My first month of college went generally the same way. I would get up early and go downstairs to drink my coffee. I realized that if I was going to be buying coffee everyday it would add up and I invested in my own jar and used the hot water urn they had in the lounge. Breakfast consisted of some cereal of which the boxes stayed in my room and milk that I kept in the communal fridge. I wrote my name on the carton, hoping nobody would steal it, and every day I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bottle was still there, just as full as I had left it yesterday.
Classes were every day at different times and wednesday was the only morning that I didn’t have to wake up early. I woke at the same time regardless, on the schedule I had inadvertently created for myself. Mom and Dad came to visit as they had promised but could only stay for a short while before needing to get back to work. I managed to show them my room and we grabbed some lunch before they hailed a cab and hightailed it back to their office. It was fine though, I was much too busy studying. I video chatted Brooke a couple of times and she seemed to be fine. The roommate situation had worked out and she said they were all nice and responsible so far and it wasn’t so bad sharing a room.
Jenny would halfheartedly try to get me to go to parties that for some reason were every single night and I wondered again how these people were planning on making it through the semester. It seemed as if she was always surrounded by rowdy students who just wanted to make noise.
One night after finishing a paper due the next day and finally drifting off to sleep, Jenny crashed in through the door. I sat up immediately. She was sobbing her heart out, her hair a mess, her shoes missing from her feet. She collapsed onto her bed with her head in her pillow and I listened to her crying for a moment, at a loss of what to do. Finally I inched out of my bed slowly and made my way to her side.
“Jenny?,” I whispered uncertainly. “Are you ok?”
“Oh I’m just rainbows and sunshine,” she said, her muffled voice coming through just enough for me to hear it dripping with sarcasm. That was unlike Jenny. She might be a partier but she was always smiling and bouncy, ready for anything.
I tried again. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”
She sat up abruptly and I scooted back, realizing how close I was. She sniffed and wiped her eyes with a dainty little finger. It did nothing to help the river of mascara running down her face.
“I just can’t, Parker. I just can’t.”
“Can’t what,” I asked, not unkindly.
“I can’t do this! Ugh, boys are the worst!”
Ok, boy trouble. Not such a big deal, she was probably just being overly dramatic. I wouldn’t dare say that to her though.
“He roofied my drink!”
Ok, that wasn’t just boy trouble. That was bad.
“Or well, I think he roofied my drink.” Ok, was Jenny now just messing with me? I couldn’t hold back the next big yawn that came upon me and, noticing, Jenny shot up in defense.
“Think I’m lying do you? Yeah? Why would I lie about something like that? I swear, I was drinking and I started feeling dizzy and out of it and Simon almost led me away probably to rape me or something and oh gawd it was horrible.”
“How did you get away?,” I said, trying to console her and also keep her talking. I wanted to get the full story but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it when I did.
“Maddy was standing there as well and she distracted him for a moment while I made my way back here. She realized I was drugged!”
Maddy was perhaps the ditziest girl I had ever met. She couldn’t see anything beyond the next mirrored surface, and I was sure she wouldn’t notice a desperate girl’s plight. Then again, I barely knew her. These were just assumptions I had accumulated from having her live a couple of rooms down and always hogging whatever shower she was using. We didn’t really run in the same circles.
I nodded slowly as Jenny finished speaking. “So what do you want to do?” I said, trying to be practical. “Do you want to report him?”
She gave a big hiccup and took a big shuddering breath. “No. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She smiled a brilliant smile and then turned over and went to sleep. I was left feeling stupid, crouching next to her bed and waiting on my crying roommate.
The next morning Jenny pretended as if nothing had happened. She woke up late, and me with her, and we got dressed if not in uncomfortable silence than a silence nonetheless. I left the room before her but she made it out soon after me and we waited for the elevators together.
“Listen, Parker?,” Jenny said, when it was just us going down. “I’d rather not tell anyone about what happened last night, ok?”
I shoved down a questioning response to that. It was her life. “Ok, sure,” I replied, nodding quickly. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Great, want to grab breakfast?”
This was hard for me to turn down but I really wasn’t in the mood to go out and I had some notes I wanted to review. I said as much and Jenny shrugged trying not to look put out and went on her way. I sat down slowly on a picnic bench outside and pulled my sweatshirt around me. We were already having chilly days outside, ones which required you to have warmer layers on hand. Soon it would be boot weather, a season I loved.
