I am sitting at my desk in New York City, the very desk I sat at every day my senior year of college in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am drinking tea. I am looking out of the window at a drastically different view than this desk used to offer – instead of looking into an idyllic garden space (which none of my roommates or I ever used; take me back), I now stare face-on at another building that feels disruptively close to my own window. No, this building can’t even offer me a creepy-yet-comforting view into my neighbors’ domestic lives – the windows are too small. So here I sit, unaccompanied but with the knowledge that there are bodies all around me – above me (two floors), below me (four floors, or five if you count the basement), around me in all directions (I can see six huge buildings just from this one spot). They’re all full of people I don’t know, people I will never know - what is universally accepted as odd about New York city is the stark contrast between the number of people and how impossible it feels to actually meet anyone new. We are stuck in our fears of rejection, which are no doubt reinforced by the masks - hollow looks and dismissive retorts - that New Yorkers build up over the years.
I am terrified of what lies ahead; adulthood, somehow, crept up on me. And as I begin to settle into this new chapter of my life, I find myself more than ever thinking about the one I am leaving behind: college. What complicates this nostalgia is the fact (which I made all-too-obvious to some of my friends back at UVA) that I was not at all sad to leave it. I find myself stuck, now, in the odd position of missing a time and place I know I didn’t really even like.
College was, pretty much, social hell for me. As someone who spends most of her time – like many writers – feeling half in and half out of situations, Greek life was difficult to process. Parties in college are like Nazi Germany (sorry, distasteful analogy) in that in order to appreciate and get behind them, one has to be fully indoctrinated by them – you really have to drink the kool-aid (or the spiked, or in some cases peed-in, punch) if you will. I drank the kool-aid for a little while, BUT unlike most people (or so it seemed) my soul made expressly certain that I knew it didn’t really like that, that it needed to come up for air. I was giving up the things I really needed in my life – being outside, painting, writing, having conversations that went beyond a certain level – for parties and, after those, hangovers both physical and moral that I could only justify to myself for so long. I didn’t want “going out” to be the only thing I looked forward to, well, ever. To reinforce every confusion I already felt, I was spending my summers as a camp counselor in Washington state, where the values were COMPLETELY opposite to the ones UVA embraced.
My problem was that I tried to hang onto the person I realized I wasn’t – the party-girl I came to college thinking I might magically turn into – for too long. I thought about transferring to a less party-oriented school, but every time I almost decided to fill out those applications some boy (who I convinced myself I would end up marrying someday) came into my life and talked my weak heart out of it. It took going abroad the spring of my junior year (which I resisted letting a boy talk me out of after learning from past experiences) to find myself again and to remember who I wanted to surround myself with. But that didn’t make coming back to college at the beginning of senior year any easier: the boy I would have stayed for was no longer mine, and I was back in a world governed by parties and drugs and a group of friends that had become unsalvageable in its dividedness. I didn’t know how to be myself and the “fun” girl I had been simultaneously, and I handled the situation by removing myself from people I no longer felt I could be myself around. For so long, I had pretended to enjoy things I could no longer buy into, and I woke up from that period of my life exhausted and unwilling to go back.
Looking back now, I feel almost sick when I think about who I was in my last year of college, because it’s easiest for me to remember the times that I felt bad about being who I was. What sickens me even more is my reason for feeling sick about it in the first place: it’s not this “woe is me, I was so misunderstood” feeling, it’s more of a “why couldn’t I just keep on buying in and pretending for one more year?? Why was that so hard?” And I don’t want to blame myself for just letting myself be. But I guess that’s the lesson: it is incredibly hard to just let yourself be yourself, especially in our generation where everything that everyone else is doing is so visible all of the time. I ended up convincing myself, to my very core, that I was a boring person for not wanting to drink four days a week. And then when I forced myself to do just that, I found myself incredibly bored by the entire scene I was forcing myself to be a part of. I did have my fun nights and my fun days, but more often than not I just ended up eating a shit-ton of gross pizza and being angry at the world for no real reason (except that it had prescribed to me that I needed to drink more alcohol than any human should in a four-hour span).
Anyway, I am glad that I stuck it out at UVA, because, you know, as a writer, having the experience of being an outsider is just so important to the creative process. Just KIDDING. But I do truly think that feeling completely out of place had its backward perks. It made loving the friends I had waiting for me in New York - my roommates and old friends - feel like utter bliss. And it also made me appreciate the incredible friends I did have through all of it, the ones who reassured me that I wasn’t crazy for not loving what everyone else loved. I learned that the feeling of doing what I needed or wanted to do in my gut, even if it meant being alone a lot of the time, was better than the feeling of anxiety that took over, in my darkest moments, when I went on for too long being someone else.
It’s hard not to feel bad for not loving every aspect of college, popularly advertised from the beginnings of time as “the best four years of your life” and real-time advertised by all of your friends, every day, on social media as just that. But I’m working on accepting that that just wasn’t the case for me, and thank god – I get to be the weirdo who looks forward to her thirties.