College Daze

My daughter Darian started her junior year at West Virginia University yesterday. As we had never visited the campus, her father and I also wanted to see where our kid was going to spend the next two years of her life, so we made a three-car caravan for the 8-hour trek over the span of two days from Long Island to Morgantown, West Virginia. They both left on Thursday; I followed on Friday. Darian arranged housing that would allow her to bring one of our cats to live with her, so I had Jojo in a cat carrier on the front seat and then, because my ex-husband is my usual dog-sitter and wouldn’t be available for dog-sitting for obvious reasons (i.e., he would be with us in West Virginia), I had to bring Munchie and Gizmo as well. In order to avoid freak-outs, the vet had given me a Xanax prescription, so I dosed Jojo with a whole 25-milligram pill and the dogs got half each. The dogs slept the whole way down, but Jojo meowed and howled and scratched at the door of the carrier, trying her damndest to bust out although where she thought she would go was a mystery to both of us.

Darian’s off-campus student housing resembles a singles apartment complex, with a pool full of beautiful people, a fire pit featuring an oversized Adirondack chair and a beach volleyball court. The complex is located next to a huge shopping center, with a Target and a Walmart and a Petco and a bunch of other shops, as well as a multiplex movie theater. Her roommate – a bearded ex-footballer who’s now a pre-med student – conveniently went home for the weekend so we were able to leave the dogs in her apartment when we went out to dinner and to do errands. One of those errands involved her lifeline (aka her iPhone): Evidently the T-Mobile network hasn’t made its way into the Appalachian Mountains, so we had to scramble to change her phone service.

WVU is split into two campuses (actually, I think it’s three, but only two for undergrads): the Downtown campus, which is literally in the heart of Morgantown, on the eastern bank of the Monongahela River; and the Evansdale Campus (which for some mysterious reason I kept calling the “Glendale” campus), which is closer to Darian’s residence and where all of her classroom buildings are located. We somehow missed getting her a student ID, which she had to take care of first thing Monday morning. In addition to permitting her entry into buildings and paying for her food, she’ll also need it to get on the campus bus or the cute little PRT, the people-mover rapid transit that scoots from one campus to the other. The whole experience was a little discombobulating, but I have every confidence that she’ll figure out where everything is eventually and make new friends. She’s got two years to do it, after all.

But what made our “Intro to WVU” weekend even more fun was meeting up with a friend from my own college days, whose son also attends WVU. I actually hadn’t seen her since she transferred out of Trinity College after sophomore year – she was going to take a year abroad, as many juniors did, and then come back and room with me and two girls named Isabelle for senior year. But she never came back, abandoning me to live on my own with the Isabelles. As she reminded me, we had actually seen each other post-graduation, when she was on Long Island for a friend’s wedding. But that was the lowest point of my life, which I have largely succeeded in wiping from my memory, even if it meant I also wiped out my last visit with Cathie. But we’ve managed to re-connect on Facebook, which is how I learned that her son was a student at WVU. So when my daughter was considering going there, I reached out and we happily renewed our friendship.

Cathie & Me in our Trin Hockey Jerseys

Cathie and me in our Trin hockey jerseys.

Before we met them for dinner, my daughter asked me, “How do you know you’ll still like her?” I had always remembered her fondly (once I got over the “abandonment” thing!), and seeing the kinds of posts she makes on Facebook (she’s a sports fan, an animal lover and shares my politics, to name just a few areas of common interest) was all the evidence I needed to know that our reunion would be fun.

The four of us had steaks and ribs at the Texas Road House (where the novice waitress spilled a large full glass of sweet tea all over me, for which I was fairly compensated with a free dessert brownie). Her son and my daughter hit it off fine, although I suspect they both tend toward shyness. They went their separate ways after dinner and she and I bought some hard cider and went back to the Econo Lodge with the dogs and talked for hours, catching up on all the things we’d missed in each other’s lives, going off on tangents and realizing how much we still have in common 30-plus years later. It’s great when people you liked years ago come back into your life and you like them just the same as you did then, despite the time that has passed. That’s the way it was with Cathie. I look forward to having opportunities to hang out with her again, which will hopefully involve a trip to Long Beach, which she actually used to frequent when she was in graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook back in the 1980s.

The blog format is wholly inadequate for me to recount my college experiences in all their debauched glory. I actually wrote a (very bad) novel that spanned freshman to senior years in a semi-fictionalized roman à clef, which may someday see the light of day in some configuration (or not). You spend so much of your time at college in various status of inebriation or panic or stress (and let’s not forget joy and laughter) that the relationships you develop in that environment get hard-wired into your emotions. I have a couple of those deep and lasting friendships (and hopefully can now include Cathie among them), and I hope my daughter will be able to enjoy the same. Because Darian only spent a year at SUNY Buffalo and is now a transferred upperclassman at WVU, it might be a little more difficult to connect with classmates, who might conceivably have been in friend clusters since early freshman year. But I don’t think it’s the duration that matters. Yes, I met my roommate Erika on the very first day of freshman year, and despite years of being out of touch (including two college semesters when she was studying abroad), I like her as much today as I did in those early times (ditto for our old college friend / her new husband Curtiss). It’s the same with my friend Nick Noble, Worcester’s favorite radio DJ, with whom I worked in the sports department of the Trinity Tripod. Frankly, I didn’t meet my very best friend from college, Sue Walsh Ober, until senior year (coincidentally, she was my neighbor when I lived with the Isabelles, so I spent a lot of time in her room escaping my own) and, as mentioned, I hadn’t seen Cathie since sophomore year.  Relationships that have developed at a four-year, live-away college retain some weird juju, because your college years are, in their way, fantastical and strange. Never again will you have that freedom, that sense of wonder and anticipation. Perhaps for some folks that heady feeling comes in the years following graduation, when you’re playing at being a grown-up in the “real world” for the first time, but I think more often than not those post-university years are especially traumatic, precisely because they follow – and are wholly unlike – the magical college time.

All this being said, I hope my daughter uses this special time in her life to pursue her dreams. For her, now is the best (and maybe only) time to do it. Unfortunately for me, I abandoned my dreams some time during the waning days of my senior year, extending into the post-graduation summer. In retrospect I think it had something to do with my father not being around, as he had passed away in November of my junior year. He had always been my guidepost and drill sergeant, pushing me to push myself, so I was basically lost when I returned home from Hartford.  I worked at the International House of Pancakes and got involved with a horrible man and suffered some of the worst things you could imagine. I’ve been trying to get back to myself — that person I was in college, with so much hope and promise — ever since.

Of course my daughter does not take my advice (or at least she doesn’t let on if she does), but hopefully she has heard (and seen, first-hand, the consequences of not heeding) my greatest message to her: Find something you love to do – now, while you’re in college, in that most special of times when the world is your oyster and the doors are open to the big wide universe – and you’ll never work a day in your life.

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