Thursday, September 28

Six years ago

I was a freshman at MTSU. I had just moved into the honors dorm and started classes. I've been sitting here for a few minutes now trying to remember what my classes were that semester, but it's cloudy up there in my memory. Physical science (honors), some sophomore honors English class (I got to skip freshman English because I'd already gotten credit for a year while in high school), some kind of PE (tennis?), an honors lecture course, intro to psychology, and something else. American history — pre-Civil War? I can't remember. It wasn't what I'd call a rigorous schedule by any means, but it was full enough for me that year. I'm actually kind of surprised I managed to make it out with my scholarship intact.

Making the mistake so many poor schleps before me had made, I had at least one 8 o'clock class that met twice a week. And I spaced my classes out so that they covered every single day of the week. I thought doing that would give me plenty of time to study and just kind of chill during downtime on light days. If only.

What happened instead of frenzied bouts of studying was a gradual descent into what I can now confidently call depression — a November to February black funk — even though I never went to a doctor and got diagnosed.

It started with the living situation.

I moved into the honors dorm thinking it would be beneficial to be among so many other sniveling high achievers. Keep in mind that my perception of college — since no one in my family during my lifetime had ever gone to college except my mom, and she commuted when we were kids so she didn't live the on-campus life — was almost entirely formed by what "college" looked like on TV and in movies and, to a lesser extent, in books. And while I was excited to move away from home and experience the culturing college had to offer, I figured it would be a smart move to live in a dorm where other girls shared my same interests: Namely nerddom.

Compounding my profoundly stupid decision to move into the honors dorm was my reluctant agreement to move in with someone I was sort of friends with from high school. Now, I want to preface all of what I'm about to say with a bit of a pre-emptive mea culpa in case this person or anyone she knows ever reads this: I am sorry our time as roommates worked out so pitifully, and I'm sorry I was such a dismal roommate. I was dealing with some heavy internal shit and I had no business being roommates with anyone at that time. That said, I'm still going to write about the shit this roommate did that drove me absolutely crazy. And, so help me god, if any of what I write is untrue, may lightning strike me dead right now.

I had always read these frantic accounts in magazines by girls who had roomed with friends or acquaintances and ended up wanting to kill them by the end of the term. Despite that information weighing on my mind, I made the decision to live with a semi-friend instead of a stranger paired up with me by the housing office. One of my worst personality traits is that I have a hard time saying no to people. I feel obligated to make people happy and avoid doing anything that might hurt their feelings. And this girl wanted to room with me, and I didn't want to tell her no so I could room with someone I didn't know. What's the worst that could happen? I thought. We won't see each other that much anyway.

And, truly, we didn't see each other that much. But we still had to sleep in the same room.

And this person snored like you wouldn't believe.

Now, to be fair, I snore too. But my snoring is a) quiet and b) cute and c) occasional and d) depends on my being positioned in a way that constricts my air flow. So if you nudge me and get me to move my head, my snoring stops. Friends who have slept near me, is this a fair assessment? Be brutally honest if you must. I understand that this may be a pot-meet-kettle kind of thing.

But my roommate snored like her life depended on hearing her breath echo and rattle in our tiny little cinderblock room every second. And not only did she snore incessantly, but she moaned and groaned and occasionally talked in her sleep. All night long. She was a devout Church of Christ member — she told me, a budding feminist, that she didn't feel it was right for women to teach men in church because they just don't have that kind of authority — so I liked to imagine that when she would moan, she was dreaming about getting it on with Jesus (I am a bad person, I know).

So, there I'd lie, in my stiff, crinkly top bunk (we had new mattresses that had plastic sheeting around them we couldn't remove) with my eyes wide open, contemplating the shadows on the wall and how they'd shift during the wee hours, listening to my roommate's every exhalation, each different from the last, but each intensely vocal, wondering if she'd magically cut it out so that I could drift off to sleep in time to catch a couple of hours of sleep before my damned 8 a.m. class.

