet. Nobody was up. Nobody stirred anywhere near where we were. The world was our secret and our joy. I feel that still, sometimes, when I see the sunrise. He taught me about Patti Smith and Dire Straits and Rickie Lee Jones, and convinced me to elect my dance minor, as he was a dance major. He taught me how to keep a journal, which is why I blog today. And a lot of other lessons which were not as fun to learn. He hurt me so bad I spent nights outside sleeping in a parking lot in the rain, disoriented and lost. Love can be the greatest thing, and it can wound you so deeply as well. But I was alive, and I felt, and so I do not regret it, looking back.
I entered college fighting. I showed up with my best male friend, my sister and a blank check from my Mom to cover the cost of 1/3 of the payment plan I was due to make for tuition and room and board. I wanted to get in to the Fine & Professional Arts dorm, but by the time I left for school, I still had no dorm assignment, so the price was unknown. I’d called the Bursar’s office and asked if I could still get the 1/3 payment plan even though I didn’t know my dorm and they said sure, just come to registration and we’ll figure it out.
At registration, which, youngsters, was in a giant ballroom at the school where you stood in line to get the classes of your choice, I learned finally that I had been assigned to the F&PA dorm. I went to pay, with my blank check that could only be written for a few hundred dollars, the 1/3 amount. They were not cool. The date had passed, you had to pay at least 2/3. I explained how I had called. They did not care. I did not have 2/3. All my stuff was in the van with my friends. I couldn’t go home; my Mom was selling my house and moving to another town. I had no place to go. I went back to the people who assigned me my dorm, crying. “Who told you that you had to pay that much?” the nice girl asked. “THAT BIG MAN IN THE SUIT OVER THERE!” I said in my loudest voice, pointing at him like he was a Body Snatcher, and everyone stared. I sobbed loudly. They were not fake tears. The Bursar relented, and I was able to pay 1/3, with the 2nd third coming out the next month. Everything requires pushing and being a bitch, I learned.
I don’t want to do everything for my son. If I were rich and I could, which I am not, I would not want it to be that way for him. But I would rather it not be so HARD. For everything to be a fight, a struggle, just to get in, to be there, to belong.
When I drive home from work sometimes I think about what we should have for dinner, and then I remember I do not have him this week, and what I have for dinner does not matter.
I folded and put away all his clean laundry tonight. I put the clean sheets and pillowcase back on his bed. They are waiting for him to return. But what I have for dinner doesn’t really matter as long as it gets me through to when I see him again, when I can stop with him on the sidewalk on the way in to school and show him how we are getting another minute of light every day now, and how you can see the sun rising over the trees that line the playground. We take a minute, I kneel down, and we look at it for a second. The shadow over half of the moon. Venus shining brighter than bright. The amazing stars. The cold air making our breath white. Someone showed me what was special once and I want to show him.
But not right now, as this is not my week. It has been a lifetime of learning to be without those who bring you something special and then take it away for a time, and I have never gotten used to it. And I never will. If you can’t fix it, you just have to stand it.