Sunday, September 19, 2010

Third Freshman Year

Okay, complete honest time: I have had a hard time adjusting to life here. I complain about the commute, the lack of creativity of bar culture, the bizarre gated-community city planning, the bait-and-switch of my coursework, the lackluster curriculum of the class I'm teaching, the dirth of good-looking and smart guys in my ward/institute class, everything. But you know what? I never have an easy freshman year.

Part of it is that I'm bad at adjusting to new places. Scratch that. I'm bad at adjusting to different life expectations. Growing up, for example. I wish I was cool and independent and vivacious, but I'm just really not. Each step is like pulling out a loosening tooth.

My most recent freshman year, when I first went to BYU, was far harder than it should have been. After all, my family was just down the road (and in their offices on campus) and I had plenty of friends both at college and PHS and I was raised around academia, around that very university. Still, I wasn't homesick--I was time sick. I felt tormented that as an adult now I was expected to take care of myself, manage my living expenses, avoid going home, and not let my roommates feel bad when I got to go home for Sunday dinners. I cried in the shower, so no one would know I was sad. Things got better after the first month: I figured out a balance between hiding at my folks' place and pretending I was at camp, unable to go home, and I assumed responsibility for what I could, still being willing to go to my folks' for help when I couldn't. My freshman year was tumultuous (my old car broke down that summer, I was rejected at call-backs for Divine Comedy, and I went to the hospital 3 times, which is 3 times more than I ever did in my life up to that point), but it was also wonderful--I bonded with my freshman year roommates (they made me a birthday cake that both broke and bound up my heart with unanticipated affection), had "pick-up line of the month" wall, hiked Timp and 80% of Arches, took Dr. Allen Christenson's Belle Epoch class, Science Colloquium with Griggs, Dibble and Evans, Dean Duncan's Children's Media class (upper division!), First-year Russian and hockey. I joined insight and felt valued and literary and made a few older friends. I went to dances, plays, an awful lot of International Cinema, and ward choir practice (with fully half of the ward). That first month or so was painful and strange, but somehow I settled in and made some friends that still haven't shook me and a lot of, cliche to say, good memories.

My freshman year before that was similarly tumultuous, although it didn't start out that way. When I first went to PHS, I was cowed by the size of the school, but excited by the many course and club offerings. Ms. Snyder's English class was easy and she thought I was clever. My junior high friends and I were all tight and eager to get involved in the wider world of high school drama. My expectations were, admittedly, frustrated, through the course of the year. Russian got canceled from PHS the day before classes started. I suffered a spiritual crisis in the midst of attending seminary. Most of the clubs I had anticipated were canceled. Worst of all, C., the leader of the junior high crowd, had gotten frustrated with trying to keep the peace with everyone in the group (now split between DMS and PHS), and so, when some of the people in the group found I was being arrogant and sarcastic, they decided instead to shun me. Because I wasn't good at reading people's signs, it wasn't until one of my longtime friends told me that we couldn't have a sleepover because she "needed to buy a journal" that I asked her if they were avoiding me. She told me, yes, she was. The next few weeks were bitter and terrible to me; it was the only time I literally lost sleep over a social problem. I couldn't talk with my family really, because they had seen my devotion to C through junior high as unequal and would have rather I hung out with different people anyway. But even P, who was and remains one of my closest friends, had been talked into simply avoiding me than telling my his grievances. It all worked its way out, as it does in these young, tender melodramas, with vehement notes and email and uneasy reconciliation. Some relationships were never fully repaired. Though I continued to be friends with C, I still felt awkward around her, even when we were in college. But while I stumbled through the end of the first year, things, again, improved. For the first time since elementary school, I was in school with my brother and he was kind to me and I knew his friends. Miss Cooper invited me to join her in Field Studies and I made some friends there. And in the fall of my sophomore year, I took Mr. Smith's AP European History and made some more friends there. And, somehow, I was re-befriended by the best of my old friends. I was not entirely deserted and ended up with a net increase of support.

All of this is to say both that I am unlucky in freshman years, so if I feel a little awkward, that's to be expected. This is also to say that my freshman years work out okay. I can anticipate great things this year among my insecurities; it's like in these situations that I can feel myself growing and changing. My BYU freshman year I often thought about my "core," my center, and what it was made of. When I was new to HS, my core was something thin, and soft, but tight, like twisted tissue paper. By my senior year, it was more like a roll of ribbon. In college, my core became sometime like wood, and now I am working on making myself something strong and flexible--titanium alloy or something. It would be a less painful process if I were less inclined to nostalgia, but it's worthwhile to remember that everything is not lost, no more than it was last time I thought it was.


xister said...

New things are hard. I set myself up to switch wards after having lived here for just 3 months. The initial thought was that I would have twice as many friends--ultimately I still hope this will be the case--but for now I just have had to go through that awkward don't-know-anyone-at-church phase twice in a couple months. Things have this habit getting better though, so I think that we both will be OK.

Your memory of your HS freshman year is slightly different than mine. I think I stuck by you. On the other hand, I was a bit of a jerk in 8th grade, and I might have blocked 95% of it from my memory.

Marian said...

The problem with freshman years is that everyone around you tends to be freshman too. I'm afraid I was way too stuck in my own problems to worry about my roommate. We did have some fun though!

mlh said...

I think it was just you were dealing with D. going off the deep end bit-by-bit. And you alone with him at DMS. I remember that was less cheerful for you, too.