And night after night, my desperation to fall asleep grew more and more intense, more frayed and unhinged, to the point where I felt like at any moment I could jump down and strangle her until her heavy breathing morphed into silence and I could sleep for a hundred fucking years uninterrupted and be free and happy, finally.

But, strangely — and this is a testament to my crippling inability to confront people with information that might hurt their feelings — I never said a word to her about her snoring when we were awake. I never even passive-aggressively put anti-snoring nose strips or spray on her pillow. I just kept it to myself. And I started accepting the fact that I'd get two or three hours of sleep a night, tops. And then I started the nightly rituals.

One of my rituals was to leave campus — and risk losing my parking space — and just drive around Murfreesboro, trying to lull myself to sleep like some overgrown baby (riding in a car always makes me sleepy; yes, even when I'm driving). It hardly worked, but it did get me out of the dorm and away from the cacophony of her nocturnal vocal emissions. I tried falling asleep first with my headphones on and my music up loud to drown out the snoring. When I realized that I stopped being able to fall asleep to music in tenth grade (when I fell asleep with Pearl Jam's Vitalogy playing and "Foxymophandlemamathat'sme" woke me up in the middle of the night and scared the holy shit out of me), I decided that I'd need to try something different. And more quiet. So I got some earplugs. But a muted snore ain't that much better than a loud one, because when you're lying in bed listening to someone snore, you start to anticipate the rhythm even if you can't hear it. And even if you don't really hear somone snore, you sit there and think about hearing them snore. So then I moved on to my most prized ritual: Contantus Interruptus.

My roomate would be conked out, 2 in the morning, snoring and moaning and groaning, and I'd jerk violently in bed enough to shake her awake so that she'd move around a bit and stop snoring for a few minutes. Sometimes she'd stop snoring for long enough that I'd drift off to sleep. Sometimes I'd wake up later when her snoring had reached its loudest, most obnoxious pitch. So then, sensing I'd never win the battle, I just started yelling shit to amuse myself.

She'd be sawing away and, during a crescendo, I'd yell "HEY!" or "JESUS!" and sometimes she'd hear me and stir awake, and slur, "You say sump'in?" and I'd lie still and try not to laugh my ass off. And while I was giggling to myself, she'd fall back into her regular patterns of sawing and moaning. And, really, I might have laughed but I took no joy from what I was doing. I actually felt bad about waking her up in such a way. And I knew it was completely pointless.

While my nighttime troubles were growing, my daytime issues were getting more complicated too. Phil lived just a couple of buildings over, and he was rooming with a friend of his. They seemed to get along perfectly. In addition to his roommate, Phil also had a couple of friends in town, and was making other friends on campus in nearby dorm rooms. To say the least, I was jealous of him for having outside interests when I had absolutely none. I didn't know a single person on campus besides my roommate, and she was driving me insane. Phil, on the other hand, knew lots of people and had plenty of shit to do instead of, say, doing homework and going to class. So his social life was flourishing while his grades plummeted, and it bothered me that he didn't seem to take anything too seriously. Our relationship began its long and complicated demise that year. We had our first real fight, where I told him things had to change or I was out. I caught him in some relatively small but nonetheless irksome lies. He hung out with characters my straight-edge ass considered seedy.

Yet, even while we struggled to outline new boundaries now that we were out of Savannah and in an entirely new environment, I spent every weekend at his dorm — a welcome respite from my own room in Hell. His roommate usually drove to Savannah on weekends to visit his girlfriend, so Phil and I would have the run of the place. I'll never forget the disgusting smell of their quad bathrooms, which they shared with three other pairs of roommates. I'll never forget the times we'd hear the high-pitched whirring of an electric shaver as a prominent campus baseball star would shave his balls with his foot propped up on one of the sinks. I'll never forget showering in the community showers, my flip-flops on and Phil keeping an eye out from his door in case one of the other dudes wandered in to shower only to be surprised that there was a dickless bather present.

