I’m awful at endings. You know that. I know that. I am fully aware of this. I get too sentimental and introspective and retrospective and all the spectives. And this week for me, and for majority of my readers, an ending occurred. I said goodbye to my freshmen year today. Scratch that. I said goodbye to my first year of college today. (There is a difference, but it’s stupid and semantic.) And I’m not sad.
I don’t know if something is wrong with me or of I’m just changing. I usually freak out about the ending of episodes of television I’ve already seen, but today I didn’t shed a single emotion. I said goodbye to my friends. I said goodbye to my room. I said goodbye to an entire city. I said goodbye to a way of life. And I’m not sad.
I really don’t get it. I would spend hours reflecting on the happenings of the past year of my life whenever I ended a school year in high school and last summer I had a full out existential emotional crisis. But this year, I feel nothing but apathy. Maybe I didn’t have time to feel. I had an exam at 8am today, but it feels like I took it weeks ago. Packing up is tough stuff. I may be preaching to the choir here, but cleaning up a year’s worth of a college mess is a sweat-inducing task. And as I cleaned up I bounced back and forth between the rooms of my new friends. For those of you who knew me in high school, I never went to college expecting to find any friends who could compare to you. And if you had asked me three weeks ago whether or not I had, I would have scoffed and told you that no one will ever understand me like you guys do. I know I’ve always been resistant to change, but with friends that was never so. This year I tried my hardest to distance myself from the idea of close friendship. I only wanted acquaintances. I felt that friendships involved work; friendships were built on foundations made of shared experience and interest. I lived a shelled life, constantly checking the groupme to see whether or not any of my friends from high school had done something wacky. I locked myself on this website for hours a week, typing up my insecurities and my successes, my failures and my confidences, my good times and my bad times. And I was sad.
But about two weeks ago I had a realization. I wasn’t living the life I wanted to lead. Yeah, I was doing everything I wanted to do on the outside, but on the inside I felt unfulfilled. It was weird. I felt as if I had spent a whole year of my academic life living in the shadows of what I could have done. The college experience is a curious one: whereas in high school friends are made based on shared interest and common ways of growing up, college friendships for me were based on convenience and proximity. My plan of attack for the first semester was to fly under the radar. I wanted to secure my academic life before I built a social or extracurricular life. And I did that. So I never left my hall. I met all of the people I needed to meet. All of my friends were within a 30 second walk. And I didn’t even need to put on shoes. But that was a mistake. Friends should not be selected from a pool of maybe 50 people living in close quarters. I should’ve gotten out there more. I should’ve joined a club. I should’ve gone to the youth services at my church. But I didn’t. And that makes me sad.
The second semester I got out more. I wanted more than anything to meet new people. It was college. That’s where people meet lifelong friends, age-old mentors, hell; it’s where most people meet their spouses nowadays. So I did the things I did. I joined the newspaper. I went on a few blind dates. I talked to everyone in my classes. I ran into some old friends and made some new ones. But I still spent majority of my time with the people from first semester. I was stuck inside of a clique. Discluding people who randomly would drop by from time to time, my clique consisted of ten people from my hall, counting me, and three from elsewhere. And we confined ourselves to ourselves. But the problem was, a few of us didn’t fit into the fold. I’ve discussed it here in the past and I don’t want to rehash old arguments, but I don’t abhor drinking. I abhor excess. Drinking alcohol isn’t inherently wrong, but the breaking of the law is. And that’s not to say I dislike people who break the law. I accept all choices in this world; I don’t want to be judgmental. But as time grew on, that was the word which I thought about the most. Judgment. It’s such a simple word, but it defined my life and my relationships. I have never in my life thought I was better than anyone. But I saw an arrogant streak growing within myself; I found that my code of ethics was superior to that of my friends, not because what they did was wrong, but because they were awful to me. You guys know me. Even those of you who don’t know me, you know me better than most people at college from reading what I say. You understand that I am unfiltered, sarcastic, stubborn, long-winded, but despite all of that I genuinely care about people. These people didn’t know me. They didn’t understand me. Everything I did; I was the bad guy. If I criticized their decisions, I was the one chastised for even thinking to disagree with that which they undertook. And as the year reached an end, my sarcasm turned bitter towards a select few in what was left of my clique. A chasm developed. One turned to two. With a few floaters bouncing between the selections of the groups, battle lines were drawn, roommates were split and sides were taken. I generally believe in being bi-partisan, but I even found myself taking sides. And I’m making this to sound more dramatic than it was admittedly, but there was considerable drama. I found myself venturing out of my comfort zone more and more, not because I was confident, but because I was lost. I felt wrong. I felt dirty for being so judgmental. I don’t like being outward about my faith, but I’ll tell you guys this one: there were times when I would be frustrated, storm out of my room, go to the end of my hallway, stare out the window toward a parking lot, watching the reflections of stars bounce off of the far away headlights, and I would fall to my knees and pray. For up to half an hour at once, I would just pray. I wanted to be less judgmental. I wanted a sign. I felt my life wasn’t as it should be. And I was sad.
