The following is kind of an experimental type of blog post. I’m not sure how often I’ll do this sort of thing – but this particular topic felt like it needed to be written in a more narrative style than I would normally use on this blog. It just all sort of came together this way. I hope you all enjoy something a little different.
My alarm clock is set for 6:30, but when I wake up and check the clock, it’s 5:00.
Somewhere in my sleep-addled brain, I mix up the numerals for six and five, and I’m saddened that I only have a half hour of sleep left.
When I wake up for the second time at 6:00, I’m confused how a half hour could feel so long. It usually works quite the opposite. I wonder if, perhaps, I forgot to set my alarm.
When I wake up for the third time, it’s to the sound of the alarm I did indeed set. I blearily shove myself out of bed to the sound of my sister Maddy shouting for our dog Sam downstairs. He’s under my bed – I know because when I fell asleep he was on top of it, and while he sometimes tolerates sleeping the whole night in my room, he never tolerates sleeping the whole night on my bed.
I open the door to let him downstairs – appeasing both him and my sister – and I get dressed. I look at the one open box on my floor, the one open duffel bag, and the various other scattered items I left for myself the night before.
I am aware, slightly, on the edge of my consciousness, that today is the day I’ve been thinking about for months now. Years. A lifetime, even. It is a fact known to me in the same way I know there is a chocolate-frosted donut waiting for me downstairs in the kitchen. The same way I know I’ll have to go downstairs and pose for first-day-of-school photos looking like I just rolled out of bed, which I did.
Just simple facts of the day. Step one, wake up. Step two, get dressed. Step three, get packed. Step four, leave for college.
When Maddy’s bus comes, I stand in the driveway with my parents, holding Sam. He dislikes being held, and would much prefer to board the bus with Maddy, or sniff the lamp post, or do literally anything other than sit still in my arms.
I wave goodbye, and it is all very normal. Save for the fact that I am not boarding my own bus, it is normal. We all go back inside, I eat my donut, and the normal begins to fall by the wayside. We finish packing, we get in the car, we drive away, two and a half hours.
We drive past familiar sights and unfamiliar ones. At one point, we pass a high school with students pouring out of every door – a fire drill. I feel strange that I’ll never take part in a high school fire drill again. I see a girl wearing a giant gray shawl, and I think about how she picked out that shawl for school that day, or the day before, and how she’ll be going back into the school in a few minutes to a math class or a history class. It’s all too much all at once, the knowledge that I’ll never experience that again. And then the school is gone.
We arrive in Bloomington, and it is as I always remember it. It is beautiful, and imposing. Welcoming and frightening at the same time. I’ve seen a lot of it many times, but it’s streets and buildings are still more or less a mystery to me.
We drive down the temporarily one-way street to Teter, my new home. It is also as I remember it, the most familiar part of campus. My dad and I walk to the front desk while my mom starts to unload the car onto the sidewalk.
I realize too late in line that I need my student ID card out, and awkwardly struggle to wiggle it out of my wallet to present it to the girl behind the desk. She asks if I know my student ID number by heart, and when I tell her I do not, she tells me that I should learn it, but assures me not to worry, since she has it in front of her. The fluster that begins with the ID card continues through my embarrassment to the point where she presents my key to me with the caveat that if I lose it, it will cost $200 to replace it, my roommate’s key, and the lock itself, since the misplaced key could otherwise become a dangerous tool for would-be thieves. $200 is just settling on my ears when she reminds me that I get only two free lock-outs before I am charged $15 for every time I need someone to get me into my room or my building.
I take my key, numbly, and walk out. Dad takes the car and parks it, and Mom advises I go find my room. I try my darndest to, but every door I try to get into the dorm is locked, and my key won’t work. I see a keycard to my right, and I wonder if I’m supposed to use my ID card. But by then I’m too flustered, too convinced someone must be watching me with a mixture of pity and amusement (“Can’t even figure out a simple lock, what a freshman.”), and I walk back to my Mom. She reminds me that, indeed, the ID card is probably what I need to use, and I try again.
And, go figure, it works. And I find my room.
Boisen Room 219. My name is plastered on the door in the shape of Mr. Potato Head, next to my roommate’s, shaped like the piggy bank from Toy Story. I turn my key in the lock and it opens, blessedly, and I peek into my room for the first time.
At this point, I’ve seen quite a few rooms at Teter. I’ve toured the hall twice and seen countless pictures. But, even undecorated and untouched, my dorm is the prettiest of all of them. It’s cold – the air conditioner has its work cut out for it – but it’s mine.
My parents and I get to work moving my boxes and bags into my room. It doesn’t take that long, and thankfully we don’t have to take the stairs. Then comes the long process of decorating. Mom is adamant about moving our lofted beds out of the center of the wall to the corner of the room. I’m at first wary of the idea – first off, I’m not sure it’ll work the way she says it will, and second off, I’m not sure we’ll be able to move the beds. Dad proposes a simpler solution, but Mom has herself convinced, and soon we follow.
Mom is right, the beds moved into the corner give us far more space in the front of the room. The only problem is the way my bed – the top one – juts into the space where one of the two desks lie. It’s not as cramped for that desk area as I thought, but I take that desk anyway. My roommate isn’t here yet, but I don’t want to make her use this tiny space.
We debate where furniture will go with spirit for the rest of the morning, and we’re nearly done by the time my boyfriend Kirby texts me to inform me that he’s on a break from class and can have lunch with my family.
We meet him at the Indiana Memorial Union. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in two weeks – he came to live on campus early. We walk to Nick’s, and I notice for one, Kirby is pretty comfortable with campus, and for two, the two week absence has not at all affected our ability to talk about anything and everything. My parents hang back as he more or less leads the way to Nick’s, both of us just chatting.
