“Who’s the girl in the picture?”
“She’s my girlfriend.”
It was as if he had punched me in the stomach. Except the pain didn’t stop. It just kept coming back over and over again in waves. I felt like throwing up. I felt like running away. I felt like curling up in a ball and dying. I felt like doing anything that would make this feeling go away and make the words that he said go away. I wanted to pretend they didn’t exist. That they hadn’t been said and they held no meaning.
“See? That wasn’t so bad,” he said with a smirk and a taunting tone. He knew that this was hurting me. It didn’t matter. If anything, my pain was encouragement.
“Actually it was…”
And then the tears started to fall and I ran to my car and started driving. I didn’t know where I was going; I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I could barely see to navigate my way out of the parking lot through the tears that were now streaming freely. I didn’t know what to do. The world seemed to have made a sudden change. I was suddenly off balance and everything was different. Nothing looked the same.
I had been driving for five minutes when I made the decision to quit school. Yes, it was the first day of classes and yes I had just moved in four days earlier. But it simply didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to stay where he was; where I could see him with her—holding hands, talking, laughing, kissing—when he should be doing those things with me. I decided I didn’t care about higher education if I couldn’t have him. I decided it wasn’t important if I was alone.
I called me mother and told her I was on my way there. She asked me why and when I tried to speak to tell her, I realized that I couldn’t get the words out. I said I couldn’t tell her right now.
I knew where I was going, but that place happened to be two hours away and—I didn’t know how to get there. And it was 11:30 at night. But I didn’t care. I truly didn’t. All I wanted was to be far away from the stupid decisions I had made that resulted in me moving 2000 miles away to Greencastle, Indiana. To a place where I now had absolutely no friends and that I could already tell I would not fit in. I wanted to be home in southern California with my friends and the beach and In-and-Out fries.
My mother was obviously disappointed in me. I could tell it as soon as I told her I was quitting school. I suppose she was excited to have someone finally graduate from college in the family. I’d be the first.
I drove home, staring straight ahead driving much too fast. I didn’t particularly care if I got pulled over. And, besides, there are very few policemen on the vacant interstates of rural Illinois at midnight. I turned up my music and played an angry screamy song repeatedly and screamed right along with it. I called my mother again and she told me she was staying up for me. I told her I was going to call my best friend and she told me to talk no more that 10 minutes because it would run up the phone bill, to which I replied with a disgusted and dismissive “Are you serious, Mom?!” She said never mind. My best friend tried her best to be helpful but couldn’t help asking “I thought you didn’t like him anymore? You didn’t think he’d date other people?” Of course this was a completely reasonable thing to ask. I had broken up with him. What else would people think? Why would anyone break up with someone that they were permanently in love with? It doesn’t happen. And then I finally said it out loud. “BECAUSE I’M IN LOVE WITH HIM!” She consoled me as best she could, but this just wasn’t something that could be fixed.
Though I ended up lost multiple times, I ended up getting to my aunt’s house at 1:45 in the morning; by then cried dry and thoroughly exhausted. I simply walked through the door and into my mom’s arms, not caring that I was in college now and not supposed to need her. “Ok, let’s just get some sleep now. We can talk about it in the morning.”
I crawled into bed with my mom; something I hadn’t done since my dad walked out years earlier. I fell asleep almost immediately.
That night, I can’t say what I dreamed about, but I woke up and knew that I needed to get to school. I knew I couldn’t quit, and I knew I needed to be there for my class that morning. If I left immediately I would be able to make it in time to go to my dorm, change, and be to class on time.
However, I forgot that there is an hour time change between Illinois and Indiana. Also, I forgot that my Human Cultures class started at 10—not 10:30. And since I was leaving at 7 a.m., that meant I would get to school at exactly the time school was starting. Except that I needed gas. As I was driving—speeding to a ridiculous degree—I started thinking about things. About my life and about college and about this stupid boy. I hated the idea that I was going to mess up my future because some guy had hurt my feelings. I just started realizing that the person that I had started to become; this girl who needs a man and can’t function without one wasn’t the person that I was. I knew I couldn’t keep acting this way. I couldn’t keep allowing my life and future to be dependent on whether I had a boyfriend. I wasn’t that dependent girl, clinging to a man, needing to be taken care of.
