People told me I was going to love college.
They told me about the diverse passions and interests, how there’d be many clubs and hobbies to explore. They said everyone was just looking to meet others they got along with, too— that it wouldn’t be difficult finding a community that I felt was my home, and that everyone accepted each for their uniqueness.
It wouldn’t be like high school.
What wouldn’t be there to love about having no curfews, living minutes walk away from friends, and starting my reputation from scratch? At such a big school like Berkeley, how hard could it be to find somewhere that I “belonged”? All that mattered was how I carried myself and who I chose to be around.
What wouldn’t be there to love?
Jitters of being at such a foreign place, expectations I had on myself, and the experience I was assured I’d get made it easy for me to approach people in the beginning. The dorm was my playground, and I bolted from floor to floor, knocking on doors and talking in hallways until the RA hushed us during quiet hours. Everything seemed to piece together naturally and ceaselessly. It was surreal to finally be independent and not have someone patroning my every move.
My eyes were opened by the whole new vibrancy of Greek life. Frats were just like what I had imagined about college watching movies, and I quickly latched on to the crop top and jean shorts attire literally every night the week of GBO to hop around with my separate group of “frat friends.” With the constant drinking and partying, I ended up in frat restrooms a handful of times; my hair messily tied back and yacking the contents of my dinner, I’d always smile to assure my friends I was having the time of my life.
I expanded my circle as I got introduced to mutual friends at dining halls and events. I joined social clubs and tried out for different professional organizations. Did exactly what I was expected and told to do for the complete“college experience”— to try different things.
My Facebook and Instagram are now filled with faces I no longer recognize of the people I briefly encountered.
But I started to make some unchangeable mistakes. A product of my oversight and lack of setting priorities. A few slips that hurt my reputation. Bad encounters with people. Poor decision making. And I started to hear more of the things that were talked about me. Both real and exaggerated things, some personal talks that got into the wrong ears. Things weren’t quite meeting the standard.
“She passed out at that frat.”
“She just can’t get her shit together.”
“Her best friend says she’s hella needy and annoying.”
Knowing a lot of people, which I’ve always thought of as a good thing, turned its odds against me. Everyone seemed to hear bits about what I’ve been up to, how I’ve been holding up. I was overthinking about my image, how I was pictured by other people. Scared to think of the words associated with me.
I was falling apart. Afraid to speak because they’d only resurface the rumors that circulated.
As I moved out of the dorms, excuses to casually meet the few I held onto from freshman year dwindled, and many plans stopped falling through. I was exhausted of trying; started pulling out. Everything felt so unnatural, so forced.
Friends saying “let’s catch up soon!”— but never planning out a definite time. Then we’d exchange an awkward “hi” the next time we ran into each other, both hesitant to bring up plans. Because we’re both tired. Too busy. Too caught up in our own lives.
I’d see the people I once was close to from my old churches, among the several fellowships I hopped around, those that I stayed a little too long and got too familiar. People I never quite felt genuinely cared. People I couldn’t be true to who I was because I was pressured to present a certain church persona.
To be more like them. To be “one of them.” I had tried to hide my double life of partying and smoking, but the towering glares when I accidentally dropped my juul during service made me sure I couldn’t present this facade any longer.
Stopped going to church.
Gave up on the people.
Running into the members of consulting clubs and organizations that I didn’t get into, I’d think, “They must be laughing at me that I didn’t make it.” There was a constant echo in the back of my head: “Just not good enough to be a part of them.” I cowered and looked at the floor. Reluctant to meet their eye. Afraid they might remember what I said during the interview. Laugh inside.
I’d shove my hat further down and hope they won’t recognize my face.
I hid from school and watched course capture to avoid walking around campus. To stay away from the ghosts of “friends” and the success stories that seemed to mock my failures. Those I briefly encountered at some party or a meeting. And those I left, or left me; not sure whether I’m supposed to stop and ask how they’re doing.
