1. I was done with school forever. This was my first year that began in January and ended in December since I’ve been old enough to read a calendar. I will never have required reading or homework or studying again. I am really, truly done with school FOREVER. As I watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, I knew this was a new beginning. I knew this year would be special.
2. I had a birthday party with all my friends on my REAL birthday weekend. No more pushing it off till spring break because I couldn’t get home from school in February. No more homework interfering with my ability to be completely focused on my party. February was once again the second Christmas month that it always was to me. I also realized my priorities and chose not to work in public accounting, which would have involved lots of overtime during my birthday month.
3. I made a very deep connection with a friend. I had known this friend for about two years, but we had only gotten together at big group events. We had a lot of interests in common, but we had never sat down and had a conversation just the two of us. One day in March, we got together and were browsing around the bookstore. My friend asked if I wanted to go to the coffee shop in the bookstore, so I said sure, and we sat down and talked. She told me about a problem that she had had with another friend and that I had posted a link about invalidation on Facebook (http://eqi.org/invalid.htm) that was exactly what she had been going through. She had been reading my blog. I had no idea that anyone was reading my blog other than my boyfriend. I honestly thought that I had been talking to nobody for three years. But my friend had been reading it all along – she was referencing things that I had written back in 2011. She related to a lot of things I wrote about. We just seemed to have the same understanding of a lot of issues. I took a deep breath and told her what I was afraid to tell most people: that I hated Colby and it was still a really big issue for me after three years. She didn’t think that was weird at all. I told her that I had a really hard time trusting people to believe me because so many people didn’t take me seriously when I told them what was going on at Colby. She also had a hard time trusting people after what she had gone through, but we both felt so much better after talking to each other.
Something really changed inside me when I realized that someone else understood. After Colby, I had avoided discussing things that were important to me because I didn’t trust anyone to take me seriously. I expected people to tell me to get over it, even when they hadn’t done anything to indicate that they would say that. When I had sprained my ankle around New Year’s Eve in 2011, I kept it a secret from everyone who didn’t see me on crutches because I didn’t think anyone would accept how upset I was. But once my new friend had validated me, I felt like maybe I should give people a chance.
4. One day in April, I was planning to meet up with my new friend, but I had to cancel because I was really sick. As I was wondering the house, annoyed that I couldn’t do anything, I stopped dead in my tracks and listened to my thoughts. I was annoyed because I was sick. I was thinking about that one single fact. There was no trace of invalidation in my mind, no predictive reactions of, “That’s not a big deal – get over yourself!” I was honestly just thinking that I was annoyed at being sick, not concerned that other people wouldn’t think it was a real problem. My mind raced frantically back to all the other things I had been upset about recently and I realized that I hadn’t had that invalidation in my mind for a while. Not since my friend and I had had that conversation in the coffee shop. I emailed one of my closest college friends that day to tell zem that I was finally getting better.
5. On May 17th, I posted this as my Facebook status:
Eric: Want to go on a hike with some friends?
Me: Who’s going to be there? Are they all better than me at hiking? Are they going to look down on me because of it? Is everyone really outdoorsy? Will they criticize me for not being outdoorsy? How hard is the hike? Whose standards are you basing that on? Will this come with pressure to go on more hikes or to get better at hiking? Is this gonna be COOT all over again?
Eric: Want to go on a hike with some friends?
Me: Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun!
I can’t even describe how free I felt when Eric asked me about going on a hike, and I said sure, and I stepped back and realized what I had just said, how far I come since we first met. The hike was amazing. I tried to be conscious of everyone else and adjust my pace so that no one felt like I was running ahead of them. One of our friends wasn’t able to finish it, but I kept telling him that it was really hard. I really wanted everyone to feel good.
6. About two years ago, I learned that my college friend and I had a common interest that I had never discussed with anyone else. Ze had written about this topic on zir blog back in 2011 and I wrote zem an email saying that I was into the same thing. Ze didn’t answer that email. I brought it up another time in an email, but Ze still didn’t say anything about it. At that point, this common interest felt very private, so I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up in front of zir family when I visited. For some reason, this common interest re-entered my mind in 2013. My friend and I hadn’t talked for a long time and I really wanted to bond over this. So I wrote zem a very long email about it, and the next thing I knew we were emailing back and forth and video chatting almost every day.
It was scary at first for me to discuss something so private with my friend even though I knew that ze would be accepting, but once we started talking, we had this amazing connection. Somehow, this new connection made me feel far away from Colby, like I’d entered a new chapter of life or something. I think it’s because my friend and I had never talked about this while we were at school together. I had no idea that ze had this interest. Most of things we had really deep connections over were Colby issues. One time my friend had said that ze wished we could talk about something other than bashing Colby and I said that I needed to talk about Colby and ze was the only person who would listen. But now we were bonding over something completely unrelated to Colby, something I never would have been comfortable discussing on campus, and it felt amazing.
