Sunday, October 28, 2012

Odd Girl Out: On Being Weird & Sad in College


If I ever want to have a good bout of being emo & just generally make myself feel really shitty – because, you know, sometimes you want that?* – all I have to do is reflect on my sophomore & junior years of college. Being as helpful as it always is when it comes to comparing our lives to the lives of others while simultaneously checking in on people who’d rather we forget all about them, Facebook has upped the emo ante, making it even easier for me to click through to see the faces of the people who bring back the harshest memories. I've defriended them all, over time, but they're never more than a click away on the rare occasions that I find myself surfing pictures of girls who are still friends with one another but have long forgotten the time when I was one of them.

Maybe I haven't mentioned it here: I was in a sorority. I don't mention it often or, like, ever because the truth is that even now, nearly 10 years later, thinking too much about that period of my life is almost unbearably painful. It wasn't a good time for me, to put it lightly; I have never been in a worse place, emotionally, than I was at 19 & 20. My freshman year of college, I became particularly close with three girls: my roommate, a girl I'd met at orientation, & a girl that girl had befriended. We were inseparable that first year, slowly adding other girls to the mix but remaining closest to one another. We called ourselves The Clovers because "there [were] four of us & we [liked] to get lucky." Of course, this also lent itself well to what became our motto, "Best friends are like four-leaf clovers: Hard to find & lucky to have." We had nicknames & inside jokes, a broomball team & visits to one another's hometowns. They joined a sorority with me, the sorority I'd chosen because I already had a friend in it. The summer after freshman year, five of us got tattoos together, small four-leaf clovers to remind us of our permanent bond.

Ahem.

My sophomore year, not long after joining the sorority, I began to suffer from crippling depressing & low self-esteem, from a level of anxiety so high that I sometimes couldn't function in public. I began to feel as though I only truly had friends when I was drunk, like the girls I'd become close to didn't like me when we were sober. In truth, I now recognize that most of this was in my head, a side-effect of extreme self-doubt – but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought they didn't want to be around me, & so they didn't. They said I had become too emo & backed away; my boyfriend of a year broke up with me, saying the same. In the middle of my sophomore year, my roommate (the same one from freshman year) told me she was moving out of our shared room; she took a single down the hall but spent most of her nights at the sorority house crashing with our sisters. By that point, they felt like anything but sisters to me.

The worst part was that they were right. I was “too emo,” but I didn’t know how to not be. Every day felt like swimming through pudding, forcing myself to try to move despite a weight that wouldn’t lift, a haze I couldn’t see through. When no one was around, I cried & wrote in my journal & took razors to my skin in places where no one would see the scabs & scars. As I continued to drown, they continued to look the other way, calling me overdramatic & depressing; no one wanted to deal with me, & I suppose I can't say I blamed them. After all, isn't college supposed to be fun?

My junior year was just as bad – worse, maybe. Our chapter's rules required each member to live in the sorority house for one year, so I moved in with a friend from high school who was well-liked by the other sisters & had just finished serving as president of the chapter. After a healthy summer at home, I felt like maybe I was on the emotional upswing; I felt hopeful about the opportunity to reconcile with my old friends once we were all living in the same place – but they wanted nothing to do with me. After that realization, being in such close proximity to the friends who'd just declared me a social pariah wreaked emotional havoc on me, erasing all my summer hope. Unable or perhaps unwilling to contain my bitterness, I got into arguments with my old friends – sometimes the real, yelling kind, but more often the kind that  college girls are so prone to, speaking passive-aggressively to one another's faces & then ripping each another to shreds behind one another's backs.

I tried to move on, to befriend a new batch of girls, but at that point, I seemed to have a reputation for being a depressing weirdo, so nothing stuck. Truth be told, I have no idea how those girls saw me. All I know is how I saw myself – analyzing too much, digging myself deeper, struggling to stay afloat, planning my own suicide for lack of a better way out of the thoughts that dragged me down – & the way I saw them – annoyed & apathetic at best, judgmental & disgusted at worst.

