Monday, December 29, 2014

The Dark Days of an Undergrad

I love Pinterest. I can't help it.  Being a creative, crafty, diy person, it's right up my alley for inspiration.  Occasionally, I catch myself looking at dorm room ideas.  I don't know why.  I suppose sometimes I want to go back in time and go back to school in a more utopian world than actually existed.  

I catch myself thinking, where was this stuff when I was a new arrival to the dorms, completely on my own?  Of sure, there was that very first trip up to school that my mother and sister made with me my first year, in January when I transferred from the fairly useless local community college.  They made a trip to Wal-Mart with me, but I really didn't have much money to support myself on, and there wasn't much offered at the local store anyway.  Plus, in 1990, I never found a lot of resources for brightening up the place.  I had to make do with too-short twin bed sheets I'd brought from home and a dark pink power strip that I found.  Wow! They came in colors! ... And that was about IT for my dorm decor and comfort.  It was also the only time any member of my family set foot in my dorm room. 

Once, in my first semester, my stepsister brought her daughter to visit.  :). My father came once or twice a year when he had training nearby, and took me to lunch. He sent me treat baskets for finals week, and they probably saved my life.  But that was it.  I was on my own as far as family visitors went.  Everybody was too busy, and frankly, not interested in driving an hour to see me.  I became a little envious of my friends whose family sent or brought them care packages, and went out for family dinners after making a special trip to see them.  They seemed to want to visit several times a semester.  I, on the other hand, felt gladly forgotten.  For a while I worked back home on the weekends, and work and school were all I had.  I didn't have time for a social life, and I couldn't afford to do anything even when I did have a little time.  I was discouraged from doing anything with my friends, especially going to parties with them.  

Hey, I was too afraid to do anything that might jeopardize my scholarships and I didn't want to be told I had to leave home while I was trying to get myself an education.  One thing I never learned in college was how to socialize. Besides, by the second semester I was there, I'd collected a third job and one of my friends seemed determined to make me feel horrible every chance she got by publicly making out with my ex-boyfriend every time they saw me.  I'm not sure who instigated that, but I finally got the chance to make it clear that not only would I NOT "try to get him back," but also that I would never TAKE him back.  (As it turned out, I didn't want a Svengali in my life.  I detest being pushed around, especially by someone who just wants me for one thing.  I didn't cave, and he dumped me.  I was better off.). When every venture into the world turns into someone deliberately being cruel to you, you tend to stay in your room and skip meals.

At this time in my life, there was no internet, therefore no easy place to borrow great decorating ideas from.  We had cinder block walls, and I had no idea how to make anything stick to those walls (hint: low temp hot glue gun -- I didn't find that out for another five years).  I didn't have any tools, so I couldn't hammer anything into the wood AC duct cover over my bed.  Tape wasn't much good there either.  Not that I could afford to buy any, of course.  Command adhesive hooks hadn't been invented yet.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure post-it notes had been invented either.  At least, there were none in my little college town.  Highlighters were innovating - four whole colors!!  

If I'd had the ingenuity / tools / materials, I would have collaged some magazine pictures, hung some posters, wallpapered with fabric and liquid starch, or even posted stuff I needed to study right there on the wall beside my bed.  

At the time, I had no faith in my own creative talents, and the most I'd done was paint a couple of T-shirts.  (A nautical themed one and the cover of Duran Duran's Rio album.). Hey, I should have taken art classes at college.  I didn't think I had time.  Gee, I would have been a happier person if I had. Just the creative networking alone would have prevented some major depressive episodes.  I crocheted, but it was always reinforced at home that it was such a Granny thing to do.  Every time I was at home and crocheted, the scornful title of "old Granny!" was tossed at me.  Shame on me for doing something creative and sitting at home (when I wasn't encouraged or allowed to be social anyway???). What I should have done -- crocheted myself a warm, thick blanket to use as a bedspread.  Sometimes the dorms were cold in the winter.  The blanket I had wasn't the warmest.  

Thinking back about that time, now as an adult, I can see just how cruel it is to call someone already so insecure and depressed names like old Granny, knock-kneed, caterwauler, ugly.  I spend my days trying to build kids up, not destroy them emotionally.  I'd probably be fired if I said things like that.  It hurts me to hear kids being called names like that by so-called adults.  Sometimes it's impossible not to cry along with them.  

I remember the only New Year's Eve party I attended - I kept the cork from the nasty bottle of champagne I had a glass of.  I still think champagne is nasty and I don't drink it.  (Crafty geek confession - I was going to make something from it -- I stuck it in my coat pocket.  That's more embarrassing to me than what I was later accused of for having it.  On the way back to my hometown from my college's town, we stopped at the Raceway for gas and the bathroom.  

At 20, paying my way through college by myself, I wasn't allowed to stay the night in town on New Year's Eve while so many drunks were out driving.  I was required to be home no later than 1:30. Wow.  The latest curfew I ever had! Good thing we never had a prom! (True - my town wouldn't allow a prom until a few years after my graduation -- in claimed pity for the poor kids who couldn't afford dresses --  though there were still a lot of formal dances going on with the "upper class" kids anyway.  Though it seemed to be placating the poor kids, it was in reality, just another way to assure that only a certain group attended frequent cotillions and balls.). 

