I didn’t know I was maladjusted until orientation week at UNT in Denton, Texas.
I should have known I was – but many years of being ostracized, ridiculed, and forced to recluse in high school tends to numb your perspective a bit. Even senior year, when things seemed to ease off, didn’t really help. Even then, I had a small safety net, a core group of 4-5 friends there at Thrall to rely on.
That was whittled down to 2 for the college experience – two of them happened to be accepted to Texas Woman’s University, also in Denton – but I knew I wouldn’t be able to see them every day.
Anyway, orientation week – the very first night there, I started to cry uncontrollably. It was incredibly embarrassing, not to mention I couldn’t clearly understand why. I remember the cold, prison-like, empty dorm room I was in, barren of all decoration, cinder block walls – I’m sure that was part of it.
But I was so used to having to be on my own, that set me off on the wrong foot. I wasn’t open to anyone, and I’m sure I had a ‘stay away from me’ vibe that meant no one was going to approach me and say ‘Hey, let’s get to know each other.’
It was a sensory overload, in many ways. I think I was in a kind of tunnel vision the whole orientation – I remember absolutely no faces, just buildings, rooms, desks, computers.
Embarrassing bout of tears aside, when I got back home I was excited to start the process of heading off to college. I packed, I planned, got my dorm assignment set up – Bruce Hall, the oldest dorm on campus but the one known for eccentrics, artistic and musical types – the perfect setting for one to be who one is.
Except who I was at that point was still a damaged person – still recovering from a multitude of emotional trauma. I didn’t know how to be anyone else.
And I cried for another solid week once I moved in.
The ghosts of high school haunted me still. Every time I walked to and from classes, if I heard a whispering voice behind me, a laugh – I was certain it was someone talking about or laughing at me.
It made me so uncomfortable there were days I couldn’t even leave the dorm room. I’d stay in for days at a time, ordering in pizza (with all the Big New Yorkers I ordered I can’t understand why Pizza Hut discontinued it) or walking to the Jack in the Box on the corner and buying God-knows-what.
Doing so meant I often ran out of money. I had a meal card as part of my dorm package, but I was still so petrified of other people, even being seen by other people – I just couldn’t do it. I tried going to other cafeterias on campus, which eased things a bit – but not by much.
That’s when I did something I am vehemently ashamed of – I would start eating food from my roommate’s supplies. I would make a feeble lie, saying there were ants or something and I had to throw them out.
Though I can’t defend what I did in the slightest… what happened later pretty much sealed my fate at UNT, and forced me to quit college for the first time.
I have to admit, it was clever – something I’d have expected from a TV show. My roommate made chocolate chunk cookies and left them out on his desk, expecting me to sneak a few, which I did.
But it wasn’t chocolate chunks.
It was Ex-Lax. And it had the desired effect – although I didn’t immediately connect it together until someone clued me in on it weeks after the fact.
And how did he know? My roommate told him. And who knows how many other people.
I was mortified. And of course it did nothing for my psyche – all it did was confirm for me every one of my suspicions.
“They’ll laugh at you, Carrie.”
The TV-movie remake of “Carrie” was, ironically, on at the time, and now I remember that scene where Carrie’s mom tells her that everyone will laugh at her for going to the prom, and after the pig’s blood is dumped on her, that’s all she hears.
That’s essentially what happened to me – everyone who I thought was whispering and laughing at me behind my back really was laughing at me – at least as far as my brain was telling me.
There was another incident during my time at Bruce Hall which really screwed up my all-important college phase, which I won’t go into at the moment – its still a bit too personal for me to even admit to on the internet right now.
I was mortified. I was embarrassed. When the spring term ended, I moved out of Bruce Hall and into a swanky, just-opened college apartment center off the edge of campus.
But ultimately that experience was worse. Again, I didn’t get to choose any of my three other roommates – two of them I never even met face-to-face the entire semester. Even that may require a post of its own. After the fall semester, I quickly and quietly moved out of that apartment – and away from UNT for good.