And then Dave died. Dave died, & I found an escape, an excuse to leave the school I'd grown to hate with people I'd long ago begun to loathe. I've never felt like such a failure, moving back in with my mother & enrolling in the college everyone from my high school seemed to attend – but I also felt relieved to have a legitimate reason to leave what had become a daily hell. My new campus wasn't nearly as beautiful as the school I'd just left, but the opportunity to start anew at a place where no one knew any of my stories or misdeeds was infinitely more appealing than any visuals could've been. At my new school, I joined the campus newspaper & immersed myself in the culture of working for a college daily, praying that the other students who worked there would find my quirks, well, quirky, instead of intolerably depressing or weird. I was lucky; they did, & my story from there on out is largely a happy one.

I didn’t keep in touch with my old friends. Why would I? What would I say? As Facebook grew to include photographs, so grew my lingering bitterness about those ruined friendships. Every so often, despite my contentedness at my new school & with my new friends, I’d flip through the old friends' photos & take a long-distance peek into their collective lives without me – the parties, the vacations, the holidays together. Sometimes I’d let myself cry, imagining what my life would’ve been like if we’d been able to take a magic wand to those broken bonds & clean everything up all shiny & new; for a long time, I think I still believed it could happen. But every time I was hit by the realization that these friendships were never coming back, & I’d ask myself, over & over: How did I mess up so badly? What did I do wrong?

I still don’t know the answer. I mean, I guess I do. The answer is that I was sick & that they couldn’t help me & that I shouldn't have expected them to. I was sick, & I didn’t help myself until I absolutely had to. The answer is that before I realized how sick I was, I did some really stupid things that hurt people & basically screamed to the world, "I am a toxic individual, somebody with serious issues who is to be avoided at all costs!" The answer is also, I think, that perhaps I didn’t have much in common with them to begin with, & that trying to keep up with the collegiate Joneses led me to some of that depression & anxiety in the first place. My self-esteem was at that point so low that I’d always felt surprised & flattered that these high school “popular” people called me a friend, like I’d somehow sneaked into a party I wasn’t invited to but still been welcomed with shots & Natty Lights. I never felt totally comfortable around them, never felt like I was being my whole self for fear of being revealed as an imposter – as a loser. And again, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have never felt more pathetic in my life.

I haven’t talked about this in… God, ever? Maybe in passing a time or two, in a conversation here or there. Why would I? What would I say? No one likes to relieve their darkest moments, right? I guess that’s normal. Part of me has kept from telling this story in this space for fear that one of those girls would somehow stumble across & think, “It’s been a decade & Kate is still obsessed with us!” which is, I would like to clarify, not the case. But recently, my old roommate got engaged, & I found myself looking through some of her photos on Facebook – photos that included all of those other girls, still best friends with one another, my own face long ago blurred from memory. I’m not obsessed with them, but I still can’t help thinking, sometimes, about who I was then & what I did & how I managed my own life (or, as the case may be, didn’t really manage it at all). Most of all, I let myself get caught up in thinking about what college would have been like for me if I'd had that experience that so many others have, if I'd walked away with a close-knit group of lifelong friends instead of innumerable missteps & more than a handful of, yes, regrets.

I still think about what it all taught me – what did it teach me? – and who I am now & whether that sort of thing could ever happen to me again. I know the answer is no, but I get scared sometimes, scared that somewhere inside, I’m still just that depressing, emo sorority sister who doesn't fit in, who went off the deep end & turned herself into a loser just by trying not to be. 

It scarred me, & it’s hard not to obsess over our scars sometimes, hoping they'll disappear. But that's the thing about the deepest & most painful wounds. They heal, but they don't go away.



*No? Just me? Maybe I’m still depressing/depressed after all…**
**I’M KIDDING.

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