Bittersweet - Thoughts of College (book review)

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When Bittersweet begins, Mabel is just off to college and is thrilled to be away from home to start a new life.  As excited as she is, she's also kind of out of her element and struggling to make her way socially.  To say I related to Mabel would barely scratch the surface.  Bittersweet really had me looking back and thinking about my own first days at college.

Unlike Mabel, my family is pretty awesome.  I wasn't going away to college to get away from my family. I was going away to find myself. I was SO excited to be on my own.

I went to college in NC (about an 8, 9, 10 hour trip from NJ depending on who's driving) by myself.  No family in NC.  No friends in NC.  ALONE.  For the first time ever.  I'd like to tell you I immediately flourished and had this amazing experience.  But... I'd say it was closer to a crash and burn in the first weeks.  I had no friends.  NO FRIENDS.  I never had that problem before.  I had a lot of really good friends in high school.  Some from as far back as kindergarten... some that were just immediate best friends when we met in high school.  I don't think I had ever felt so completely alone in my life.  And I had never felt so awkward and shy.  I was really depressed.  I spent most of my first week in class, in the library, or at my desk in my room.  The only people I had even really chatted with were twin girls I met at first day orientation.  They happened to also live together in our dorm... and I would see them around campus together all the time.  (And I will be really judgmental sounding now and say that they were just really dorky, with bad hair... and sometimes they wore matching colors... and I always felt like 1 conversation was coming out of 2 people... and I was clinging to them like a life raft because... hey.... at least they talk to me!)

Then there was my roommate Amy.  She was from Georgia... blond, and cute, and perky... all wrapped up with the perfect Southern accent.  I would have hated her if she wasn't just so darn nice (Ev did kind of remind me of Amy).  Amy was also a social butterfly.  She was in and out of our room all week.  Each evening she would pop in the room and introduce me to a new friend she'd met (usually a cute guy sometimes a little group)... and after grabbing a couple things she would run off to dinner or wherever.  And I would sit and study or watch TV.  Alone.  Amy was starting college exactly how I THOUGHT I would start college.  It was pathetic.

After the first week of classes I was seriously thinking I had made a huge mistake.  It was a Friday night.  I was sitting at my desk reading (yes... on my first weekend after classes I was sitting and studying).  Amy was getting ready to go out and there was a knock on our door.  It was the twins coming to see if I wanted to eat dinner.  They couldn't see me from the door, and I was about to get up to say yes (why not?), when Amy told them she was sorry I was out.  She then closed the door, looked at me, and said something like "No, I refuse, you can not sit around and study all the time and then hang out with them.  You're going out with me and a bunch of people tonight. Now."  I imagine I had a look of shock and awe on my face.  I should have probably been really offended... or upset... or something... but I just went with it.  And that night?  It's really one of the best memories of my time in college.  While I did have to push myself to be more outgoing than I actually was... I just remember laughing and talking... and eating amazing NC BBQ at Woodlands (and I'll never forget that poor Tim, who ended up being a really good friend, had to deal with a rather sarcastic Jersey girl... because I guess when I'm nervous and shy and awkward I'm also sarcastic as all get out).

Amy pulled me out of a kind of dark lonely place.  Yes... it was only a couple of depressing weeks... but in one moment Amy changed the course of where my college life could have gone.  I don't know that she realized what a turning point that was for me.  From that evening on... I made more of an effort to connect with the people she had been meeting... more of an effort to talk to people in classes... and with Amy... made some amazing friends.  And, while Amy and I actually only ended up as roommates for 6 months... I still consider her one of the best friends I made in college that year.

 
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This post was inspired by Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, a novel that exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider’s hunger to belong. Join From Left to Write on May 20 we discuss Bittersweet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.