She applied to several excellent universities and was accepted to every one. In a few short weeks my husband and I will be delivering our daughter to the University of her choice. I’m slightly nervous about the pain of missing her. Empty nest syndrome, I’m starting to worry that it might be a real thing. Mostly though, I’m immensely proud. She’s the bomb digity. I’m not even lying.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own freshman year. Suddenly, I’m recalling details that I havn’t thought about in a very long time. It was 1980.
Using one SUNY application, I had applied to five of the NY colleges. No wait, technically my sister applied for me. She did most of it anyway. I helped. I got into one. Having never seen this one college that accepted me, it was the one I chose.
It was up by Rochester, a ten hour drive from home. My Dad drove me. We left the house in the morning. He had a colonoscopy scheduled for the next day. We stopped at a diner. I ate. Dad didn’t. He had water. That was awkward.
We arrived in the evening. We were early. Check in was the next day. My dad talked to security and explained the colonoscopy situation. Security talked to the resident director and they let me in. Dad and I unloaded the car and carried everything up to my third floor room assignment in the empty dormitory. Then Dad left. I unpacked and set up my stuff. Then I took hot shower. This was before cell phones and internet. The phone on the wall wasn’t connected yet. It was a long lonely night.
The other freshman started arriving bright and early the next morning. The check in lines were long. The dormitory was all tile. No carpet. The busy hallways echoed with the sounds of sliding trunks, boxes dropping and fire doors slamming. The stairwells were jam packed. The air was thick and hot. Families bickered amongst themselves while exchanging fake smiles and pleasantries with other freshman families. I wandered around invisibly.
The first girl I met self identified as a JAP (aka Jewish American Princess). I’ll call her Julie. She was picking through boxes in the room across from mine so I stepped in and introduced myself. Like me, Julie was from Long Island except she was from the North Shore. She clarified. Julie was short, thin, voluptuous and tan. She had the voice of a child with a potential for high pitch squeaky ness. Her hair, smile and makeup were flawless. In hindsight, I think her eyelashes were fake. She was distracted as she searched for her cigarettes. Finally, she found the long slim menthols and put on a big show of lighting up and sucking in that first glorious drag, as if she’d been relaxing that way for years, like an old movie star. Next she located an ashtray and put the long cigarette down while she proudly pinned pictures of her boyfriend to the wall beside her bed. His name was Vinny. He was Italian, tall, muscular and tan. He wore a thick gold crucifix on his smooth, shirtless chest. In every pic, he posed effortlessly against a shiny red Mustang.
Suddenly Julie’s parents appeared. They had been downstairs helping Julie’s twin sister get situated in her room. The mom proceeded to line Julie’s drawers with scented contact paper while directing the dad to move boxes and rearrange furniture. I noticed Julie’s demeanor change. She was a nervous wreck and I figured it was probably because of her movie star cigarette burning away in the ashtray. I said “see ya later” and as I exited the room I casually picked up the ashtray and cigarette as if they were mine.
A short time later, Julie barged into my room and proclaimed me “The coolest person she’d ever met!”. I remember that. Her voice squeaked as she thanked me profusely. Too much, really. Julie was sweet and kind. Her twin sister was a bitch. It was understood and accepted between them that Julie was the dumb one. I remember that.
Over the next few weeks, Julie worshipped the alter of Vinny and shared the details of their endless love with anybody who had a few hours to spare. By late September though, her period was late and the phone calls to Vinny’s house were turning up nill. This was before cell phones and internet. Julie used the phone on the wall to dial up the phone in Vinny’s house. Vinny’s Dad always answered. Oddly, Vinny was never home.
Julie confided the situation to a a few girls who were close to her. Not emotionally close or anything. Just, you know, close in proximity. She told her roommate Andrea, who I later became lifelong friends with. She told me because I was across the hall and the coolest person she’d ever met. And my roommate. Pretty much everybody knew though. We felt genuinely sorry for her and sometimes we called Vinny’s house, in hopes that he might be home for a voice other than Julie’s. No luck.
Finally, she broke down and told her bitchy sister. The bitchy sister told her to stop calling Vinny. Next, the bitchy sister made arrangements for a trip to a clinic in Rochester. Afterwards, the bitchy sister really treated Julie like the dumb one. All of us, she treated all of us like we were Julie’s dumb fiends. We weren’t even friends really. We just lived by her.
