College is best summed up in two lies: “I’m never drinking again” and “This is the last time I’m skipping class, ever.” At least, that’s the shortened definition of college in my experience, so far. (I’m just wrapping up my freshman year.)
I can still remember, with vivid clarity, the first time that I realized the full responsibilities that being a student at a university entailed. It wasn’t my very first day, when I ducked around campus with my head down, wishing that I could go back to the familiarity of high school, where I had known all 129 members of my graduating class since pre-k.
It was about two months into my first semester. Being a commuter, I had stayed at my friend’s dorm for the night after a casual group hangout turned into an impromptu Thirsty Thursday. I was a special hangover blend of painfully nauseous and painfully hungry, but I was still trying to play it cool as I walked from the dorms to the parking lot. In excessively ripped jeans and a cropped tank top that, paired with my noticeably knotted hair and smeared mascara, screamed "last night's clothes", I wasn't fooling anybody. I stopped a few steps short of the parking lot to take my shoes off because one of my flip flops had broken, and, for the first time that morning, I pulled my phone out of my pocket along with my car keys.
The lockscreen immediately caught my attention. It was one o'clock in the afternoon. Worse than that, it was one o'clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. Wasn't last night Thursday?!? I remember thinking. I scrolled through my text messages and realized that my miscalculation of the day of the week made me miss two classes, one test that counted for 15% of my grade, and a work meeting at my brand new job.
Overwhelmed with anxiety and self hatred, I sat down and put my head in my hands. And then, promptly, and very fittingly, I threw up. The tears came instantaneously. As I do every time that I'm crying uncontrollably, I called my mom.
After explaining the situation to her, she clicked her tongue and said, "Oh honey, that's a shame." "'That's a shame'?!" I scoffed, quoting her. "I am an absolute mess lately!" (The weekend before, I had visited a friend at another college and lost my truck, my entire truck, after I parked off campus late at night and couldn't remember which street, which direction, even, I had parked in. It took three hours and the help of three of my family members to eventually locate it on a random side street.) "Why is everyone letting me make all of these decisions for myself all of a sudden?" I sobbed into the phone. "I'm can't make good decisions. I'm making all of the wrong ones."
"You're in college now, honey, you're supposed to have the power to make your own decisions." My mom replied cautiously.
My mom recognized that this was a transitionary time in my life, and she was trying to respect that by taking a step back from me and guiding me instead of controlling me. It was terrifying. "You're growing up," she added.
"Growing up." The words echoed in my head, taunting me. Sitting barefoot on the side of the road next to a pile of my own vomit was one of first shots at growing up, second to losing not my phone or my purse, but my entire vehicle, at a college campus just days before. Growing up was something that I was apparently not very good at.
And yet, on that day and the days that have followed up to now, all throughout my first year of college, I did a lot of growing up.
3AM conversations in diners or dorm rooms or even frat houses have started and secured friendships that I will have for the rest of my life. Squeezing around a library table covered in MacBooks and highlighted notes and half-filled coffee cups, in the company of tired-eyed friends, has pushed me to make the Dean's List both semesters. From playing whiffle ball in the quad on the first warm day of Spring to all the Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, and Insomnia Cookies runs, I have made memories that I will one day tell my grandkids about.
My first year of college was freedom and friends and food and a lot of exclaimed "f*ck!"'s as I struggled with thesis statements and group projects and deadlines. It was all of these things, and so much more.
It was the taste of cheap rum triggering my gag reflex as I tried and failed to look cool taking a shot (or two). It was the feeling of elation, of pure invincibility, as an “A” paper I’d poured hours of time and energy into was placed on my desk by my professor or TA. It was the sense of belonging that I felt in class, in the campus center, in my group of friends, that I had never felt before.
It was watching Netflix, Grey's Anatomy specifically, every single time that I had something much more important to do. I can now quote Grey's better than I can quote any of the textbooks I studied over for hours. And I can make analogies like this one: The first year of college, to me, was what Seattle Grace Hospital was to Doctor Meredith Grey, "This is the place where I fell in love. This is the place where I found my family."
4,316 Google searches, 207 beers, and 78 iced coffees later, I am far from the girl that I was when I was half alive and half dressed on the sidewalk realizing how important of a stepping stone college is in one's life. The lies that got me through these past eight months, like trying and failing to stop drinking and stop skipping class, weren't nearly as powerful as the truths I learned along the way.
A quarter of my undergrad is finished and I was sincere when I quoted Meredith Grey, because I can't think of a better way to put it into words. (I'm an English major and this is incredibly rare for me.)
This was my first year of college. This is the place where I grew up. This is the place where I fell in love. This is the place where I found my family.