Cute, young English major on a tennis scholarship meets future doctor or lawyer. We fall in love, get married and become that happy couple I saw in the magazine ads. I suppose we live happily ever after in Suburbia too…
When I went off to college, I don’t remember exactly what I thought. It wasn’t that. I was always a little suspicious of the fact that the only place I ever read those ads was in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
A husband, a baby, a house with a picture window looking out over a pretty view of other houses that all look just like mine… Nothing wrong with any of that, I guess. It’s just hard to believe it’s really anyone’s dream. Survive the pomp and circumstance of grad night and then off to let society put me in a box. Yeah, I’m not even sure I dreamed of surviving grad night.
Honestly, at the time, I just wanted to get out of the box I was in. Get as far away from Daddy as I could, so I could live my own life. My heart was broken at leaving Jessi behind. I was scared. I shared Jessi’s fear that the big university, the education machine, was going to chew me up and spit me out a different person. But I did have a dream. I’d been dreaming it since I was twelve. Daddy was willing to pay as long as I had my scholarship, and so away I went.
I was going to become a writer, but in the unmistakeable picture in my head, I was a writer-mother. With a mysteriously absent husband. He could have been anyone really, a Kyle sundae maybe – hopefully without the jerk topping – as long as he had the required plumbing and it worked. I’d dress my pretty kids in pretty clothes, and write my best-selling novels while they were off at school being chewed up and spit out different people. Cocktail parties with stuffy neighbors, a made-to-order Desperate Housewives friend set…
To my way of thinking, I was going to become the mother I thought my mother should have been. As it turned out, I didn’t end up a mother at all, and I learned in the process how Mama became the mother she did.
College didn’t turn me into a different person. My dream is still in tact. Not the one where some nice boy has some plumbing, the other one. But college had its defining moments, many of which had little to do with the education machine gnawing incessantly at my ankle like a cute little puppy with a chew toy.
Alcohol and I are not good friends. It’s difficult to explain what happens to me, because I seldom remember much afterward. If there’s one thing college offers no shortage of, it’s alcohol. I understand it’s even part of the curriculum at a certain California State University, which I did not attend. Nevertheless…
I went to a party at the college dorms one night in my freshman year, with a couple of friends I didn’t really know. Actually, they weren’t really dorms. Two-level, off-campus units all lined up in rows, technically, they were apartments. Anyway, I got a bit too drunk and who knows what else after that. Conveniently, all I remember is that the room was spinning around and around. I didn’t seem to possess the physical strength to stop it, or even to slow it down, and it was making me sick to my stomach, so I staggered outside to get some air. Somehow in my inebriated ignorance, the world outside was not going to be spinning.
I walked out a few steps and breathed in the fresh, cold, midnight fog. After a minute, I did feel better. It was obvious the world was still turning, but at a much slower pace. The fog was swirling and churning, but it was visibly tangible and it anchored me. I could feel the planet hurtling through space; I could feel its rotation, but the fog reminded me of my place on its surface.
I watched it for a while. I remember thinking how happy I was to be a part of it. I could feel my preordained place in it all. At once, I was excited, ready to go back to a new me in the morning! The machine had chewed me up and spit me out and I loved it!
I turned around to go back inside, and I had an instant panic attack! I couldn’t tell one dorm flat from another! I was stranded in a world of little grey boxes, floating in a sea of fog like the wreckage from the Titanic, and they all looked just the same! I was no more than ten feet from the door I had walked out of and I was lost!
My heart was pounding, my brain was rushing, and I broke out in a cold sweat, mad at myself for even going to a party with people I didn’t really know. I don’t remember the rest of the attack itself. I was completely gone for that. I remember quickly trying to program my mind not to do anything at all…
Around 2:30 in the morning, I found myself staring at the front doors to two apartments. My body was shivering from standing in the cold and my legs were on fire from standing in one place for so long. I wanted to cry, but apparently, I had already done all of that that I could. I was exhausted. I needed sleep. I stared at the doors and reasoned that the closer one was probably the one I had come from and I walked through it. The people inside looked vaguely familiar and so I found a cushion, and a spot on the stair, and I slept…
I sat up late last night, sipping a dry martini. There was no husband or baby, just two olives at the bottom of a glass. My picture window is a little smaller than the one I never dreamed. It looks out across a pretty courtyard at the apartments on the other side. Little brown boxes, in a complex, stacked together like a warehouse floor.
And they all look just the same.
© 2013 Anne Schilde
Author’s Note: Inspired by the lyrics in Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds. The link is to a great WOTE cover. Hope you clicked it!