A figure came out, braving the weather to sit next to me.
“Hey Parker,” Randy nodded to me as he brought out his laptop. “How you doing?”
I drank my coffee and read over my english notes, really not in the mood. I had to become familiar with the prose we had been assigned.
“Fine,” I replied shortly, hoping he would go away. Sometimes I felt like Randy was everywhere.
“Can I help you with anything?”
“No, it’s alright.”
He shrugged and went back to his laptop, his fingers flying over the keyboard. I got up after a couple of minutes, claiming I needed to make my way to class and realizing too late that he shared the next one with me.
It was fine though, he was busy coding or doing whatever nerds did.
The day went by smoothly, until I made it back to my room that evening. Jenny was in there again, and this time she had brought backup.
“Listen Parker you just have to come to this party,” Jenny insisted. “You study every night, you hand in everything on time, you do everything that you’re supposed to do. You’re allowed to have a little fun you know.”
Her friend nodded enthusiastically next to her. I couldn’t place her face. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“I’m Tasha.” She was almost a clone of Jenny, with the whole tall southern girl down pat complete with cowboy boots with spurs. “I’m here visiting.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt slightly attacked. I didn’t do parties. I studied and kept to myself and got good grades by working hard. Lately it was taking a toll though. Brooke wasn’t available all the time to talk and I was getting lonely.
I thought for too short before I decided that this night I would go. They weren’t giving me a choice!
Or at least that was what I would tell myself tomorrow.
Jenny and my new friend Tasha wouldn’t let me go in my normal jeans and t-shirt ensemble. They gave my closet the once over, and almost settled on the coral dress when Jenny decided she had something better in her closet.
I looked at myself in the mirror after a whirlwind of activity was done on me and I felt like I had just taken part in the makeover scene of a romcom. There had been lots of yelling on all of our parts and some people banged on our door to quiet down but when I caught a glimpse of what I looked like all was forgiven. They had managed to take my long curly hair and turn it into a sexy mane that flowed down my back. I wore one of Jenny’s dresses that must have been so short on her it showed butt crack because on me it came about mid thigh. It was loose but sat well on me and Jenny refused to let me get away with sandals, insisting I try on one of her heels. It all came together in a way that screamed, I woke up this way, and yet also, please notice me please, aren’t I beautiful?
I was sticking to the first scream.
The party was in another residence hall in their lounge and we all walked over together, the cold night air hitting me immediately as we opened the front door.
“Should I run back and get a sweater?,” I deliberated.
“No, definitely not, you’ll ruin the whole aesthetic of the dress!,” Tasha exclaimed, looking horrified. I had learned in the brief time we spent together that Tasha wanted to study fashion. She was two years younger than Jenny and I and was currently working at a fashion magazine part time during her Junior year of High School. I was impressed. It was nice seeing people that knew what they wanted to do with their lives and actually pushing to accomplish it. She was so young but already so passionate, it was a breath of fresh air to be around her. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t severely gotten on my nerves during the couple of hours we had been around each other tonight.
“Um, I think I’m going to go grab a sweater,” I responded hotly. Jenny grabbed my arm. “Let’s just go, I’m tellin’ you, you won’t need one once we’re there.”
I grumbled to myself but let the duo pull me down the block. I wasn’t usually out this late because I was going to sleep early and staying in my room studying but New York City was wonderful at night. All the dirtiness of the day and the loud honking and pedestrians was given away to bright lights and what could only be called quiet, comparatively. Obviously it would never be an oasis of silence but there was a certain calmness in the air, not a lot of cars on the street, and the people that were walking around had a bright eye wonder about the place. We weren’t near Times Square so we were free of that unrestrained partying that takes place there and I felt like I could walk around all night, reveling in my solitude.
Jenny tugged on my arm. We were at the building where the party was taking place, and I shook my head out of my reverie.
“Ready to party,” she said playfully, quirking an eyebrow up and jutting out a hip, ready to get her picture taken. She snapped one of the three of us, making that kiss face that women of this generation tend to do and uploaded it to whatever social media sites she was on.
Tasha looked excited and I figured this was the first party she had ever been to, being so young and all. Heck, this was the first party I had ever been to as well and I was older and already graduated high school. I decided that was going to be a piece of information I would keep to myself and shook my luxurious hair back from my shoulders and walked inside.
