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My high-school boyfriend and I wound up at the same university, our dorms separated by two brick walls and a few bored hall monitors. We shared a cafeteria, and though mine was a women's-only floor, it was easy to sneak him back and forth, granting us access to each others' beds and underwear in a way that was unimaginable back when we took what we could get in the back of his Chevy Nova. There was only one problem with this luxury scenario: A week before college, we broke up.
Well, he broke up with me. I was going to take more convincing. That summer, we had long conversations in the front seat of his car, him staring out the window while my face contorted, flushed purple, and bubbles of snot popped in my nose. It's a mean cosmic coincidence that at the moment you are feeling most vulnerable, sad, scared, and angry, you also look the most stupid.
"No one's ever going to understand you like I duh-duh-duh-do," I said, wiping my sleeve on my nose.
Strangely, this argument did not work.
My boyfriend had decided that other people would understand him like I did. Even better, they might be on the pill. So while I sulked in my girls-only wing, stroking our prom pictures, he experimented with psychedelics and enjoyed handjobs from hot Venezuelan exchange students. I hated college, and it hadn't even started yet.
My roommate was a flag-corps member who slept with a stuffed bunny rabbit. She had a boyfriend in a nearby town, but they were saving themselves for marriage. We didn't have a lot in common, my roommate and I. Still, I didn't have any other dinner
companions, so each night at 7 p.m., we joined the crush of college kids in the cafeteria wearing torn jeans and flannel shirts in summer. I remember thinking the room was full of possibility. (And free fountain drinks!) I remember thinking cute boys in concert T-shirts sat at nearly every booth. I remember thinking the guy holding hands with the exotic-looking Venezuelan exchange student looked an awful lot like my ex-boyfriend.
"Hey, this is Marisa." My ex-boyfriend had grown a goatee. It looked stupid.
"It's nice to meet you," I told her. By that, I meant I wanted to rip off her fucking face.
I sat down with my roommate and my chicken-fried steak. There was a hot bulge in my throat. One tear slipped off my chin. And then twenty more.
"I promise I won't be like this all time," I said, dabbing my face with a square napkin. But that was a total lie. I have never cried more than I did my first year of college. Well, maybe in the first year of life. But even then, I had new toys and a breast to suck.
In fact, what I remember most about my freshman year is not the classes, or the dorm, or the professors, but how difficult it was to find a place to cry in peace. There was just no privacy. Dorm living is kind of like being on a reality-television show in that way. You know everything about everyone. When people use drugs, you smell it. When people have sex, you hear it. I used to get so desperate for a little scrap of my own that I'd lock myself in the phone booths, just curl up and feel sad for myself, and think about how much I hated it. Looking back, I guess the study rooms were always empty, too. Somehow, it never occurred to me to go in there.