Weeks later, Julie cried one last time while ceremoniously burning pictures of Vinny, except one pic that my roommate begged to keep. So Julie let her have one shirtless pic of Vinny and my roommate hung it up in our room, over her bed. Thereafter, my roommate pretended that Vinny was her boyfriend from home. I remember that.
My roommate was a weirdo. I thought so from the start. It didn’t worry me though, I didn’t really care. I went home with her once. Her family lived in a big old farmhouse somewhere outside of Buffalo. There were about seven kids. All of them, including the mother, seemed to be afraid of the father. They all whispered when he was in the house. Her sister had three boobs. She showed me. Two up front and one under her arm. My roommate’s mother made tuna casserole for dinner. She served it up by placing the big ugly pot in the middle of the table. Everybody used the big plastic ladle to plop some onto their plate. I put a little bit on my plate. It looked like mushy noodles with chunk lite tuna and mayonnaise. Warm. I couldn’t do it. I pushed it around and pretended to eat as best I could. They marveled at how I “eat like a bird.” Ha, they didn’t know. I’m a good eater!
My roommate and I never did become friends. That was fine by me.
I remember some kids played acoustic guitars and we had spontaneous sing alongs in their dorm rooms. One night, after a long round of ‘All My Loving’, I went back to my room and cried myself to sleep. I missed the comfort and familiarity of the neighborhood kids I grew up with. I missed them so much. I remember that.
A few months into Freshman year I became obsessed with a kid named Rick. We spent a lot of time together. Well, not really. Mostly weekends. After the bars closed. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about me. I remember that. C’est la vie.
There was a kid named Dennis, I remember. I think that was his name. Everybody called him Turtle because of his posture. Anyway, he was nice and always smiling. Friendly enough at the various keg parties. By the second semester he started to change. He lost his temper a lot and started talking to himself. His roommate moved in with a friend and let Turtle have the room to himself. We all whispered and gossiped about the odd things Turtle was doing. I remember that. In hindsight, Turtle was having a real mental health crisis. We didn’t know.
There were keg parties every weekend. Right there in the dormitory. And garbage pail punch. The boys would line a garbage pail with a heavy duty plastic trash bag. They’d fill it with ice and fruit punch and grain alcohol and whatever else was hanging around. They’d stir the concoction with a hockey stick. I remember throwing darts, playing quarters, and lots of snow. I remember walking through the snow to the B Village Inn where we paid four dollars to drink all the beer we could. I remember AC/DC blasting from the boys hall on Saturday night and Carol King bellowing softly from Anne and Stephanie’s room on Sunday afternoon. I remember Nancy and Eric, so innocent and in love. I remember watching Johnny Carsen in Julie’s room which I later thought of as Andrea’s room. Julie just happened to be there. We got a kick out of her. I remember Tom and Andrea falling in love and believing that it would last forever.
I remember meeting Luke. She was cool and easy to be around. Her room was filled with tapestries, incense, candles, albums and other hippie stuff. She was intuitive and introspective, but mostly she was funny. Another lifelong friend.
I remember that sometimes one of the drunk boys would get mad at a girl and punch out a window. It seemed to be a thing. There would be blood all over the place. On Monday the resident director would make them go to the counseling center. The counselor would put the boy on the the ‘3/2 plan’. Meaning, they could have five drinks a week. The counselor suggested three drinks on Friday and two on Saturday. I guess the idea was to try a little controlled drinking. lol
There was a boy named Jodi who had a girlfriend named Jodi. They were in love and adorable. Everybody thought so. Then Jodi got drunk and cheated on Jodi. That was the end of that. Everybody got mad at Jodi and felt sorry for Jodi. Drama. There was always drama.
Freshman year was a mess and yet it was fun. I came away with a handful of lifelong friends. Friends I wouldn’t trade.
I’m sure my daughter’s freshman year will have drama, weirdos, parties and all that jazz. Overall though, I think her experience will be vastly different from mine. Richer and more meaningful. Because she’s different from the seventeen year old I was back in 1980. She’s present in her own life. She lives with intention and purpose. She pursues her personal goals and interests rather than floating along aimlessly like I did. She’s better.
It’s the American Dream. Right? That our kids be better situated for success and happiness than we were. I think so. Sure feels like it. Feels like we’re living the dream!
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