Monday, September 22, 2008

Alma Mater, Wise and Glorious, Shrine of Light and Home of Truth

As I mentioned in my post below, I went back to college yesterday.

Even though my Alma Mater is less than an hour from my current home, and even though one of my Girlfriends works there everyday, I haven't often returned.

I did go to campus last October at Home Coming (at the urging of the above referenced Girlfriend), and I would say that is is likely that she will convince Husband and I to return again this year. (D~'s persuasive that way. :-) )

But, of course at Homecoming, the campus is crawling with alumni, whereas yesterday it was not. D~ and I and our daughters were interlopers on a campus filled with 18 to 22 year olds, going about their regular Sunday afternoon routine. (Which, truthfully, did not seem to match with MY college Sunday afternoon routine, which, as I recall, mostly involved long naps to recover from Saturday night.)

It was bizarre to be there, to walk around the campus with D~, which brought such a feeling of familiarity and deja-vu. (D~ was a sociology major and I was sociology minor, so, we had a lot of classes together, which we often walked to and from together. In the back of my mind yesterday, I felt like we needed to hurry or we were going to be late for Dr. Ward's Social Theory class!)

When I arrived on campus as a sophomore transfer student in the fall of 1991, I was recovering from what I would probably describe as the worst year of my life. My freshman year of college was a horrible, horrible year for me.

I spent that first year at a small college that has, in recent years, become a bit infamous for a tawdry affair between the college president and his own daughter-in-law, which culminated in the daughter-in-law's suicide in an arboretum on campus. (This story was fictionalized on an episode of Law & Order, as a matter of fact.)

During my year at that now infamous little college, a variety of bizarre and disturbing things happened to me. (I swear that I am not making any of this sh*t up. It was, hands down, the WEIRDEST year of my life.) I was stalked by a woman who threatened to stab me to death in the library. (She made this threat over the phone, not in person.) I was on the receiving end of some totally inexplicable anti-Semitism. (Inexplicable both because it was 1990 and I couldn't believe that such overt anti-Semitism still existed, and inexplicable because, well, I'm not Jewish. However, at the time, I refused to comment on my religious affiliation, because it seemed to me that if one is being abused for being Jewish, calling attention to the fact that one should not be abused because one is not, actually, Jewish, was the coward's way out. If that makes sense?) One of my professor's killed himself ~ in his classroom. Another one of my professors accused the administration of being responsible for the suicide because (it was alleged) the administration was making an issue of the professor's sexual orientation. I was cast as the lead in the winter show (The Glass Menagerie), angering a gaggle of upper class theater majors who then had me blackballed from sorority rush. An anonymous and scathing review of The Glass Menagerie was printed in the school paper which bordered on being libelous, and, an investigation would later reveal, it was written BEFORE the play opened. (Scandal.) The editor of the paper stepped down when she refused to reveal who had written the piece. I was painfully betrayed by someone I trusted. (To this day, I cannot say that person's name without sounding like Seinfeld hissing, "Newman!")

Additionally, I was involved in an intense and heart-wrenching relationship with a man who was three years older than me, and a senior, who repeatedly told me he wanted to marry me. For reasons that would not become clear until a decade later*, his mother hated me and refused to approve of our relationship, which caused the man (and myself) an immense amount of grief. (Literally, grief. On one of the last occasions we were together, just before his graduation ceremony, he read me a passage from C.S. Lewis's, "A Grief Observed", in which the author describes how much his misses his late wife, writing, "Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything." After reading that to me, he said, "That's how I will feel now, forever, because they are making me leave you.") (That guy was horrifyingly emotionally manipulated by his family, however, it took me a long time to realize that it wasn't fair of him to lay his grief about our relationship on my feet the way he did. It was not me who did the leaving.)

At any rate, the year was difficult. Harrowing, even. I spent the summer following it at my mother's home, curled up in my room, crying a lot. I worked for my father and my grandfather and my sisters dragged me out with them on disastrous double dates with friends of their boyfriends. I remember that summer as being gray and rainy, but, maybe that is a trick of memory.

I was nervous when I arrived on the campus of my new school, which was a bit closer to home and felt a world away, in attitude, from the hell that had been my freshman year.

Because I had been so badly and painfully burned by the sorority rush experience at my first school, I was not interested in the Greek system at my new school. I'm not sure what made me change my mind about it - but, I cannot stress enough, really, how relaxed and happy I felt in my first few weeks on my new campus. After spending my freshman year at what felt like The Stepford College, to suddenly feel welcomed and normal was just exactly the thing I needed. I met a group of women who were interesting and strong-willed and funny and smart, and who didn't all wear the same outfits (at the Stepford school, literally, every Wednesday the sorority girls wore exactly the same outfit - I mean EXACTLY. One house had pink jumpers, one house had red plaid skirts with white shirts, etc.) I decided to join their sisterhood because I LIKED them, because they made me laugh, because they were everything I had expected the quintessential college experience to be, and everything that my freshman year had so. not. been.