It’s in that moment that I think that perhaps I was overreacting that morning about the stress this campus will cause me. It really is beautiful, and I have one of my best friends in the whole world right here, and all the restaurants on Kirkwood are delicious. Sure, I still have no idea where in the hell we’re going most of the time, but hey, Kirby figured it out in two weeks and so could I, presumably.
We eat Nick’s, and it’s good. It’s always good. We follow Kirby around to his dorm, Collins, and to the Wells Library as he fulfills tasks for class. And then we part ways, him back to class and my parents and I to Target.
We need light bulbs, wall hangers, and pushpins, but as we go on the list gets bigger. A whiteboard for the front of the door. Air-pop popcorn for the popcorn machine I received as a graduation gift. A bowl for said popcorn. Granola bars, a request from Kirby for his dorm.
Then, when we pass the shoe aisle, Mom is struck by a pair of simple black flats, and the buy one get one 50% deal prompts her also to buy me a pair of floral rainboots. As I try them on, Dad jokes that if I want anything in the world, today is the day for me to ask for it.
We head back to the dorm, and put finishing touches on the decoration. Dad strings twinkle lights over my bed. I decide where my posters should go.
By then, I’m sweaty and disgusting. The weather outside is sticky and hot and by the time we’re done, I want nothing more in the world than to try out the showers on my floor. Still, I pose for a few pictures, and suddenly, without much fanfare, my parents have left.
The room is so very quiet without them there. I gather my stuff together for the shower, and, unnerved by the silence, put on my record player while I work. All at once, my RA is at the door. My RA is a friendly, bubbly girl named Cat, and she strikes up a conversation with me about my “Hamilton” poster. We swap stories about how we both saw it in Chicago.
As we talk, more people arrive. There’s Brynn, across the hallway from me, who used to be in Marching Band and bemoaned how my former marching band beat hers pretty soundly last season. There’s Sarah, several doors down, who complains about how her top bunk is inconvenient to get up and down from. There’s even more whose names I’ve forgotten, because I’m not good with names. Cat lets me get to my “shower party” eventually, but not before inviting me and the rest of the group to dinner at Forest with her.
Eventually, I manage to get all my shower stuff together. As I’m grabbing my towel, though, a slip of paper falls to the floor. Surprised, I stoop to pick it up. It’s a photo of me and my family from my NHS induction ceremony two years ago. We’re all wearing blue and black, and Maddy is a little blurry, but it’s a good picture. Thinking it just somehow fell in with my towels, I pin it to my mostly bare bulletin board anyway.
I take my shower. It feels far better than any dorm shower should, although that’s probably because I feel like a ball of grease. I change clothes. I put on makeup. I feel a little less transitional, a little more normal. I return to my dorm to relax for a bit before I head to dinner with Cat and several other people from my floor.
Dinner is wonderful. It becomes clearer and clearer that the beauty of meeting new people in college is that more or less everyone is on the same page – a little out of their comfort zone in a new place and hoping to spend time with some friendly faces. Over my delicious Forest Dining Hall cuban sandwich, I get to know several people from my dorm, and laugh… a lot.
Throughout the meal, I continuously have moments of clarity, looking around myself thinking, “Wow, I’m here. I’m here, with people I’ve met today, laughing like we’re all old friends. I’m here.”
When I return to my dorm, it’s with an odd feeling of peace with my new surroundings. It’s almost like nothing is real. I drift aimlessly around my dorm a bit – getting through the entirety of Walk the Moon’s “Talking is Hard” and Bastille’s “Wild World” on my record player, finishing up the book I had been reading, and chatting with the people who walked by my open door every so often. A little after 7, Kirby texts me and we agree to meet in front of Wells Library.
I sit at one of the tables outside for a few minutes. I’m proud of myself – I didn’t have to use Google Maps to find the library this time. It’s a small victory, since the library is literally a straight shot down a sidewalk from my dorm, but I’m holding onto what I have. Kirby arrives, and we walk back to my dorm. I show him my room, and then we walk to Collins and he shows me his. Sitting in Kirby’s dorm room, I feel incredibly blessed for the icy air conditioning in Teter, compared to the sauna-like humidity at Collins.
Regardless, though, I hang out at Collins for a while. With the fan blowing on us full blast, Kirby and I talk a little. I realize that I’m exhausted and so we spend a lot of time just sitting, in a sort of quiet silence. We browse some of the Welcome Week events going on that evening, but at that moment the prospect of getting up and going somewhere seems impossible.
Kirby walks me back to my dorm at around 10:30. And it’s in that muggy, muggy night air that it hits me for the first time that I won’t be going back home anytime soon after this. It hits me like a falling piano – cartoon style – and the full weight is crushing. It’s all I can do to keep walking straight down the sidewalk.
We say goodnight. I walk back into my room, my throat and arms and chest all feeling heavy. I try and settle down, sitting on my bed with my laptop, playing games and listening to music idly, but I keep having to get down from my bed for things I forget – my earbuds, my medicine, a charger… finally, around midnight, I retire to sleep.
But the bed – it’s really comfortable. And even though I have to turn them off before I sleep, the twinkle lights on my ceiling emit a soft, warm glow in the hours I’m awake. And tomorrow, I’ll finally get to meet my roommate, and maybe I won’t be too tired to do any of the Welcome Week activities. And despite everything, despite how much I miss home, I figure it’s only temporary.
At some point, I’ll forget the tiredness and the muggy air and the two outfits I’ve already sweated through and will have to wash. Instead I’ll remember the people I’ve already met, and the people I will meet, and the energy in the air, tangible and unmistakable. And I’ll be able to focus on that one, most important fact.