All the ceiling lights were off in the lounge, the only illumination coming from a couple of disco light machines set up strategically around the room. The place was packed, wall to wall bodies all dancing to the surround sound stereo system. No DJ, and I wondered if that was only a movie thing or if just this party didn’t contain one. I was nervous before but nowI realized that I was essentially invisible. The darkness and sheer amount of people took care of that and I edged my way around the room, realizing that I already lost Jenny and Tasha. I looked around wildly, then shrugged, continuing my search for a drink. I was wondering halfheartedly if they had alcohol here even though this was definitely open to people under twenty one when I saw a table stacked high with those telltale red solo cups and what could only be described as a giant bucket. I inched my way through the swarm of bodies and gave a sniff. Yep, that was beer alright. I poured myself a generous cup and looked around as I drank it, sticking close to the walls of the room. I didn’t recognize anyone but that could have been because it was dark. The music felt good in my body, my heart beating to its rhythm and I found my head bopping along to the song, hips swinging from side to side. Before I realized what was happening I had drank three cups of beer and that was when Jenny found me.
“Dance with me Parker,” she shrieked over the noise of the room and the bass. I let her pull me in, my cup falling to the wayside. Before I knew it, I was dancing along with everyone else, letting the alcohol speak for me using my hair as another limb. I was screaming along with everyone, and singing my heart out and I when I fell into bed back at the dorm I couldn’t remember how I got back but I fell asleep instantaneously, still yelling happily in my head.
It was my first real college experience, the ones I had expected from the movies and TV shows. And that included the massive hangover the next morning.
I woke up groggy, squinting in the bright light that was streaming into the room. It wasn’t always this bright, was it? My eyelids felt sticky and my head was beating with the tempo of a rock song. There was an insistent beeping noise as well and I realized that my alarm was going off for a solid five minutes without me being aware of it.
On the other side of the room I heard two groans and two sets of pillows were thrown across the room in the general direction of my bed. They come up short but I turned the alarm off to appease them. What time was it? Did I usually wake up this early?
My head fell back into bed heavily and I was in immense danger of falling back asleep if my eyes closed. I let them flutter shut and the next time I checked my phone it was an hour later and I was going to be late for class.
I jumped out of bed and threw on a big sweater, putting on a generous dose of deodorant. With no time to shower I couldn’t be walking through the halls smelling like.. Well, like the floor of the party I was at last night. I grabbed some mouthwash and my laptop bag and made my way to the steps, running down as fast as I could and out the building to my early morning-who-the-heck-picked-this math class. I was smoothing my hair into a high bun to make myself somewhat presentable as I slipped into class, seconds before Professor Ping walked through the door. She gave me a glare, not one to accept tardiness at all, but I pretended not to notice and slunk to the back.
Once there I allowed my heart to slow down to its regular beat ever so slightly and brought my laptop out, ready to listen. From the front row Randy turned to give me a thumbs up.
But Professor Ping had other plans.
“Notebook, computers away. Just a little pop quiz to make sure you were all listening on Tuesday.”
A collective groan from the class but she pretended not to hear. My heart immediately went back to beating wildly and I rubbed my sweaty palms on my leggings.
I hadn’t studied the new material at all last night, having been led wildly astray by my party roommate and her friend. I wasn’t ready for this quiz and I felt as if somehow Professor Ping knew that and was out to destroy me. I brushed that off as foolishness based on lack of sleep but the fact remained that I was going to epically fail whatever she handed out.
Sure enough, I knew nothing of the ten question quiz. Some of it was familiar as I sat in the class only two days ago but I couldn’t remember how to do it or which formulas applied.
My head felt heavy and I cupped it in my palms feeling like this was the start of the landslide. I went to go hand in a blank answer sheet and avoided her eyes, making my way slowly back to my seat.
The class passed in a blur as I was in no state to pay attention and when she dismissed us I didn’t notice until someone asked to pass by me and I noticed most of the class had already headed out. I blinked the sleep from my eyes and wondered if I should go nap again.
I walked slowly back to my room the laptop bag sitting heavily on my shoulder.
Jenny was up by the time I got back, and Tasha was gone. She explained that she had a plane to catch and was surprisingly bubbly for someone who had done just as much partying as me last night, if not significantly more.
