The moment that I was brought to college by my mother – and the moment that she then left me there – is one that remains crystal clear in my often-fractured memory. I remember it all: the frayed denim shorts I wore and the silver hoops in my ears that would sometimes get caught in the tangle of one of my curls and how it was eighty-five degrees and humid outside, as it would always be for the next four years on the days when moving boxes and Hefty bags stuffed with clothing was required. I remember opening the door to my dorm room, a space designed for two people but assigned to three, and realizing that claustrophobia could actually be a spontaneous phobia that could descend out of nowhere and that it was an ailment to which I refused to succumb.
So it was on that very first day when I appraised my two roommates – girls who were complete strangers to me but who I got undressed in front of later that night – and sussed out which would be more likely to psychologically break first. It wasn’t that I wished a psychosis on anyone, let alone fellow freshman girls who were away from home for the first time and seemed rather vulnerable and sweet. It’s also not like I completely believed in that college urban legend that if your roommate commits suicide, the roommate left behind will be given an automatic 4.0 as some sort of academic compensation for the emotional burden she must carry like a boulder on her hopefully-still-tan-from-the-summer shoulders – though, frankly, that legend has never fully been debunked and I kind of believe that the free-4.0 thing happens somewhere and that it’s probably a place like Oberlin. And while a 4.0 would have been a lovely GPA to snag while still being a girl who had habits like skipping Intro to Psychology because it started at the near-dawn hour of 10:15 AM, I didn’t really want a dead roommate on my hands. No, I decided on that first night as we all ate salads and fries in the dining hall – both could live. But one of them had better sink into a depression, and fast, so she would rashly make the illogical decision to drop out of school, leaving only two of us in a room, as the architects of the space had clearly intended.
It was kind of a toss-up, to be honest, of who would crumble first. All three of us were in long-distance relationships, so I gambled on the fact that a fractured and bleeding heart might be the impetus that would eventually spawn the frantic packing of bags and the fleeing from Russell Hall.
I was right.
“I miss him so much,” my blonde roommate sobbed to me when she got off the phone with her boyfriend one night in late September. It was right around the time the leaves were starting to change color and I knew how pretty my view of the foliage could be if I only I could see it beyond the extra bed that blocked the room’s lone window.
The bed that blocked the view belonged to the weeping blonde sitting before me.
“I don’t know how you’re going to handle this separation,” I said to her. I shook my head slowly from side to side as though I was caught up in the miserable wonderment of how anything could survive the vast distance that stretched between Delaware and Maryland.
“You’re handling the separation,” she said to me, and it was at that precise moment that I knew the one who had to get the fuck out was this girl, the Honor student, the one who would see through my ploys and faux ministrations the minute those tears dried across her smooth cheeks.
“Yes,” I said, patting her hand like she was a puppy I was about to drop off at a shelter. “But Craig and I have only been together for three months. You and your boyfriend have been together for two years. You have far more to miss. But don’t worry; if I had to bet, I’d say he probably misses you too.”
“I feel like I’m always the one who calls him,” she whispered. Her eyes were lowered when she said it and when she slowly raised her gaze, I made sure to look worried.
“How could he not miss you?” I said with a smile, already imagining how I’d organize my sweaters in her side of the closet.
She transferred in January. Since she left while still conscious and breathing, I ended up with only a 2.2 GPA that semester. And I thought about how I’d better get my grades up and that going to all my classes would probably be helpful in that endeavor and about how fucking sick I was of having to stick my pledge pin on my bra when I went out at night. I thought about all of those things as I gazed through the window at the unobstructed view of the snow falling in puffy clumps beneath the golden haze of the streetlights outside my dorm.
I never spoke to that girl again, but I hope her life turned out happy. I remember very little about her except for her name, but I know that she was the first of the girls I met on that initial day and she had a wide, pretty smile and her parents were very sweet and they seemed like people who lived on a farm, but I think it was maybe that they were a little robust and pink cheeked and clearly not from New York – and because the father resembled the male farmer from the Fischer Price barn set I had when I was a child, the one that went moo when you opened the barn’s red doors.
