There was no tearful goodbye when I was left at college for the first time. A simple gesture and “See ya later” was all that was exchanged the day I began my four-year journey toward a degree. My mother could not make the six-hour drive from home because of work while my younger brother was still a slave to the high school system. My father and older brother helped move me into the first of five places I would live during my college career. Back then I could fit everything I owned into a tiny car trunk with room to spare: two garbage bags of clothes, a box of DVDs, a computer and two sets of bed sheets. It made the room seem ominously large on a day when I already felt incredibly small.
I felt like a nomad. It must be how the Ronins felt in feudal Japan. I was an academic warrior with no connections anywhere around me. My long term and emotionally abusive girlfriend had just dumped me after an epically pathetic on-again-off-again year and a half of dating. She was my heroin and I was going into withdrawal. This is where you might laugh at how over-dramatic I was being.
There I sat, alone and with no one to talk to in my dorm in Mesa Court: Otero, room 101A. An awkward silence crept into every corner. Sixty people surrounded each other and yet we were all alone. It seemed I had just learned to come out of my shell and truly made friends in high school, and now I had to start from scratch. It took me years to learn how to connect with people, and I cringed as I estimated how long I would need now.
It took approximately six minutes. After an awkward fart joke and a little jesting about Kanye West, I made friends with my roommate. The girls from the other suites came calling; they wanted to see what life would be like sharing space with boys. Our resident advisor called everyone into the common room a few hours later and we all introduced ourselves and went to dinner together.
These meals quickly became the social event of the season. We watched in awe as Sanabu ate an entire hotdog in one bite, or how Alex sustained himself on a legendary all pudding and pizza diet. My personal favorite was the time Thomas attempted to catch a piece of Jell-O thrown across the room into his mouth. It splattered on his face, making the same sound as a slap from a furious lover. It still makes me giggle. We painted the halls with our shenanigans. There were times when we broke into song and reveled in our ability to metaphorically rip into each other all in the same meal. An especially potent insult would result in a victory lap where a person would run screaming in ecstasy around the room.
Pranks and mischief ran within the walls of the dorm as well. We hid doors, threw plastic eggs filled with M&Ms, and had Nerf wars. One of the first activities involved building a trashcan-sized ‘air-zooka.’ Dorm hook-ups were common, though they usually involved the same four people, and jokes about them were even more frequent.
The dorm offered more than just merriment and distraction. I met a girl there who reminded me that not all women are monsters out to crush my heart under their stiletto heels. It was there that I got close to another girl who showed me that some women are just too plain cuckoo bananas to chase. Otero breathed new life into my lifelong yet impossible dream of being a ninja. After being forced to live with people not related to me, I began to understand that they change and that you cannot always return to the way a relationship once was.
All of these events and bonds I have just described were exactly what I needed. I was lost when I arrived at the dorms, aimless and with nowhere to go. The dorm gave me a sense of belonging and a better understanding of social relationships. If I needed a friend I could walk down the hall and find a companion. When I wanted to know about something, I had two dozen people I could ask. I came to know and depend on these people more than any friend I had ever made in the dark ages of high school.
I have heard that my experience is somewhat atypical. Some people vomit every time I recall the wonderful stories of my freshman year. Those are the people who got ostracized in their dorms and became outcasts, made worse by the fact that they were forced to share the same quarters as their enemies. In other dorms, people never talked to each other and floated by their fellow hall mates like cars on the nighttime freeway. These tales are unfortunate. College can be a time where one feels drowned in the new and needs someone to grab on to.
In the dorms we left our doors open. People from all floors were allowed into almost anyone’s room at almost any time. Of course, this backfired when Oliver leapt out of the shadows as I was about to change, but it allowed us to socialize almost instantly. I tried to keep myself susceptible to new ideas as well. I made the effort to learn about as many cultures, instruments, and ideas as possible. Having people to socialize with and new ideas changed college from a place of the strange and undiscovered to a world of fresh ideas and people.
I would love to end this tale by telling you that my entire dorm has stayed in touch and are all wonderful friends, but I cannot. I did not shed a tear the day I moved in and said goodbye to my family, but water flowed freely from my eyes the night I left. We all told each other we were going to stay best of friends, but deep down most of us knew we would never have the same bonds we did that year. This was the dorm’s final lesson that I was required to learn. Situations, people, relationships all change. Change is the driving force that can bring about evolution and metamorphosis, but it can also destroy and pull objects apart, from continents to friendships.