Letters from the Hedge: Moving Out, Moving On

If everything goes according to plan (I am notoriously pessimistic and won’t be convinced until I actually have the key in my hand) this will be my last night living in a dorm.  Ever.  Furthermore, it will be my last night ever sleeping in a single bedroom, which wouldn’t be as big of a deal except I’ve had the privilege of a single room for the past calendar year.  Most of my things are packed, the proper documentation has been filed, I have a plan for how tomorrow is going to go … I have mixed feelings about leaving.  On one hand, I am 22, and to be honest it’s probably time for me to start growing up.  On the other hand, this has been my home for the past four years, and to think that I’ll never live here again is just so strange.  What am I going to do with this, my last few hours in on-campus housing?  I dunno, probably watch anime or play The Sims.  I never said my life was exciting.

Five Things I Won’t Miss About This Dorm:

1. The soda machine in the basement.  I’m truly not addicted to caffeine at the moment.  I can skip a full day, or even a week, without coffee and not get a headache or depression or any signs of withdrawal whatsoever.  So why do I still happily spend $1.50 on a drink that has over half the caloric value of a full meal??  Probably the only reason I didn’t get very fat and become very poor during my years at college was because the soda machine only accepted cash and I never had any.  Ah, but now it takes credit cards.  Truly the dark times are upon us.

2. The noise.  I was far more sensitive to sound when I was younger, to the point where certain prolonged noises, especially muted talking and laughter, would actually cause me to burst into tears.  But still, it’s very annoying when it’s 3 AM, you have an important midterm in eight hours, and everyone in your hall is still up.  I don’t blame anyone for this.  When 250 young people with wildly varying schedules and interests are crammed into one building, tensions are bound to run high.  I still won’t be sorry to say goodbye to these thin walls and crowded halls, though.

3. The all-you-can-eat food – and the eating environment.  We’re all adults, supposedly, so the serveries offer healthy food as well as hamburgers and pizza, so one can decide for themselves exactly how much calories and nutrition to consume.  I tended to go on kicks where I would eat exactly the same thing for months in a row.  Freshman year, every morning for breakfast I ate Lucky Charms and Yoplait.  People teased me about my unhealthy choices more than once.  My typical breakfast senior year was either scrambled eggs and biscuits or breakfast tacos and a glass of Coke.  That couldn’t have been any healthier, but I also ate almost all of my meals at my desk or computer while working instead of with people, so I was spared any snarky comments.  I’m very afraid of people watching me eat or cook now because I have no idea what they’re going to say about me.  Or my food.

4. The distractions.  It’s become a running joke (?) that I hate chemistry, even though I’m a chemistry major.  My hatred of chemistry courses, combined with the multiple other options available to me, created a study environment that would probably be challenging to a much more disciplined person than myself.  My boyfriend, whose GPA is approximately 5 million points higher than mine, lived off campus for three of his four years and consequently (he says) found it easier to concentrate because he wasn’t around for any study breaks or campus parties.  Since I don’t have a car and can’t afford the $2.50 for the light rail 7 times a week, I expect\hope that the same thing will happen to me.

5. The fire alarms.  Let’s see, what was my favorite fire alarm?  The one where it was 30-something degrees out and I forgot to bring a sweater?  Or the one where I got caught getting out of the shower and had to go outside with a wet body and wet hair, soaking through my pajamas?  Or the one the night (morning) before all the math finals?  I didn’t have a math final that semester, thank God, but I felt so awful for everyone who did.

Five Things I Will Miss:

1. Free everything.  Free toilet paper and soap.  Free heating, electricity, Internet, and water.  OK, technically it isn’t free because someone has to pay your tuition, but it all comes included, which is nice.

2. Free maintenance and housekeeping.  Yes, we have communal bathrooms, but they get cleaned for us.  Over the summer I had sugar ants in my room.  I just asked maintenance to come spray my bedroom, and within a few days all the ants were gone, and I could use my laptop again.  (I’ve heard horror stories about ants crawling into machines.)

3. The all-you-can eat food.  I probably ruined my cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but those waffles, bean and beef burritos, savory crepes, and dinner rolls were so worth it.

4. The distractions.  The last time I visited my boyfriend he said, “You know, I sort of envy you.”

“Why?” I asked, because I am really obtuse sometimes and forget that I actually have it pretty good.

“Because you’re involved with your school,” he said.  “You were involved with theatre, and writing, and community outreach, and -”

“Shhhh,” I said, even though it’s true, I was so heavily involved with different extracurriculars at one point that I ended up on the email listservs of both the student-run theatre company and the English department.  Although my grades almost certainly suffered, I have no regrets.

5. The friends.  Once I got that tiny little boost of energy to get up off the floor and go outside, I found a whole range of wonderful people.  I met them at parties, and through study breaks, and in classes, and through Facebook (!) and through student jobs, and the more people I met the more of their friends I met.  Since my university is pretty small, I could almost always find something in common with any new person – maybe we had both been in the same chemistry section freshman year, or maybe we went to the same concert at the music school?  Since my university is also physically small, I could meet up with friends at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes I didn’t even bother to change out of my pajamas or put on a bra, which let’s be honest, would be a bad idea anywhere outside of a university campus.

