My college experience wasn’t great. It was instead four years of partying, missing class, feverishly trying to catch up with homework, failing, and eventually being kicked out. It wasn’t an experience I’d planned on, hoped for, or or was proud of. I found myself in my mid-twenties living with my parents, working, feeling like a loser, and getting fat.
While I felt great shame over how my personal life was going, my career was a completely different story, and I was excelling in ways I didn’t even feel I should be considering my failure in school. I found myself in a position at the corporate offices of Best Buy doing amazing things for someone a) my age, and b) without a college degree. The culture at Best Buy back then was like summer camp. Everyone was young, happy hours were frequent, the cafeteria felt like high school, and on sunny afternoons people took to the lawn with footballs and frisbies. It was during this time that I started to feel the need to return to school. And I didn’t want to just go back to school…I wanted to have a “real” college experience. And where better to do that than Boston? A city full of gorgeous colleges and universities. Well…that AND the possibility of running into Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. What? It could happen!
I applied to schools throughout Boston. It was a tough sell considering I’d been kindly asked to leave my previous college due to poor academic performance. Not exactly the kind of candidate admissions offices are bending over backwards to accommodate. I was accepted to UMass Boston and I couldn’t believe it. I convinced my parents that this was the new beginning I needed. I decided that rather than work full-time and attend school I would try to find a live-in nannying gig.
My mom and I visited, checked out the school, and I met with several families who were looking for a nanny. Turns out a pudgy blonde midwestern girl is a hot commodity for East Coast families looking to have someone else raise their children. It became clear to me that had I taken any of those nannying positions I would have been leaving my life to live in someone else’s. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to succeed academically if I was immersed in someone else’s family, life, and drama. We left Boston in love with the city but not in love with the idea of nannying.
Upon my return to the Twin Cities I decided I would look for a “real job” and then I could go to UMass at night. I found several options, applied, and found that my experience in the nonprofit sector and my salary requirements were exactly what several well-known Boston nonprofits were looking for. I registered for classes, gave my notice at work, and we started to plan my big move for the end of the summer of 2000.
My mom and I drove a full U-Haul truck to Boston that August. I had found a few potential roommates and finally settled on a single girl who shared my name and lived two blocks from Fenway. I mean…seriously?! For a girl who loves baseball this was just ridiculous. We traveled across the country, driving through incredibly beautiful countryside, listening to Toto for most of it (I don’t know why that is now that I think back…weird…not that I don’t love me some Toto). We arrived in Boston with our U-Haul and moved me into my new home. I had a large room that my furniture fit in perfectly. We walked to a Crate & Barrel and bought curtains, new bedding, a new rug, and other fabulous items to make this seem more like MY home. My mom stayed a few days to get me settled and then she flew back to MN.
The day she left felt so lonely. I’d always considered myself a confident, strong, and independent girl. And yet, when I left her at the airport, I kind of felt like I was going to die.
I had about a week to explore my new city before my first of several promising final interviews. My building was a large brownstone on a parkway full of trees, walking paths, green grass, and streams. Around the corner was a Dunkin’ Donuts, a grocery store, a movie theatre, and of course Fenway. On those hot August nights I could hear the games being announced and the crowds from my apartment. I took cabs everywhere because I hadn’t yet mastered the T and was a little nervous in the beginning. I went to Cambridge, to Southie, and everywhere in between, and I was so enamored with the city (and the cab drivers with that FABULOUS accent).
I was NOT, however, enamored with my new roommate. She seemed shady from the beginning when she told me it would be “better” if I wrote my rent checks directly to HER instead of to our management company. I remember thinking ‘listen sister…I may be from Minnesota and I may be fat…but I am NOT a f-cking idiot.’ She also had a cat and at the risk of offending…I’ll just say that cats and I…we’re best living separately. I would ask that she keep her cat out of my room and yet I came home nearly every day to the cat on my bed, or in my closet, or scratching at my new curtains.
