The day my parents dropped me off, I didn’t even let them stay for more than an hour. I rushed them out of Harrisonburg. I walked them down three floors and told them, “This doesn’t have to be a sad moment.” I hugged my mom and dad. They drove four hours back home. I went upstairs and cried alone in this new room that didn’t feel like my room quite yet. I wiped my face and walked across the street and bought a sub and ate by myself in a Jimmy John’s booth. Growing up was a lot harder than I thought.
I was still 17 that day– my 18th birthday would be the first Wednesday of class, but I still had to get through orientation.
I wasn’t sad about being alone until I realized that JMU was not the best fit for me. It took me about one day after moving in until I came to this conclusion– when the girls in my hall were still acting like girls and not women, when I wasn’t a part of the “cool” crowd, when I realized that people stay the same except for their bodies, and, depending on the body, it’s their bodies that allow them to stay the same.
Fit, nubile and playful, my hallmates were impatient to be used as currency by men in jerseys who would stare at them hungrily. I was, too– or at least I wanted to be ready for this. The tour of greek row, vodka in water bottles, hiding from the RA: these things were rites of passage for college women. I guess I never got there because instead of hitting the frat houses, I watched an open mic night with my new friends Cheryl and Tatum on Thursday of orientation week.
I remember seeing something in them that was so much like what I was feeling; they expected something much different from higher education, they wanted to become more of themselves. We didn’t hate the women in our hall– we just didn’t understand them yet, nor they us.
Instead of roaming dark, foreign streets pining for free Keystone and desirous glances we sat on couches and admired people with acoustic guitars who wanted what we wanted, who felt what we felt, this visceral desire for self-completion, self-actualization. After hours of sitting in a circle, singing and ripping grass out of Godwin field as we giggled and put on our own talent show, we sunk into our beds and I remember wondering how long it would be until I didn’t feel lonely anymore.
I don’t remember the first time I spoke to either of them; I guess you don’t often remember the moments you meet people– you just remember the moments when they made an impact on you.
After four endless days of orientation, school began and I sat alone every day to eat lunch, which was something I’d never done before. I would get pizza because it was self-serve and sit quietly in D-hall. The days all melted together and suddenly, I was 18. Oh yeah, it’s my birthday, the first Wednesday of classes. Yet, not much felt different. I was still just going to class, eating alone, missing home. Nothing automatically changed. I guessed this is what adulthood is, eating alone and sleeping alone and sitting in class alone, not saying hello to the people who live in my same building and screwing my earbuds so far into my ears that they wouldn’t come out, not even for sleep.
I climb the stairs lethargically to my bed after a day of long-winded thought in between classes, but I see Tatum and Cheryl, who usher me into Tatum’s room.
They bought me a cake. In the middle was a candle that we didn’t light. I was presented a red paper crown that I wore proudly during my little birthday celebration with Tatum, Cheryl, and two boys we had just met. The cake was chocolate and rich, and of course we had leftovers– it was only a few of us.
When I went to bed that night I felt something different. I still felt lonely, but something was changing– or, I knew it was going to change. The moment I walked into Tatum’s room and looked at the birthday cake, bought by strangers to celebrate my loneliest holiday yet, I began to think things were going to be okay. When we cut the cake and I wore the crown and we stood in a circle and talked about our new classes and new lives, I knew things were, eventually, going to be okay.
I’m thankful for my two sweet friends for giving me that moment.