But even weekends at Nicks Hall couldn't stop the badness. My relationship was crumbling and morphing and I had to re-evaluate my feelings for Phil, as he was changing. I wasn't sleeping very much. I was lonely and didn't know anyone besides Phil — who I was growing increasingly wary of — and my roommate, who I had all but written off. My grades in a couple of classes were slipping to below Bs, which was scandalous. I was struggling to stay on top of a C in my science class. I spent very little time studying and started spending most of my days between classes in bed, trying to sleep since I knew I would get no sleep at night. I started playing "Sullen Girl" and "How to Disappear Completely" on a constant loop.

And I started taking sleeping pills. At first just to encourage my body to let go and sleep despite the distractions. And then during the day, several at a time, so I'd be too tired to go to class.

I was miserable. Detached. So I pushed my limits. I'd take a handful of sleeping pills and lie in bed in the middle of the day, marveling at how the entire lower half of my body would go numb. I'd swallow a few Benadryl and then watch as everything in my line of sight left tracers. I'd wave my hand in front of my face and see several hands staged in fading chronology, moving around like in some bad movie effect.

It's so stupid. So fucking stupid. And I knew it then. Fully. But when you're that far into it, reason doesn't rule. And you just do stupid shit in the muted hope that you'll either snap out of it or someone will notice and snap you out of it. You're in a shoving match with reality, trying to prove that your engineered reality is more workable than what the world has actually given you. It's completely insane.

But, see, you don't know that 'til you're looking back on it. When you're in the middle of it, you listen to a song and you hear the aching violins and you feel every cell in your body swelling to a crescendo that shrinks and takes you with it into the darkness where you lie flat beneath the light. Quiet, so no one notices, even though you ache for someone to do something. And it's there, in that darkness, where you begin to think that if you just stayed there, no one would notice and you could close your eyes and the hurting would stop. So you sink further ...

Honestly, I don't remember a whole lot more from that year. I don't remember the holidays or if going home made me feel better. I don't think my depression was caused necessarily by homesickness; even on my worst days I never felt the urge to run home or call the parents a million times. I do remember buying a journal and writing some angst-ridden bullshit in it (I should have started a blog back then!). In fact, I still have that journal. And I just read some of it and that is some heavy shit. Sad.

Everything in my life had been ripped up, moved to a different location, and I had to make sense of the mess and reassemble the pieces. My friends from high school were all but non-existent — we had gotten into a massive falling-out before graduation and I had emerged a lone wolf — and I was having a tough time meeting people at MTSU thanks to my crippling inability to get out of bed. My relationship with Phil — my love for three years — was cracking and wavering and I was, for the first time, questioning our future together. I wasn't sleeping, except in drug-induced fits and starts throughout the day. I had no one and nothing. I was writing news for Sidelines but I didn't really know anyone else on staff at that point. I was out of breath, sitting slumped at the bottom of the pool, blacking out.

And then a bunch of shit happened. Phil dropped out and moved out of his dorm and back to Savannah to work for the spring semester. Suddenly alone and increasingly broke, I had to get a job. So I started working at a tanning salon. And then Sidelines offered me an assistant editor position, which, corny as it sounds, saved my fucking life. It gave me money, it gave me something to do — something I liked and was good at! — and I met people — people who were smart and funny! — and I slowly floated back up to the surface and took a big fat breath and noticed the light and the semester was over and I went home for the summer and slept in my own bed and worked every day at my parents' convenience store, writing shitty columns for Sidelines and planning for the fall, when I'd become news editor and Phil and I would get our own place and play house and try to make our relationship work, despite our families' misgivings.

I had a future again, and it didn't involve sleeping pills.