“How are you so awake,” I complained, falling onto my unmade bed and snuggling up with my pillow. “My head feels like someone is in there building a house.”
“Is this your first time drinking?,” Jenny asked sympathetically.
I debated lying and just couldn’t right then. “Well, yeah.”
“Oh, no, did you drink any water last night?” Jenny proceeded to explain all the ways that one could avoid having a hangover the next day. Drink water, know when to stop, throw up if you can’t, and in the morning have a coffee with a generous helping of cayenne pepper. That last bit sounded so gross but she swore it worked and offered to go make me one. I declined, deciding that it had passed for now and I would probably be fine.
“Next time you’ll do better,” Jenny reassured me and that made me sit up in bed. I gave her a look.
“Next time? I’m never partying again. I failed a quiz today because of the party last night!”
“Oh, honey,” she said laughing. “That’s what they all say.”
I didn’t like the way she lumped me with all the other plebes, but she did have a point. I would probably go to a party again. It was fun, and I felt like I was part of the college scene and had friends, something I had wanted since I sent in my application.
“Next time it’ll be better,” I conceded reluctantly.
The next time happened just that weekend. Friday afternoon Jenny informed me that there was another party and this one was going to be nothing like the other one. Jenny babbled non stop about how she had heard that there was going to be a DJ there this time, one who went to our school and was studying medicine but was surprisingly good at beats. That sounded exciting, I had never heard a live DJ before and I was feeling in the mood to dance. Last time it was so much fun, cloaking myself in the amount of people and the sense of anonymity that it gave. Brooke called me as I was pulling on another one of Jenny’s dresses, this one a tight bodycon number that I was hoping didn’t make me look like a fifteen year old with no boobs.
“Hey,” I chirped into the phone. “I’m just getting ready to go to a party. What’s up?”
“Oh, a party?” Brooke’s voice sounded quiet and distant and I checked my connection.
“Hey I can’t really hear you, there’s bad service. Am I seeing you Thanksgiving?”
“Yeah, I’ll.. home..” Words got clicked out as the static overwhelmed the phone line.
“I’ll call you later, I can’t really hear anything. Love you, bye!”
I hung up and threw the phone on the bed and pulled on my shoes. Jenny was sitting in front of her mirror as usual, pursing her lips critically.
“Looks ok?,” she asked, tilting her head to the side. I gave her a glance.
“You look great.” She did look great, Jenny could pull off anything, but that lipstick color was especially bold and made her lips look plump and beautiful.
“Do you want as well?,” she said eagerly.
I shook my head ruefully. “I’m good. Let’s go! I want to dance!”
I all but skipped to the party, trying not to show how excited I was to go to another one of these events.
The party was in full swing by the time we got there, the DJ doing his thing on a makeshift stage in the back of the room. He was actually not bad as I felt my whole body ready to start breaking dancing on the floor.
There were less people dancing though and I decided to drink before I got in the middle of everyone.
“Remember,” Jenny warned me. “Drink water and if you feel like you need to throw up don’t stop it.”
“Ok,” I nodded. “Let’s just go get some beer.”
The infamous red solo cups were on the same looking table, the same style bucket holding the same tasting beer as two nights ago. Before long I was drunk, screaming the words of ‘Baby got back’ with Jenny right beside me.
The night was another blur of dancing, meeting people, dancing with them, and beer. I threw up twice but kept going. This time I could remember walking back to my dorm room, getting undressed, and sliding between the covers. Jenny was back as well and as I drifted off to sleep I wondered, Is this who I am now?
Saturday morning was silent, with most people out for the weekend. Jenny and I were becoming fast friends, her bubbly spirit even more nice with all the hanging out we had been doing lately.
Thanksgiving was coming up and Jenny was telling me how her Pa was going to be flying her back home for the weekend, her ticket already booked. She was looking forward to the heat, New York was too cold for her, and I nodded while barely paying attention. We were in the almost empty cafeteria, with just one other student sitting in the corner, eating lunch bought from the vending machines. I had some cheese flavored pretzels and Jenny ate a granola bar. It was three in the afternoon and I couldn’t stop the swirl of thoughts taking over my mind. I had turned into a college party girl, seemingly overnight, and it felt strange. Like I didn’t know who I was anymore. But then again I hadn’t really known who I was before this either. That was why I decided to go to college in the first place. Brooke didn’t need to since she knew who she was since she was five and told my parents in no uncertain terms that she was going to be a singer and make her own clothing line and she had kept to that promise through the years. But I had been lost, and the dancing and letting go, and most of all getting drunk was the most present I had ever been.