These four years have been a wild ride, with some of the best – and worst! – moments of my life happening in the very building I’m now writing from.  But now it’s time for me to go, so someone else can begin the wonderful, terrifying, crazy, life-changing experience that is life at college.

There are approximately 4 months, 1 week, and 4 days until I graduate.


2015: The Summer of New Beginnings

At the end of the spring semester, a whole 3 months ago, two very extraordinary and long-wished-for things had happened to me.  First, I managed to achieve a GPA of 3.5-something, with no grade lower than a B, for the first semester in my entire time at college.  Technically it was the second semester, unless you count organic chemistry, but it was still a long way from that terrible sophomore year when I halfheartedly dragged myself through two twelve-hour semesters and at the end of it all was only too glad to escape school and hide in my bed at home forever.

Secondly, through a combination of stress, increased exercise, and many lunch periods skipped while cramming for my 1 PM capstone lab, I managed to lose almost fifteen pounds in three months.  My smallest pair of shorts, which were almost too tight to zip up at my heaviest, now hung loosely around my hipbones.  My stomach was newly flat.  The first time I raised my arms to shampoo my hair and saw my abdominal pulse, now clearly visible, I spent the night convinced that I was about to die.

No one else commented on my weight loss, though.  Did they even notice?  And while I was busy congratulating myself on my grades, the rest of my class was getting ready to graduate.  Many of them were going to grad school, or medical school, or lucrative jobs.  Meanwhile, there I sat, with my scraggly hair and acne-covered face, watching my Facebook feed full of beautiful, happy, successful people.

Something had to change or I was going to snap.  So I deactivated my Facebook account.  I didn’t really make a fuss about it.  I didn’t think anyone would miss me.  I deleted my Snapchat app, as well, and my Tumblr, and while I couldn’t quite bring myself to shut down Instagram or Twitter I stopped posting on them for some time.

While a few of my friends told me they hoped I would come back to Facebook soon, only one or two long-distance friends reached out to me via text or email.  During those weeks, I logged back on to Twitter occasionally, hoping to find DMs or mentions – something.  Nothing appeared.

I was surprised, but to be honest, I shouldn’t have been.  After all, I have about 950 Facebook friends, but only about fifteen of those I can really call “friends,” people I could comfortably chat with over a cup of coffee – and only five of those fifteen are close or “best friends,” people I’d feel comfortable (if I weren’t so anxious, anyway) calling or texting on horrible nights when everything is falling apart.  This concept of limited social group sizes is called the Dunbar number.  Think of it as reading a novel – how many characters can the author add before you start losing interest?  If one of my 950 Facebook friends deactivated their account, sadly the chances are pretty slim that I’d even notice, much less care.

It was still hard for me to accept.  In the novel that is my life, I’m the main character, but I’m not the main character – or even a very important one – in most others.  I was sad but determined.  I’m going to lose even more weight, I thought.  I’m going to study chemistry and grow out my hair and stop picking anxiously at my skin.  I’m going to become smart and beautiful and when people come back to school they won’t even recognize me, I’ll be so much better than I was before.

This was not the way that things would turn out.  To be honest, I’ve probably gained that fifteen pounds back and then some.  Yes, I reviewed chemistry, but maybe half of what I had hoped to cover.  And when I got my traditional end-of-summer haircut, the stylist held up my hair and said, “To get rid of all the split ends I’ll probably have to cut off about an inch, is that okay?”  Three months of growth, gone.

The most important consequence of my weeks away from Facebook is that none of these things really matter to me anymore.  Particularly not where my appearance is concerned.  I can’t begin to tell you the sense of relief I felt when I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted again.  The cellulite came back, and the tiny pouch of fat on my stomach, but oddly enough, so did my self-confidence.  I bought a big bottle of chamomile shampoo and watched the gold and honey-colored highlights work their way out over the course of the summer.  I went to the mall, the fancy grocery store, the consignment store.  I ate a hamburger and fries at a place called Mooyah, and watched sitcoms and cooking shows with new friends from my job, and visited my boyfriend’s new apartment in Minnesota, which I can tell you I never expected to do back when I first met him almost seven years ago.

I learned that there’s a time and a place for social media and that I’m fully capable of using it to buy and sell things, and to track down free food, without letting it consume my life.  And this summer, somewhere between juggling apartment paperwork and celebrating reaching 60 Ranged on Runescape (I refuse to grow up before my time) I sort of … forgot to worry about how everyone else was doing compared to myself.

I’m not a medical student, or an actor, or a slam poet, and I probably will never be any of those things.  But I am employed, safe, and relatively healthy, within shooting distance of my degree, and right now I have a full stomach and people – at least five! – who love me.

Everything’s going to be okay.