My friend grudgingly drove me home in that freezing cold without a car heater.  When I was in the bathroom, I noticed there was a vending machine that sold condoms, horoscopes, and massage oil.  Massage oil? In that little machine? How?  So I stuck my quarter in, turned the crank, and out came... A condom.  Ugh.  I stuck it in my coat pocket. No need for that.  I had no boyfriend, and no prospects for using it in the future, either.  Besides, the thing looked too cheap to work anyway.  I forgot about it.

A few days later I was putting on my coat to go somewhere (I only had one), and I found a note stuck in the pocket, referencing the cork and the condom.  "So this is the reason for your 'mood change.'  Supposedly the parent who put it there "accidentally" found those items when she "accidentally" put on my dark turquoise wool coat instead of her brown leather blazer when she went to take the dog out.  Oh sure, easy mistake, am I right? And accidentally expected her gloves in my pocket, and found those magical items.

Because yes, a chunk of cork and a vending machine condom really are magical and have the power to alter someone's personality! I was a spellcaster, just like I'd wanted to be all of my life!  Hmm.... Maybe instead of leaving nasty little accusatory notes after snooping in places you shouldn't and making assumptions about someone's morals, you might want to ask the person what's with their personality change over the last year? Why do they seem so depressed and quiet? Why don't they go out if they have a magic condom?  Nah, best to leave an obviously depressed person completely alone to deal with it without any show of support.  Better yet, pretend they don't exist while they are at school.  Don't call or visit to check on their well-being.  Just accuse them of debauchery the first time you get a chance.  That will take the place of medical intervention perfectly.

What altered my personality was feeling completely abandoned by my friends, who were always at play practices, and my family, who didn't want to drive an hour to see me.  I was under a lot of pressure to make top grades, keep my scholarship, and try to figure out feeding myself when I was afraid to go to the cafeteria alone.  (Hey -- I only partially conquered that fear 22 years later.) If I'd had a boyfriend, I probably would have had a much sunnier disposition.  

Fact check 1: I didn't need to depend on a seedy gas station vending machine for condoms.  My little college town had several drugstores and a Wal-Mart, all of which sold condoms.  There was also a tiny building on campus, called the Student Health Center which, I heard, gave free condoms if you asked.  I never tested this theory, being perpetually without a boyfriend and too embarrassed to say the word condom anyway.  I'll admit, lack of male attention is where some of that nagging depression came from.  I was pretty, smart, and had a killer figure, and still I got little attention. Probably because I wasn't slutty enough.  And, I recently found out, a male "friend" of mine was telling lies about me to guys to keep them away.  Scott, you're in trouble if I ever see you again.  

Fact check 2: My little college town was in a DRY COUNTY.  You had to drive to Kentucky AND be 21 years old to buy alcohol!  So accusing me of being an alcoholic made me even angrier because it was ridiculous.  Anybody who had come and snooped around my dorm room would have seen that I was being boring and good, all by my own choice, and then there were all of those times I STILL got accused of spending all my time drinking instead of going to class and studying.  

Fact check 3: "We're not sending you to school so you can spend your time drinking and sleeping around."  Ohh, why was that said to me unless someone was poisoning the well?  Another person making me out to be bad?  Well, I was paying my own way completely at that point (the episode of starvation hadn't happened yet) so the truth was *I* was sending myself to school which meant, if I think about it now, that I was on my own to do whatever I wanted, as long as I had the money. Therefore: I still went to class, studied hard, took an OVERLOAD of courses, and still made the Dean's List every semester.  Worked all summer in a soul-crushing factory, and worked two jobs on campus.  Gee.... When would I have time to work in all that carousing?  

I catch myself going back in time with today's solutions and mentally sprucing up my dorm room, now that there are ways to stick things to the wall, but it's a silly thought.  Even if there had been Command products back then, I probably wouldn't have been able to afford them.  

At some point I sewed myself a quilt for my bed, a little jealous that my roommate had been sent to school with a grandmother-made quilt and matching curtains and pillows.  She had lots of cute little mementos that her loved ones sent to make her side of the room homey.  I also got tired pretty fast of all the time her boyfriend spent in our room, and all the time I had to listen to her whining his name on the phone when he didn't indulge her in whatever she wanted.  Earbuds would have been great to have back then.  :). The quilt and a few matching pillows were the height of my dorm decorating career, however.  I was still broke and trying to figure out how to make pants long enough to cover my ankles after the pants shrunk in length.  No, nobody coming to take me shopping for clothes as mine disintegrated and I ran out of money to buy food.

There used to be no online repository of recipes perfect for cooking in a dorm where you're only allowed a microwave and refrigerator.  I sneaked in a Hot Pot and a sandwich press, eventually, and they were very useful. :). If only there had been blogs with recipes such as desserts in a mug!  Mmm.... I'm sure people had such recipes -- there was just no way to find them.  I feel strongly that if I were an undergrad now, I'd probably have to create such a blog myself as part of a writing class.  .... which would be useful.  

Oh the things that I could do now... I swore that I'd make sure to help my kids be comfortable at school.  That turned out to be a non-issue, of course.  I'd probably feel better about all that loneliness back then if I could help someone else avoid it, I guess.  Ah... Maybe in another life... One in which I didn't fail at the simplest goals I'd had for my life.

Well... Pinterest and cookie-in-a-mug recipes await....

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