It's kind of funny, now, thinking back to my freshman year and how dismal it was from day one. You know, not so much ha-ha funny as weird funny, thinking about all those sleepless nights and how they carved these relentless circles beneath my eyes and fed my deep cynicism about most things in life. It's sad how such optimism can tatter and fray and become unrecognizable from just a short period of relatively benign challenge. How would I hold up if something truly awful happened to me? Pathetic!

That year is the obscure and forgettable pilot episode of a show that got so much better and more interesting as the seasons passed.

I look around me now, right now, as I sit in my own living room of my amazing apartment, where I make the rules and where I don't have to endure anyone's snoring but my own, and I am overwhelmed with the kind of gratefulness that, in any other context, I would consider slighty corny. But I am seriously, sincerely thankful that I am no longer living under a cloud. There was a great deal of fog last year, but it waned and, since then, I have felt mostly good about my life, despite its little challenges.

It's amazing what a little time and distance can do.


Blogger Anonymouse said...

the pearl jam portion of your post reminds me of my first discovery of hidden tracks on with my family on highway 69, i kept my cd player near my head and let eddie vedder, kurt cobain, chris cornell and billy corgan put me to sleep every night...well, kurt and his chums had a trick up their sleeve when putting the nevermind album together, and needless to say, i nearly soiled the bed...

Thu Sep 28, 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger J. R. said...

This was very touching and of course, I love bildungsroman. Nonetheless, all I want to talk about is the Nicks Hall experience.

Back in my day, Nicks Hall was one of the few (maybe only) dorms that had smoking rooms. And of course, the baseball players lived there.

So the bottom couple of floors were occupied by athletes and the top floors by guys who were the kind of people who would request a smoking dorm room. An interesting dichotomy.

And then, of course, were the bathrooms. Communal, as you mentioned. It was so blasting hot in the fall of 2001 that we all left the doors open to keep a draft flowing through the quad (and I suspect, to keep my neighbors, Cheech and Chong, from becoming the first victims of a marijuana overdose). So of course, whilst making #2, there would be a bit of encouragement from the neighbors.

And there was the time I was doing my business and the neighbor came over to ask if it would bother me if his girlfriend took care of her business in the neighboring stall.

She was smoking hot and I could never look her in the eye again.

Thu Sep 28, 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger nashgirl said...

Although your post isn't really about communal bathrooms, I feel the need to share as well. On my first day on the campus of Austin Peay State University, I locked myself in the communal bathroom between my dorm and the unarrived dormmates next door. I spent three hours alone in the empty bathroom until my roommate arrived with her parents. I even fell asleep only to be awakened when her father opened the door to check out the communal facilities.

Thu Sep 28, 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger phallicpen said...

I was completely touched by this post. Those moments (and the bitter hopefulness that one can never fully shed after such a triumphant return) make us better people.

It doesn't sound corny to say that Sidelines saved your life. It was our niche, man. And it was a truthful one that we can always be proud of and look back on as awesome enough to make up for a few bad semesters and then some.

I spent my freshman year in a single dorm playing Doom, reading brick-heavy Stephen King novels in single sittings, and sleeping every 48 hours for 15 hours at a time. And then the Christians came and pulled me out with promises of motorboat rides and nacho platters. Har har.

Thu Sep 28, 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

A'mouse: I was fascinated by the idea of hidden tracks at first. And then that band Ash came out with their horrifying secret track that involved a lot of vomiting. I haven't felt charitable toward secret tracks since.

JR: Ha! But don't be embarrassed. It's essential; that's why we call it business. Interesting that they kept athletes on the first couple of floors of Nicks. That explains a lot, actually. Phil was in room 211, I think. Is anyone dying to know the athlete whom I heard shaving his balls all the time? I'll give you a hint — his name rhymes with La-wan Frazzleton.

Kristin: That story cracks me up. They should put emergency buzzers in community bathrooms.

Amber: How I wish you and I could have spent our miserable freshman years together. Sleeping, since we didn't do a damn thing else.

Fri Sep 29, 04:10:00 AM  

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