And I never regretted that decision to become a part of them, and I will tell you that several of them are some of my best Girlfriends to this day. (And many of them are reading right now. And I love them for caring enough to come and read what I have to say.) :-)

Which brings me to the point, I guess, of this post. When I returned to campus with my Girlfriend D~, it was such a strange sense of walking backwards in time.

There were parts of campus that are exactly the same as they were back then. (I walked into the bathroom on the first floor of our sorority house, and, despite the fresh paint and it felt exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same (like 12 varieties of Bath and Body Works shower gel all at the same time.) I swear I could see the ghost of my former self, standing in front of the mirror on a Saturday night, curling my hair and putting on too much mascara. I swear I could hear the sounds of my best friends chatting in the hallway.

Other parts of campus were nothing like they were when I was there. Brand new buildings replaced old ones, it was a curious sense of familiarity and confusion. What happened to North Hall? What happened to the library? Are you kidding me there's a tanning salon in the student union? (I wish I was kidding about that, actually. Hello skin cancer!)

It was surreal to walk by the theater where I did Shakespeare and Strindberg and French farces and student written one-acts. It was surreal to see the fraternity house where, that first autumn on campus, my heart, which had been in deep freeze since the whole "her absence was like the sky" conversation, started to melt a little bit. The same house where I drank cheap strawberry wine in a purple room with a boa constrictor and most of my theater troupe, The Smiths and Nine Inch Nails playing loudly in the background. (The boa constrictor was not actually consuming any alcohol. I don't think.)

It was strange to look at the fraternity house where I met Husband one October night in 1992, at a fraternity-sorority mixer called, "Let's Screw". (Yeah, um, it wasn't actually as bad as it sounds. It involved everyone being given a nut or a bolt and trying to find all the other people at the party whose nut or bolt matched yours, and finding out 5 things about them. I don't know, however, that I will ever tell my children the name of the party where their father and I met.)

It was surreal to walk around the places where Husband and I got to know each other, and fell in love, and out of love, and back in love again. This was the place, where, I really became the person that I am today. Where I got to know myself. And it was strange to back there, because there are times, in my life right now, where I feel lost in the mundane of being a mommy, and being a lawyer, and balancing the check book and deciding what to make for dinner, and I think I lose sight, of ME. It was nice to be reminded of where that person, that "me", of where I came from.

So, I don't know that you can go home again, really. But, you can go back and revisit, and, sometimes, for a moment, it feels the same.


*As it turns out, the reason those parents hated me had everything to do with wanting their son to become a priest (which he did ultimately become) and nothing to do with me, personally. It would have been nice to have had that information at the time. I don't know if he is happy as a priest. I hope so. The situation worked out in my best interest, and I would like to think that it worked out in his best interest as well. I don't think I will ever know.


Anonymous Christina said...

I'm feeling very out of the loop because I have no idea what college you are talking about and with a scandal like that I feel like I should know. And holy cow is that a LOT of drama for one freshman year!! It's no wonder you were emotionally overwrought after all that! It's awesome you were able to change schools and find the place you really belonged. I changed schools too but I always felt like I really belonged at school #1 so it was sort of weird. And one time we went to visit school #1 and I had that flashback feeling too. There's just something about those college days - there's nothing like them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 8:58:00 PM  
Blogger Molly's Mom said...

*Sigh* Love your descriptions!

I wish I'd involved myself just a little more while I was there and not taken 18-20 credits per semester. Oh well. I definitely have good memories of that place!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Ahhh . . . you're making me all nostalgic, and now I want to go back and visit my campus. But something about the nearly 2,000 miles is prohibitive. And, like Christina, I have no idea where you spent your freshman year. It wasn't Antioch, was it? I can't imagine anti-semitism there, but you never know. That place is a little strange. Okay, very. Just my opinion, though.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 9:50:00 AM  
Blogger Tranny Head said...

I went back to my college about a year and a half ago for my roommate's wedding at the chapel there. I was hugely HUGELY pregnant at the time and had to wear a dress that looked like a potato sack. That being said, the best part of returning was that because I was in teh wedding party and hugely pregnant, they let me park really close to the chapel whereas when I was there in college I had to park like a mile and a half away from my dorm. AND PAY FOR IT!!!

Anyway, that being said, your first college sounds utterly bizarre and novel-worthy. It could put that Tom Wolfe novel about Duke to shame!

Saturday, September 27, 2008 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a bizzare and painful freshman year. I can't imagine going through all that AND learning to navigate normal college life as well. I'm glad it worked out for you, though. I'm not sure the boa constrictor faired as well. I hope he found help for that secret drinking problem.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 1:40:00 PM  
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Thursday, October 09, 2008 5:26:00 AM  

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