December 11, 2017 by unclespike218
Two stories, one theme. Here is the first story. (Second story is here.)
Our hero became independent – in a loose sense – in early September 1993. After my summer somehow limping through being a rifle range director at Camp Cris Dobbins outside of Elbert, Colorado, I returned home and began preparing for my departure to college. Not the college I wanted. Then again, neither was the summer. Both were possibly portents to how my immediate future would proceed. My friends began disappearing from my life and moving to college, quietly, their piecemeal vacancies stinging like hairs ripped from the skin by a slowly-peeled bandage. I was the last to leave for college. And soon, without friends to hang with, without an anchor to hold me in Littleton, my heart and spirit drifted Midwestward, and as summer slipped, I traipsed around our house uneasily, uncertain what to do.
In this case, my mother helped. She decided we should leave for Minnesota a day early, just so I wouldn’t suffer in my doldrums any longer, and just get there. So we left. Our first day was practically just a Hudson Bay departure, landing us perhaps in Ogallala, Nebraska for the evening. Far enough to say I was out of Colorado and on my way. The next day – as per my request – found us diverting from I-80 at Grand Island, moving northeastward through towns like Columbus and Norfolk on the way through Sioux City and clipping the northwest corner of Iowa before settling in the new-sounding town of Mankato for the night. The next day found us touring through Minneapolis, circumnavigating Lakes Harriet and Calhoun before an afternoon at the Mall of America, eating Minnesotan cheese curds and corn dogs at the A&W before taking in the ridiculous Robin Hood – Men in Tights. Then we drove down to Dundas, a tiny hamlet just outside Northfield where a quaint and homey bed and breakfast awaited us. The wife insisted on serving dessert with every meal, including breakfast, which I heartily appreciated. The husband was a professor at my college, and within two weeks, I would enroll in his introduction to environmental studies class.
The morning of my first day at college, after a full breakfast (and dessert), my mom and I headed off. Despite the fact that I could nearly see the dorms from the bed and breakfast, we meandered back to the highway, drove one exit north, then headed east one last time until the college appeared on the horizon. R.E.M. was playing “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” and my mom said that I would always associate that exact moment with that song. She was right – in more than one way.
We pulled up to my dorm and I nervously stood in line with my mom to get my room. All around me were unfamiliar faces, new personalities, stickier air, no mountains, and the beginnings of…
All too soon, I had met my roommate, moved my stuff into my room, and then my mom left for Colorado. I was there…surrounded by people yet very alone. Even though my high school ex-girlfriend had bewilderingly followed me to this college that could not have been a worse fit for her, I didn’t hang out with her much at first, since we were still on tenuous terms.
Turns out the college wasn’t all that great a fit for me, either, despite me trying here and there. In high school, with a wealth of support from every corner, with like-minded friends everywhere, encouraging teachers, a strict schedule, and daily planners filled with activities and classes, I was virtually a guaranteed success. In contrast, I was dropped at the front door of college like an orphaned baby and expected to fly. Without friends, with a much looser schedule, with no daily planners, and with the time to finally catch up on the sleep and rest that I had sacrificed for success for the previous four years, I dissolved into laxity, becoming a fraction of the young man I had been before and seeing so much promise evaporate into nothingness. Many in the 1990s turned slackerdom into an art; I just became a slacker. And insisting that the college I went to was not where I really should have gone, I resisted integrating myself into my new surroundings, going so far as to reapply to the school I had been rejected from just six months previously. This time, instead of accepting me into the second round of the application process, they flatly rejected me, forcing me to accept my fate once and for all.
It was that day after I was rejected that I had my very first in-person sexual experience with another man. Well, okay…so we didn’t touch each other, but emotionally, it was about as mind-blowing as I could handle. My life had irreversibly turned a corner into adulthood, and I spent the rest of the school year reeling from the repercussions. I fell in love for the very first time. I suffered unrequited love for the very first time. For the first time, I seriously confronted the probability that most likely, I was gay. And I agonized through all these new frightening emotions, in private, silently, without guidance or support from anyone.
This is nothing to say of the classes I took. My second semester was particularly horrific. I attempted a tutorial in the writings of Nietzsche (without any exposure to philosophers or theologians whose thoughts he reliably savaged), which ended up being a complete mindfuck. Absorbing what little I could from that experience and taking that into a class on the philosophy of education, I soon came to the nihilistic conclusion that there was no meaning to education, and since my life had been devoted solely to education up to that point, that there was probably no meaning to my own life. Couple that with a joyless third class on the resistance to Hitler, and incorporate my emotional turmoil, and it’s a wonder I made it out of the first year at all.
So my first year of “independence” showed how much I flailed without support on the outside. It showed me just how much I needed support from the outside – really, not independence at all. And it also brought me some rude and sobering lessons on life. But fortunately, after that first year, I was able to gather myself together, come back, storm the castle, and make my life a great one once again…even if just for one year.