7. My friend was graduating. Ze was a freshman when I was a senior, so this was zir last year at Colby. A long time ago I wrote, “I look forward to May 2013. At that point everyone I know will have graduated from Colby and my connection to the school will really be over.” It was April 2013 now. Ze was graduating and it was really going to be over forever. I would never have to hear about Colby again. I would never have to care what was going on there again. There had been times when I didn’t ask my friend for all the details of what ze was doing at school because it was just really hard to hear about it. I just wanted to pretend that Colby didn’t exist anymore, and now I finally could.
8. I started working on my blog essay, The Unencrypted Truth, in which I told my story of everything that went on at Colby. A lot of things inspired me to write my essay: My friend’s graduation made me realized how much time had passed. It had been seven years that Colby had been affecting my life, and enough was enough. I had to do whatever it was that would make me feel better, and what I wanted to do was tell my story.
One day I was writing a blog post about the importance of being honest in interviews (Lies and Implications), when I suddenly felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had started my blog for the purpose of writing about what happened at Colby, but I had never done that. I always worded everything in the context of a general issue or a metaphor, but I had never just flat-out said, “This is my Colby story.” I thought that if I kept writing everything that popped into my mind, I would eventually say all that I had to say. But it wasn’t working that way. Not only was there always more, but I felt like I was recycling the same ideas over and over again. I was never satisfied that I had gotten my point across because I never said what I really wanted to say.
I had talked to my college friend about trust and how good it felt to do a trust fall and know that the other person will catch you. There’s that saying, “Love is giving someone the power to destroy you and trusting them not to.” I wouldn’t say that this is the definition of love, but it’s definitely an important component in a friendship for me. Sharing intimate secrets is an essential part of any relationship for me, and I had been missing that in the aftermath of Colby. I was too afraid to close my eyes and fall. And the more I talked about this level of trust with my friend, the more I realized just how much that was what I needed.
My essay took three months to write and was 34,000 words long, about 100 pages double-spaced. This was extremely concise for the amount of material I had. I estimate that I would have had about 90,000 words if I had just written openly and honestly about what was going on in the course of those four years.
My responses were amazing. It’s not everyone who’s going to read a 100-page personal essay – I was surprised how many friends actually read it all the way through. My friends were so understanding about it. I had one close friend who I’ve known since high school, but I had never shared a lot about Colby with her. She is a very good friend and there was no reason for me not to share with her, but so many people at home were so invalidating that I just didn’t feel safe sharing with anyone (this friend doesn’t have Facebook, so she didn’t see what was going with me unless I told her directly). She read my essay within 4 hours of when I sent it to her and could not believe everything that had happened. She said, “Honestly, I have never been affected by such a piece of writing in my life…I think this would make an amazing story for anyone who is experiencing what you have or is still scarred from the institution known as college. I respect your honesty and wish there were more people like you in this world.” Wow. My other friends were also very understanding and we’ve talked a lot about everything that went on. My boyfriend couldn’t get through the first two paragraphs without giving me a hug, and senior year made him cry. I never felt so validated before. I could trust people now. There was no reason not to. I have the best friends in the world.
9. I made a lot of new connections this year. My college friend introduced me to new friend who had also gone to Colby and hated it. We weren’t there at the same time, but we bonded over our shared experience. When the four of us (my two friends and my friend’s sibling) were talking together, I felt a really special bond, like we were in a secret treehouse. My new friend and I started video chatting and we shared lots about our experiences.
I also introduced my new friend (the one I connected with at the coffee shop) to my college friend. My friend and I had gone for a walk together and I told her about this bulletin board in a Colby dorm called “How to Be Awesome,” where students had written things like, “Smile more!” “Be happy so people will like you!” and so on, and how my college friend had written a long response about why it was wrong and how ze was awesome in spite of what the bulletin board said. The response had meant a lot to me, and I recited as much of it as I could from memory to my friend. She really wanted to meet my college friend, so we arranged it and all had a great time together.
It sort of reminds me of Stand by Me, when the character says at the end, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” I don’t think that’s true, but in this sense, I really feel like I’m that age right now, like this is that time when we all have that really special connection.
10. I have readers now. Real readers. Now I know I’m not talking to nobody – I have friends who read my blog and that means so much to me. My close friend is working on a personal essay about something she went through, and she said that I inspired her to write it. I was hoping to inspire other people to talk about what matters to them. I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do.
I learned what it means to be a positive influence. I never understood what people meant about friends bringing out the best in you. I always thought that was only for people who wanted motivational pressure, like someone to push them to study or go to the gym. I didn’t think it was something I was looking for. But I learned this year that a friend can be a positive influence by supporting your goals and encouraging you to do what you really want to do. That’s what my friends did for me this year, and that’s the kind of positive influence that I want to be.
11. I started a sex blog. I got the idea for it when I started talking about sexual things with a close friend and realized that I wanted to write about these things, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so on my blog, under my real name. In “The Unencrypted Truth,” I talk about the things that led to my writing the essay, but one of the biggest factors actually had to do with a conversation I had with my friend about sex, how some of the sexual things I do require so much trust that it doesn’t feel right to not trust my friends entirely with my Colby story. I thought about mentioning this in the essay, but decided against it. That’s when I realized that I needed another place to write about sexual stuff that I can’t post here. I also got really hooked on the sex blog: pervocracy.blogspot.com. The more I read, the more I kept thinking, “I should be doing this too…I should start my own sex blog!” I’ve been confused about a lot of my sexual desires, and reading The Pervocracy helped me to understand what I feel and realize that it’s okay. I’m hoping that other people will read my sex blog and feel more comfortable discussing their own sexual interests.