“…you doing?,” Jenny asked. I glanced at her and realized I had just been asked a question.
“Hmmm,” I said quickly, hoping she would repeat what she said.
“I said what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, I’ll be home. I’m kind of exiled from the house until then. I’ve never been on my own before and everyone said it was important to stay away until then and learn how to be by myself and stop relying on my family.”
Jenny nodded sagely. “I hear that. My younger brother is the same way. When I was his age I had a job and was buying my own clothes but he just sits upstairs playing video games and having no social life.”
“Maybe it’s a younger sibling thing?,” I offered. Jenny shrugged.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. Good for you though. So it’s just you and that girl who came and helped you with your things the first day, or you have more?”
“Just us,” I replied, surprised that she remembered.
“Hey girls.” We looked up to see none other than Randy standing near our table. Apparently he was the one sitting slouched in the corner in front of a laptop. “Either one of you staying in Thanksgiving?”
I shook my head but Jenny rolled her eyes at me without saying anything to him. It was kind of rude but I ignored it. She was fun to hang out with and Randy was… well, a nerd. Randy waited a beat before heading out, and I pretended his expression didn’t look hurt.
Jenny and I got pretty chummy that day, spending most of our time in the cafeteria eating vending machine snacks and talking about our lives back home. By the time Monday came around I had done no studying to speak of and the two papers I was supposed to hand in were barely started let alone completed. I asked for an extension but was denied and I was informed that that was going to be a major dock in my grade.
I knew I should care but I didn’t. I figured I would study hard for finals coming up after Thanksgiving. It would be fine.
We had a couple of more parties that week. Jenny and I were becoming quite the duo. I came out of my shell a bit, exploring my dancing side and on occasion singing into the mic for everyone to hear. I had to be pretty drunk for that though. But the beer flowed freely, especially for us. Jenny always lent me one of her cute dresses and I became confident in the look I had cultured, even showing up to class on occasion with heels. People started calling out to me on the way to class. Not a lot of people, but enough. I felt like a Somebody.
And then it was time to leave for Thanksgiving weekend. Brooke wasn’t around to pick me up and I was only bringing an overnight bag anyways so I didn’t mind taking the train. It was annoying to drive to the city unless you really needed to because the traffic was a nightmare and there wasn’t any parking anywhere that wasn’t super expensive.
Before the mini vacation started all of the Professors assigned us reading material, threatening pop quizzes and so much homework before Christmas came and the semester was over. I was now so behind I could barely see where I needed to go to catch up. There was a reason I studied every single day, struggling to keep my face above the water. College was hard, and if you didn’t fight against the current you would inevitably drift with no way to get back to where you were.
Professor Ping actual called me over after the last class got out.
“Ms. Palmer,” she said abruptly in her no nonsense tone. We never had a reason to talk face to face before and up close I could see how old she really was, the years of teaching indoors in the pollution taking its toll on her face.
I waited politely and then realized she wanted to make sure she had my attention.
“Um, yes?,” I said hurriedly, smiling what I hoped was an innocent smile. I anticipated a beratement for missing that quiz again, and I prayed it wasn’t that. I showed up late just as everyone was handing in their papers. I knew she noticed me but I kept quiet and made my way to the back which was becoming my new favorite seat. No quiz was handed in on my part but it’s not like I would have known anything anyways. The fact that I didn’t even care was just another list on the things that should worry me but didn’t.
“Failure of my class will result in expulsion from NYU.” I sucked in a breath between my teeth as she continued. “And you will be failing my class at the rate you’re going. As a warning to you I’m letting you know that if you don’t get at least an eighty five on the final you will not pass my course.” No mincing of words there. I nodded rapidly trying to think of something to say but she was already turning around to go to her office, without a backwards glance. “Have a nice Thanksgiving!,” I called out to her but she turned the corner and was out of sight. I turned myself to go back, ready to crack down. I needed to, I wasn’t ready to leave NYU. Everyone would be so disappointed in me, and I’d feel like a failure. I walked slowly back to the dorm, fear weighing me down like falling rocks in my stomach.