Two weeks before school let out, I think I got that sign. For the skeptics and the cynics out there who don’t believe in signs or divine intervention, this one will be tough for you to gulp down, but I think I received a sign just purely in the fact that I didn’t receive a sign. Hear me out. I was walking to class one day and I was thinking about something my mom had said to me a hundred times in my life. She always told me I had a great gift of discernment. She always knew that I was a great judge of character. I always seemed to know what was right and who was right for me. (Take that as a compliment.) And as I was walking to that fated class, pondering why classes were so much harder this semester and why life couldn’t simply be like life was when I was happiest, in high school, I realized that it could be. All I had to do was revert. All I had to do was that which I had done in the past and was no longer doing. In short, all I had to do was re-become me. So I set a slew of ground rules on how I would get back to the life I once knew. I called it Operation: Becoming the Villain. On the social aspect of my life, this involved purging all of those who I felt I wouldn’t of been friends with in high school and becoming even closer to the ones I would’ve. I told you guys everything about my life, even the stuff that no one needed to know and I no longer even remember, and I wouldn’t bother ever talking about my life to anyone I deemed unfit for friendship. I gave people chances, but their chances were slim. I had to completely phase out the cancerous people in my life and let in those who I wanted to continue being friends with. I stopped talking to some people. I became hostile with others. I expressed my disdain for them behind their backs and didn’t regret it at all. I had received a sign. By my life not changing at all, I feel that I was being directed that nothing I was doing was wrong. This isn’t an excuse to be a bad person, this is a justification that my impulses were correct. I had three or for people in Athens, counting one I knew previous to college, who I wanted to be friends with for a long time based purely on the year. Everyone else was extraneous. I carried those people on me like my door key and my wallet. I was with them non-stop. I met their friends and befriended them because of my juice box principle. (See footnotes.) I talked their ears off about my life and their lives, about the real world and the mystical and the far-fetched and the future. My closest of friends and I became closer. My furthest of friends and I grew further. And I wasn’t sad.
Reversion led me straight into finals. All that I did for finals was think about what 11th-grade Nick would’ve done. So I studies for 11 days straight. I slept the day away and studies the night away. I talked to friends. I watched baseball. I checked my fantasy baseball team three or four times a day. I watched more baseball. I, like a super-villain in a Bond movie in the truest spirit of my operation, revealed what I was doing to those who were on the positive end of it. I don’t know how I did on finals, and those were immensely important, but I do know how I did with my plan. My first year of college ended today. And I’m not sad.
I expected to sit in my room for a few minutes and slowly fixate on the crannies and divets in my concrete wall. I expected to stare at the crumb-speckled gray carpet and the dust-riddled desks in desperation, clinging to the days of yore. I expected to cling to my chair, my mattress, my futon, my peephole, my sink, my blinds and my curtains one by one, recalling each memory contained in their wisdom-filled auras. This was the first place I ever had an intellectual debate for fun. This was the first place I ever talked to my neighbors through walls. This was the first place I ever pondered the intricacies of life, faith and purpose. This was the first place I ever heard (and almost walked in on) sex. This was the place I wrote my first newspaper article, I formulated my first Stories House post and I pitched my first original sitcom script. This was my home. I had laughed, wept, slept, stressed, panic-attacked, leapt and watched Friends in there for eight months of my life. I surveyed the room one last time, seeing the room both how I left it in the order the building wanted it and how I will always remember it in the perfect formation arranged by myself and my roommate. I saw my catty-cornered bed protruding near our thick, heavy wooden door. I saw my fan resting on heaps of junk from our “junk corner,” keeping me cool and drying my sweat. I saw my coffee table, dirtied by food, books, more food and trash, with my feet resting upon the mountain atop it and facing the television. I saw our joint closet, stacked to the brim with our wide array of clothing choices crossing the spectrum between my blue, gray, red and black t-shirts and his button-downs, polo shirts and cutoff workout shirts. I saw my shelf, always covered in snacks but never covered in enough snacks. I saw my futon. As always, it was over-capacity and sinking asses to the ground. But no one seemed to mind. I saw my chair, always moving but always mine. I saw my room. I saw my home. But I wasn’t sad.
I said goodbye to everyone today. I hugged my friends and my not-so friends. I initiated most of the hugs. Oh, how the times have changed. I left Athens, Georgia at about 5 pm, knowing full well I would return but I truly never would. No state of mind is comparable to that state felt when you are new. Like a baby deer walking for the first time, I learned how to get on the right buses, which dining halls made the best sandwiches and which buildings had the biggest restrooms. I will return wily. I’ll probably be cynical and think I own the place. But the place owns me. I am its servant and it will do right by me. If you ask me the question now, the one from earlier, the one about whether or not I have any friends from college who compare to my ones from high school, my answer will have changed. The answer is obviously yes. I made friends in college who I said “keep in touch” to when I said goodbye and I genuinely meant it. I made plans with friends for what to do over the summer. I look forward to returning in August. But August is a long ways away. I became the villain by becoming myself again. And it’s just in time. I have some old friends to attend to. And trust me, I’m not sad.
(Okay, this is what I’m calling a footnote. The Juice Box Principle is the cornerstone of how I receive people. I base it on this: imagine you have one juice box, but you can’t drink any juice, you must give it away. Would you give all of the juice to one person or would you divide it amongst many? For this instance, let’s call it a really big juice box, the size of 200 juice boxes. For me, I divide the juice box evenly among all friends and prospective friends, treating everyone equally until they prove to me they don’t deserve to be treated equally. In short, the juice box principle is the idea that you should like people who like you and dislike people who dislike you. It is a strong outlook. Use it.)