Writing my sex blog feels liberating. Not just liberating a sexual way – liberating in the sense that it has nothing at all to do with Colby. I mean, Colby does have a lot of issues with sexual assault and sexual repression, but I’ve seen these issues almost everywhere I’ve been. It’s not something that I associate with Colby specifically. Colby has been behind everything I’ve written for a very long time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because I have written some important things that were inspired by Colby, but it just feels really freeing to do something entirely different. This is my first major writing project in five years that has nothing to do with my college experience.
12. I hosted an amazing Halloween party. Halloween was no longer filled with stress and uncertainty because I’m not a student anymore and October is no longer midterms month. I knew I’d be able to carry out all my fun plans, and I did. And I didn’t have any bad flashbacks about what happened on Halloween weekend senior year of college. I’ve officially taken the holiday back!
13. I started a new job in August and got really close to the people. (You can read more about it here: A New Beginning). I felt confident and capable again, and the whole experience just made me feel really far away from school. The day that I left, my coworker gave me her own pencil mug as a parting gift so that I could put it on my desk at my new job. I was really sad to leave, and I’ll always have positive memories of the place. I still smile inside when I pass my old company’s highway exit or when I see that a store sells their products. I still pick up bottles just to read the label on the back that says “bottled at [company name].” I haven’t felt this level of loyalty and attachment to a place since high school.
One thing that’s really hard about job interviews is when the interviewers ask me how I liked Colby or ask me to talk about my Colby experience. My mom always told me that they just didn’t know what else to ask me since I didn’t have much relevant work experience, and that once I had more experience, they wouldn’t ask about it anymore. When I interviewed for my new job (the one I just started in December), the interview was very relevant – they only asked me about things related to the job, nothing too personal or invasive. When I walked out of the interview, I realized something: they hadn’t asked about college. This was literally the first interview where no one asked me to explain how I changed from psychology to accounting, where no one even looked back that far. My mom was right. Now that I have the work experience from my old job, college is a thing of the past.
14. I've been drinking lots of hot chocolate this winter. I lost my taste for hot chocolate for the longest time because it had very deep associations with Colby, but this winter I like it again. I'm hosting a poetry slam party this winter with a make-your-own hot chocolate bar, where all sorts of poems (including hyper-personal angst poems) are welcome.
15. I started a new job. I’m not sure I like it. The commute is absolutely not okay so I’ll need to get a closer apartment for it to work. This scenario reminds me a lot of when I got accepted to Colby in high school – I told everyone how excited I was and how I thought everything would be great at this new place, but I ended up being wrong. But this time around, I didn’t let that stop me from being honest about what was really going on. I have seriously considered quitting, I told everyone I know that I was considering quitting, and everyone has been very supportive. Two of my friends assured me that they would support whatever decision I made. One of my friends thought I should get paid for all the extra time I spend commuting to my job. This was one of those times when I really didn’t think there’d be much support for quitting, when I felt like everyone would tell me to get over it, but my friends proved me wrong. All my writing about validating people’s decisions to quit actually paid off. I still have a hard time trusting people to accept my choices in cases like this, but it’s getting a lot better.
16. The Saturday before New Year’s Eve, my friend (from the coffee shop) gave me a Christmas present. She said that there were four parts of the present and I had to open them in a specific order. The first present was a gift card to a pizza restaurant. I liked that restaurant, but I knew there was some significance that I wasn’t getting. The second present was a handmade card with one person asking another person who is holding a piece of paper, “What’s that?” The other person answers, “Nothing.” Underneath it said, “True friends, like us.” And on the inside of the card, the two friends were laughing.
“Do you see the connection?” my friend asked.
“Pizza,” I said, “And…an inside joke?” I felt like I was missing what the card meant.
“What are they doing?” my friend asked.
“And what are they laughing about?”
I looked at the first page of the card. “Nothing?”
And then it hit me. I knew what the next two items were and that this was one of the best presents I have ever received. When I first graduated Colby, I wrote that my life goals were:
1. To love pizza again.
2. To laugh about nothing.
3. To talk about why gummy worm colors are paired together the way they are.
4. To not feel pressured to have different goals.
The third present was a bag of gummy worms, which we’re going to arrange a date to talk about, and the final present was a really, really sweet note with the underlined line, “Never feel pressured to do anything that isn’t right for you.”
I was elated. I just couldn’t believe it. My friend understood how important that list was to me. I remember how I felt back when I wrote that list and I never in a million years thought someone would give me exactly that.
The New Year is approaching, and my heart feels full. Full of all the awesome things I’m going to do this year without past pressures holding me back. Full of all my amazing friends who’ve helped me get here.
When I blow out the candles on my 26th birthday cake this year, I don’t know what I’m going to wish for, because what I’ve been wishing for the last four years just came true.