College wasn’t about him. It was about me. It was about doing something good with my life and giving myself a chance to be successful. It was about giving myself the chance to flourish. And I had been letting myself down.
It was at that point that I realized I didn’t know the room number of my class. And the only thing I could do was to go on the Internet, and then go on my email to look at my class schedule. While texting and driving is dangerous, I have to say that going on a laptop while going upwards of 90mph on the freeway is definitely more so. And in the end, it didn’t really matter, because I couldn’t find Wi-Fi anywhere. Which is not a surprise, but I was pretty desperate at this point.
Also, apparently the states of Illinois and Indiana had decided that it would be a good idea to do roadwork and bring the speed limit down to 45 every 20 miles on the I-70. Which just so happened to be the only way I knew to get to school. But it didn’t matter to me anymore. The only think that I really cared about was that I wanted to be at that school to take that class. Because I was done with giving up on myself. I was done with expecting failure from myself and thinking that the only way I could be ok was if I had someone taking care of me. And this was my moment to finally prove to myself that I was worth the effort.
I pulled into a parking lot that I definitely was not supposed to be in close to Asbury Hall and, having found out which room it was by using the Wi-Fi I found once in town, I knew where to go and ran to the room; up to the third floor and rushed to the door.
I found the door closed and class in session because, at this point, it was 10:30 and things were well underway. I knew I couldn’t just barge into the room. I went to the second floor and, to my surprise; I found my anthropology teacher’s office.
I waited there, beside the door for an hour. I was hoping the teacher would come and that I would suddenly have the words to say that would make the fact that I just missed the first class somewhat ok. And then I saw the crowd of students walking down the stairs from the classroom upstairs followed by a woman that I immediately knew was my professor. I stood up as she passed by me.
As I rose, she looked at me questioningly and said, with just a touch of irritation, “Yes?”
“Um I’m in your class and I was supposed to be in your class today, but I, um, was in the wrong place and um… “ I couldn’t figure out where I was going with this, but I was hoping I could convince her that I had been in the wrong classroom, without lying. “I was confused,” I finally said, feeling defeated.
“Come into my office,” she said.
I follow her into the room, which was nicely decorated, though not extremely welcoming, with the chairs seated clear on the other side of the room from the professor’s desk. I sat in the chair with my backpack seated on my lap, almost as a shield, from what I assumed would be a moment of criticism from someone I had just recently met. At worst, she would drop me from the class. At best, she would always think of me as the idiot who couldn’t find her class the first day.
“Are you a freshman?” she asked.
I nodded, trying my best to appear to be a lost and confused freshman that had wandered into the wrong classroom. “Yes” I said, a little breathlessly.
She looked at me for a few seconds and I wondered if she was able to see what I was thinking. As ridiculous as it sounds, I thought for just a moment that maybe—just maybe—a doctor of anthropology could do such a thing. I immediately looked at the ground.
“So what happened? You went into the wrong class this morning?” she said.
I was about to say yes. It would have been so much easier to lie and let her think that, yes, yes I had gone to the wrong classroom, silly me, and now I was just hoping to straighten things out. It would be so much easier than to tell her all the stupid things I had done that lead to this moment. But I didn’t. I told the truth.
“No actually. I missed class for a number of reasons, but none of them were that I walked and sat down in the wrong class. I don’t do things that stupid; I do longer-lasting stupid things…” I looked up to see if she was paying attention. She was. She obviously wanted me to go on.
“I tell everyone that I came to this school because I had heard about their amazing English department and I wanted to leave California. But the reason I came to DePauw was because of a boy. As embarrassing as it is, that’s the truth. I traveled 2000 miles away from home because I thought I was in love.