Something that has remained completely vivid to me is that all three of us got a little teary when our parents finally left. They had annoyed us, as parents will, when too many people are crammed into a cinderblock room and there’s an extra bed and an extra desk where there shouldn’t be and one of your new roommates wears a perfume – a ton of it – that smells like ragweed and your mother is trying to show you how to keep your half of the closet organized when you have enough clothing to fill three closets, organized or not. But when she finally left, it was a moment that was difficult and maybe the very definition of bittersweet and I remember waving to her from the front circle of my dorm and kind of sighing in a way that made me feel sort of like an adult and going back inside to a lone room that was now my brand new home.
My mother had hugged me tightly before she got back into the driver’s seat and I know she felt a little choked up and I saw the other parents say goodbye to their kids too, and what a moment that must be – dropping your kid off in an unknown environment where everybody around is between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, years when the very best decisions are often not the ones that are most frequently made. It has to be difficult. Of course there is an emotional component that frames the day like an opaque cloud. But it’s a natural step and everyone involved recovers somewhat quickly, fueled by the awareness that growing up is inevitable.
Obviously, when I say, “everyone involved,” I am excluding the Sisters Richards, the husky-voiced vapid duo who have appeared on every single season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. See, these women aren’t like you and me, something that should encourage each one of us to quickly log onto ancestry.com and trace our genetic histories back centuries just so we can thank our great-great-great-great grandmothers for never philandering with a Hilton.
Kyle Richards is way richer than any of us will every be, something she makes clear approximately fifteen times an episode by flashing labels as frequently as my other roommate – the one who stayed – flashed her nipples, name dropping her help, and spouting an opening line in the credits that begins, “Planes and yachts are nice…” Her husband looks like the kind of guy I wrote on in yellow highlighter at a fraternity mixer. He’s blandly handsome and financially successful and he listens to his wife talk endlessly about her dresses and their children and about how she should probably teach the eighteen year old to do laundry and then she brushes her shiny waist-length hair and meets up with Kim, her blonde and emotionally-cracked sister, and they discuss the world-tipping scenario caused by their children leaving for college.
These women treat the act of dropping their eighteen-year-old daughters off at college like you would imagine it might feel if you brought your five-year-old child who suffered from muteness, chronic bedwetting, asthma, and the inability to play nice with others to war-torn Bosnia and left that child in a pile of rubble that included asbestos and written instructions on how to prostitute oneself for rice and you knew definitively that you would never see that child again. The reaction these women have to their almost-adult children leaving Los Angeles to go to faraway, exotic locales like San Diego and Arizona is nothing short of extreme in its insanity. I have now born witness to Kyle and Kim crouched into a fetal position and wailing in grief that their kids are leaving for college. I’ve seen them attend televised dinner parties during which their voices struggle to form words and they can’t speak above the decibel of a tragic whisper as they discuss the fragility of the moment of unpacking the flip-flops their kids will have to wear while showering in a dorm bathroom. And it all makes me wonder what the fallout must be to the offspring of these unbalanced women and what is gong through the minds of these girls as they sit and clutch their mothers’ hands and try to calm down the adult in their midst, wiping tears from the eyes of the person who is supposed to be the strong one.
I’m not a parent so I am aware that I can’t completely know the reaction that comes as a child leaves home, but I’ve experienced it from the child’s side and I’ve watched lots of parents drop off lots of kids at college and I’m a human being who can understand things like emotions, but I have never seen anything like the histrionic waterworks that play across my high-definition screen that is brought about by the act of a graduation ceremony. The whole thing is ludicrous in its over-the-topness.
It’s complete and utter bullshit.
Are Kyle and Kim truly upset that their daughters have left home? Of course they are. Change is always difficult. But I can’t help but feel that, for Kyle especially, her emotional reactions are heightened because she’s being filmed in the moments she has decided to classify as being devastating instead of being celebratory. And there are lights and there are microphones and there are lashes to apply so that she can dramatically cry them off later and there are cameras pointed at her face and that of her offspring, just the way she always believed that it should be.