Tag: rules

“A Sense of Belonging (Elsewhere)”

basketball
Note: I promise there’s eventually context for this picture.

The years have dulled many memories of college, but I still feel the sting of rejection as though it happened only yesterday.

That’s not a joke. I realize there’s supposed to be some sort of joke there. And yet, even seeing that I’ve moved on to bigger and better things all this time later, I still struggle to put any sort of positive spin on that first weekend in college. So, if it helps, imagine me wearing a funny t-shirt or something.

It’s hard to say exactly where things started to go wrong. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that it was a very fundamental misunderstanding of what college was. I mean, sure, I knew that it was a bunch of buildings with teachers and classes and what-have-you. But I’d made rather lofty assumptions about fresh starts after high school. What I didn’t realize nearly soon enough was that, for almost everyone I met that first semester, high school had never really ended.

Sigh. I hope you’re imagining a really funny t-shirt, is what I’m trying to say.

In what was probably meant to help people get to know one another, our RA had instituted a few rules for welcome weekend. First off, we were to have our doors open at all times in case someone wandered by. Talking would ensue. Friendships would be forged. No doubt, BFF bracelets would follow and we’d braid each other’s hair.

A second – more puzzling – rule was that we were forbidden from leaving our floor without someone else from the floor or special permission from the RA. I’m not sure exactly what he’d hoped to accomplish there. My only guess was that it had something to do with being in co-ed dorms – boys and girls being split into dorms every other floor. Most likely, it had been meant to keep us out of trouble in the form of ending up in an entirely different form of alternating boy-girl stack. (Hi-yo!)

And third, we had to eat all our meals at the same time and at the same table as the rest of our floor mates. This rule seemed to make the least sense to me, since friends would already be eating meals together anyway.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about eating with friends, mostly because it only took me about four hours to hate every last one of my floor mates with every fiber of my being.

It began, as most stories do, with two shirtless teenagers dribbling balls loudly in front of my open door. The two had actually been doing laps of the floor when I mistakenly waved to them as they passed. Without saying a word to me, they exchanged an irritated look and proceeded to stand there dribbling louder and louder over the next five minutes. “Can I help you two with something?” I eventually asked, a bit exasperated.

“What’s wrong, frosh?” one of the interchangeable Aryans with a crew cut asked. “Is this annoying you?”

“A little, actually,” I admitted.

“Well, that’s too bad, frosh,” one said with a sneer. “There’s no rule says we can’t dribble out here.”

I was actually pretty sure there was a rule that said exactly that, but I hadn’t read up on the literature yet. So I changed tack. “Okay. And…what’s a ‘frosh’ now, exactly?”

The two exchanged another look, clearly delighted by the simple pleasure of being assholes. “It means ‘freshman,’ frosh.” I’d honestly lost track of who was talking at this point. But whichever of them it was, they delivered it with an emphasis that suggested they thought it was an insult rather than a completely accurate description of a first-year student. And one, I considered noting, that applied to all of us equally.

I blinked back. “Oh.” Their sneers faltered a bit when I failed to burst into flame from the white-hottest of all the sick burns. “Anyway, why are dribbling there, exactly?”

Delight returned to their faces. “Oh, look how pissed he’s getting.” The two kept from high-fiving, but only just. “Poor frosh. It’s annoying him.” He mimed crying. I started looking for hidden cameras, because I honestly had no idea what was going on.

“Yes. I think we covered that earlier.” The conversation went on a little longer, with the pair sharing looks and laughing at insults that were neither funny nor particularly insulting. At no point in the conversation did they come close to hurting my feelings, though on two occasions they actually insulted their own mothers. In the end, I closed the door and went back to watching television.

The dribbling outside intensified over the course of the next two minutes. Then it became the telltale rattling of balls being thrown at my door over and over. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what I’d done that had made the two so upset, aside from my deeply insulting wave hello. I didn’t have long to think, however, since the RA arrived soon after. Much to my surprise, he chided me for having my door closed while the two shirtless boys openly laughed and repeated “busted!” behind him.

Realizing whatever I watched on television was going to sound a lot like loud dribbling, I went about and tried to meet new people. And that’s when I made an even more unpleasant discovery. In addition to being the only one without a roommate, I was also the only one not in a room with a friend from high school.

Not surprisingly, no one was all that interested in making new friends when they came to college with someone they’d known for the past decade or so. And in the few moments I came close to starting a decent conversation, Hitler’s youths would arrive to lob ever-weaker insults or otherwise make the situation too awkward for pleasant company. After doing my rounds of the floor and enduring an awkward meal consisting of nothing but in-jokes and high school anecdotes, I’d pretty much realized it was a lost cause.

It didn’t take long. I am, after all, a quick learner. Sigh.

The final nail in the coffin came late in the evening when, as I did some writing, a group of girls called up to my window. We talked back and forth until they finally asked me to come down. Exhilarated, I threw on my second-least-embarrassing shirt and rushed for the elevator. Where I was promptly stopped by the RA.

“I was talking with some people down on the quad. They seem cool. I’m going to go hang out with them for a bit,” I explained to his increasingly displeased face.

“Honestly, I think you need to focus less on them until you make more of an effort with your floor mates. You don’t seem to be hitting it off with them,” he explained. “Since you don’t have a roommate, I worry you’re not going to have any friends.”

“Yes…but that’s why I’m going to go try and make some now,” I reasoned. I went over my gut feelings about the people on the floor already having existing friendships and that I’d be better off trying elsewhere. “Besides,” I pointed out, “everyone else left to go have fun already. Even if I stayed up here, there’s no one to make friends with.”

The conversation went on for the next ten minutes, with the RA becoming increasingly agitated, as though my decision to find my own friends was an affront to him somehow. In the end, though, he stepped aside. “Fine. Whatever. I’m just an RA. I can’t force you to do anything anyway.”

That is tremendously good information to have,” I said, and brushed past him.

Of course, cliches were all the rage back then. So I doubt I have to tell you that the RA’s long talk had lasted just long enough that the group of girls were long gone by the time I walked out the side door. I could have approached one of the random groups laughing and talking, but I didn’t feel all that lucky at that point. Honestly, I didn’t even feel all that sociable anymore.

I walked back to my room and, in my single victory of the night, closed and locked my door since, as my RA said, he couldn’t force me not to.

I want to say that the story has a happy ending or silver lining. At the very least, I’d like to say that it ended there without getting worse. But that’s not what happened.

I remember being jarred awake at 3am by the sound of loud dribbling directly outside my door. The Aryans had returned and, apparently fueled by whatever motivated idiots, decided to cap their night by dribbling in place for the next half hour. They talked about girls and parties and what fraternities they planned to rush in the fall. And, much to my irritation, they were joined by the RA, who seemed to have much laxer rules regarding noise violations than whether or not doors were arbitrarily left open.

“So…you guys like basketball, huh?” the RA asked. I put in my headphones.

Listening to music on full blast, I returned to my writing. I poured all my loneliness and angst and disdain by bouncing balls into it. And I haven’t stopped since.

Both the late-night dribblers, on the other hand, did eventually stop dribbling. At least long enough to be sent packing two weeks later when the RA carried out a one-man sting operation that resulted in an underage drinking charge for both. It was a dirty trick, but suffice to say, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Well, look at that. I guess there was a happy ending to the story, after all.

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