“I was 9 when we met, and we quickly became good friends. I developed a crush, but then I moved to California three years later and he stayed in Illinois. We kept in touch though, and when I came back to visit 2 years later, I looked drastically different, as did he. He looked more like a man than the little boy he had been before. He was taller than me now, by good 5 inches. He was more mature too. But we got along, just as we had before. We were friends and we teased each other, and played around and joked with each other. It was like before in a lot of ways…
“And then it just kind of stopped being like before. I continued to visit whenever I could and we talked on the phone constantly and then, finally, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Naturally, I was overjoyed; I mean, this was the guy that I had had a crush on since I was 10. He was the only person I wanted to date. When he told me he loved me it only made sense after all this time—I said I loved him back. We would talk on the phone all the time and we would have dates over video chat. It was so difficult to be apart all the time, but it didn’t matter. We were in love. We would make it work.
“Over time, we began to discuss college a lot. Of course, we were going to go to the same one. However, he wanted me to only apply to schools in the Midwest, close to where he lived. He couldn’t apply to any in California, he said, because his parents wouldn’t let him attend. When I visited during Christmas break during senior year, he told me that if I went to the same school as he did, we would be engaged within a year. We looked at rings at the mall. I was incapable of saying anything bad about him. I was head over heals in love with this boy.
“And then things started to change. A few months later, I was upset because I found out my dad had been remarried and he hadn’t told me. I called this boy that I loved and cried and told him how upset and mad I was. He consoled me just as he always had. But then, the next day he texted me how he did not approve of the way I had behaved the night before. I was surprised, because my reaction seemed to make sense to me. It still does, really. But I just went along with it and told him I was sorry and wouldn’t act like that anymore.
“But the criticism had just begun. He told me I spent too much money. He told me I was irresponsible. He told me not to go out with my friends. And I didn’t know what to do. I would talk to him on the phone and then I would sit in my bedroom and cry. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and why he suddenly had all these problems with me.
“In spite of all this, I made an airplane reservation to go see him over spring break, so we could look at colleges. As soon as I got there, he began treating me… differently than how he used to. He wouldn’t hold my hand in public. He made comments about how much his mother hated me. He kept mentioning that maybe I just wanted to go to school in California even though he knew that I hadn’t applied there. I spent a large amount of the time in the guest room I stayed in crying. When we visited colleges, he made me feel stupid and wouldn’t let me talk and he ignored me when we were with people he knew. It was a terrible trip.
“When I got home—in fact it was shortly after I returned from the airport—he was complaining once again. He told me I was inconsiderate because I left a glass of water in the room I had stayed. He told me that I was rude to him and his parents, though he couldn’t give an example of that. He also said I was disrespectful to his car which in turn was disrespect for him. I told him I’d try to change. He said that wasn’t good enough. I said I was sorry—it didn’t seem to matter. I kept trying to call him, but he ignored my calls so he “wouldn’t say something he would regret”. So instead he just kept texting me this stuff. I didn’t know what to do… And then I gave up. I suggested that we take a break. He agreed.
“At that point, my choices were to either go to DePauw or stay at home. I chose DePauw because I thought he would change his mind once he saw me and we actually talked.
“So I arrived on campus and he said he wanted to see me. So I did. And it was so great. We went to the luau dance together. We hung out late into the night. We made Wal-Mart runs. I thought things were moving in such a way that we would get back together. So then, last night I went to his room because he had offered to fix my computer. And then I looked and I saw… a picture. Of him. And a girl. And I just didn’t know what to do. I asked him about it and he said it was his new girlfriend. And then I left.
“I decided to quit school. I was going to move home. But then I just realized how ashamed I was of myself. Yes, I had moved to Indiana for a guy, but quitting school and moving home because of him would be even worse. And it was right then that this school finally became mine. It was my decision. It wasn’t just his college. It was mine too. I tried to get back to school in time, Professor, I really did; it just didn’t quite work out. And that’s why I was in the wrong place. I was running away from my problems, when I should have been here fighting through them.” I concluded, feeling more proud of myself than I ever had.
“Well,” the professor said slowly, “I guess I will see you on Tuesday,”