I didn’t want to initiate; I was tired of trying to save dead-end friendships. In the awkward limbo of being friends and mere acquaintance, I didn’t want to be the one giving my all to people that would fall right back out of my life. Because it all just seemed like we were people passing by for an instant, merely crossing paths, all headed to different destinations nowhere near where I’d end up.
I’d rather not be remembered than be remembered for someone who I thought I wasn’t.
I started to rethink everything I said before it came out of my mouth, doubting whether what I wanted to say really mattered.
And it didn’t.
I outweighed the circumstances behind saying every word, every phrase, how that’d add up to my reputation of who I was, to how I was perceived by the people I met.
Bit my tongue back.
Because I didn’t want to make the same mistakes. To hear myself stutter, say the wrong things, and build up an image of who I wasn’t. Too burnt out of meeting people and making conversations. It felt like they never understood. Or maybe I just wasn’t saying it right.
Half-in and half-out. Existing, but barely. Just too scared to be plugged in.
Burnt out by the fast paced nature of college and tired of feeling like I can’t click in piece. Initiating conversations meant more occasions of sitting anxiously on an iceberg about to melt. As I melt. With every person that I determined “fake,” or “let me down.” I didn’t see a point in forcing small talk with people that I presumably determined would disappear from my life.
Everyone was advancing to be people they wanted to be and who they thought they truly were—discovering themselves—while I uncovered sides of myself that I didn’t want to know or expose. I was afraid to do anything, of talking to people straight in the eye. While the whole world went on at its own pace for the people ready to move on with their lives and connect with people, I was standing alone, afraid to make another encounter.
Further and further.
I thought it’d be better to be invisible. To forget about both the real and false things that were being said about me. To just ignore it all and focus on academics. But as I saw myself falling out of existence and people telling me I was always MIA, I saw the flaw in my approach.
Me running away was only acquiescing to the rumors that surrounded my reputation. I wasn’t keeping up a fight to justify what I thought was a wrong perception of me, and I was merely letting them absorb what was circulating because I wasn’t there to protest. The more I shied away, the more their words become true. Because I’m not there to show a different side, to build up a current image of myself. I simply became the person that disappeared, remembered for who I was and the actions I made my first year here.
My constant search for the “perfect community” made me give up on people too quickly, too easily. I was too focused on meeting more people that could potentially be friends, but never made the deeper connections. All superficial relationships, as I jumped from organization to organization, too fixated in presenting a perfect image. I was constantly running away in fear of being abandoned first, caught up in noticing differences, where I made mistakes– all just to find an excuse to say I didn’t belong. I was scared of being stranded after getting too intimate; so instead I left others, before they could hurt my feelings, not noticing I was hurting theirs.
I had tried to out cut out from the world and put myself in a box, but there were always hands reaching in, curious. I had simply taken them as routine and insincere, never holding on tightly. But curiosity also means that they care, even the slightest bit. It’s about how much you accept their concerns and make them real, confiding in them and reciprocating. Because even if these connections don’t last and we’re separated miles away after college, they’ve contributed to a moment in my life – perhaps sometimes in making it more difficult, but always with something to learn.
I shouldn’t be let down by the fact that people moved on with their lives. I can’t hold on to everyone I meet in college, but I can choose to hold on to the ones that matter: the ones that probe, who stay even after hearing the reputation that circulates. It’s only natural for people to turn their backs and run negative connotations. Let these people be, because if they were worthwhile to consider, they’d stick around to hear if there’s a better side. I was a coward, shying away from every familiar face, hopelessly trapped in my mind of constant overthinking and self blame. But there were always people willing to hear the truth, willing to give me a second chance, willing to accept me back in their lives. I can’t let them down by running away again.
I walk naturally now as I pass through campus and exchange smiles to even to the ones I know don’t have good things to say about me. I’ve accepted them to be merely familiar faces, people I once knew. I know that though I can’t keep up with all of them, I can and will with those who trusted a different side of me and those curious enough to stay around. I won’t make the same mistake of running away from people, and even if I make more mistakes along the way, I won’t let myself get too caught up in it.