When I went to orientation for school I was feeling hopeful but also, pretty lonely, suspicious of my roommate, and very unlike myself. Usually being alone brings out the real me but it wasn’t working that way. In orientation I learned that because I was taking evening classes I would be attending most of them at local high schools and community colleges. Wait. What?
I’ve mentioned I’m a planner? Yeah. Well. This change in “plans,” or simply the difference in what I was expecting and what turned out to be my new reality, threw me for a loop. I started to freak out. No…that doesn’t do it justice. I started to FREAK. THE. F-CK. OUT.
I had made plans with an old friend from high school who was now at MIT to meet up for a beer. I canceled. I had made plans to take the train to Manhattan to visit Eh’s older sister and see a show. I canceled. My roommate became my mortal enemy. And that f-cking sneaky bastard of a cat of hers. Well…let’s just say I was not happy with my living arrangement. And in my mind it all fell apart.
So I did what any strong, confident, independent woman would do. I called my mommy, she came to get me, and we drove the U-Haul back to Minneapolis.
I lived in Boston. Two blocks from Fenway. In a brownstone apartment building.
For. A. Week.
I got home and was unemployed. I had trained someone fabulous to take over my role at Best Buy so I couldn’t go back. Because I’d had such luck with interviews in Boston, and had been told my experience was so fabulous and well-rounded, I started going to interviews in the Twin Cities and I was cocky. I mean…if I could line up that many amazing second interviews and offers in Boston…Lord KNOWS I could do it in Minneapolis. Right? Not so much. I spent three long months unemployed. I hadn’t been unemployed since I started working at 15 years old.
For three months I had a 20 ounce Mountain Dew and a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. I had additional Mountain Dews throughout the day. I rented movies each night and lived my life vicariously through romantic comedies as I got fatter and fatter. One night I was at Hollywood Video picking movies and I overheard a very familiar voice. The voice of a high school friend that I’d known since I was twelve. He had been my science partner. He had been one of the first boys I’d had a crush on in junior high school. He was completely raunchy and I adored him. When I turned around I saw that he was with a teen aged girl. I thought to myself ‘holy sh-t…no. He. Didn’t.’ No. He didn’t. He was working as a counselor at a home for troubled youth and they were picking-up movies for the kids to watch that night.
I hadn’t seen him in years. Certainly not since I’d gotten fat. Not since I’d moved to Boston and subsequently returned. I was so ashamed of myself. For not graduating college, for having moved to Boston and failing at that, for getting fat. I felt like such a sliver of my former self. But here’s the thing. He treated me like ME. It was such a defining moment because he treated me like the girl he knew me to be…who at heart I still was…but someone I hadn’t recognized in myself for quite some time.
I’ve been out of sorts the past few days. I’ve been flailing a bit in my mind not sure exactly how to move forward because of a little road block. Today I worked from home and two things happened. First off, Cousin A gave me a stern talking to. She told me to get off my a-s and to start working on a book. I’ll be honest…it feels really pretentious to do so (or to think it’s even a possibility)…but now two people I love dearly are telling me to try. Hmmm. Second, and this is little, but I took the puppy on a brisk walk.
We live in a neighborhood much further out of the city than I’d ever wanted or expected to live. Our neighborhood backs up to wetlands and actual functioning farms. When I walk the circle in my neighborhood it’s like I’m walking out in the country because…well…we kind of live out in the country. My inner city girl sometimes HATES this. Except…except when it’s a night like tonight. And the birds are singing, and it’s quiet, and peaceful, and lovely. And I remember just who I am, how incredibly lucky I am to be me and to have the most amazing people around me, and exactly what it is I want out of this life.
I sometimes let my mind play a number on me and I feel like a loser. And then something happens…running into an old friend or just simply taking a walk outside…and I realize that it truly is going to not only be okay but it’s going to be amazing.
TODAY: What if the great plans we lay out in our heads aren’t where we’re supposed to be at all? What if I allow those defining moments, no matter how seemingly small, to help lead me in the right direction.
PS – I know, I know…stop feeling sorry for myself. It ends now.