This is a photo of a photo that resides on a table near my front door. I look at it everyday. I found it in a box of pictures last year and decided to frame it because it says “home” to me. Actually, first home. This is me sitting on our couch at 311 ½ East Ninth Street in Morris, MN, where I went to college. Spring quarter, 1998. Our refers to me and my roommate and friend, Karla. My first home, beyond my parents’ house and on-campus student housing. That lovely couch came with the place. And I’ve called a ½ my home. Seems appropriate to me that this photo continues to grace my home, wherever that is and will be.
There are layers of stories that live in this picture. This is one of them.
Living off-campus as a senior at UMM is incredibly common. “Vintage” college houses are a dime a dozen, and they all have “that couch” somewhere in them. I, however, never thought I’d live in one, because I thought my college experience was about being a student and working as a resident advisor in on-campus housing. I didn’t make the team the first year I applied, but the second year I did. Junior and senior years I worked where I lived and lived where I worked. Some of my most cherished memories and friendships were created through the on-campus experience. I treasure it.
I felt like a switch was flipped early on senior year. Like a bright red sign was flashing at me over and over, reading “you’re an adult, you’re an adult.” The flashing triggered many feelings that I struggled to allow myself to feel – anxiety, regret, joy, anticipation, confusion, sadness, happiness – and courageousness. My identity as a student that I spent seventeen years creating was quickly coming to an end. After all that time and classes and tests and papers I hadn’t learned how to be an adult. And I was terrified.
Except for the corner of my heart that was beating fiercely with courage. My hardest work in life thus far was in a course I call Pleasing Other People, where I especially excelled at pleasing my parents, and also earned high marks at working to please just about everyone else around me. It was tiresome work to excel in this class. Mostly because the expectations were constantly shifting variables, up to the discretion of whomever I was around.
Over winter break I quietly decided that I would resign from my RA position after winter quarter. I’d move off campus with Karla. The location was yet to be determined. I wanted the experience of “being on my own” before I had to move back home with my parents after I graduated, since I didn’t have a job, wasn’t going to graduate school and wasn’t getting married. All those “adult” next steps that weren’t creating my path. It was this mysterious life off-campus life that I so wanted to be a part of my total college package. Ten weeks of trying on adult for size, even though my parents could still claim me as a dependent on their taxes.
For me, given my 22 year old world view, the stakes were high with this decision. I had to give up my income and find other work. I had to give up my home before knowing where I would live so Residential Life could find a new RA for my floor. I had to actually resign to my director and my staff. I had to tell my friends. I had to tell my parents. I had to say I no longer wanted something that I gave my all to attain two years before. I had to say I was someone other than who others expected me to be. Different than whom I expected myself to be. To me, given my view of the world at the time, those were the highest stakes I’d ever been up against.
With courage beating inside me, I shared my decision. My parents told me I was irresponsible and on my own for money. My sister didn’t understand why I’d leave a campus internet connection (this is way before Wi-Fi). My director sighed heavily and said I was the first RA to ever leave a position on her own accord. My fellow RAs gave a mix of responses. Some were envious. Some didn’t talk to me again. Some quietly asked me if I was OK. Some just looked confused. Some got it and smiled.
Ten weeks later I was sleeping on an air mattress in a room that measured no larger than 5’x8’, but had a window, and amazingly, a closet. I had a job. I used the computers in the library for internet access. My old floor had a new RA. Those who loved me before my change of address still did. I had changed my story, and I loved its new words.
In June 1998, I graduated with a D in Pleasing Other People, and an A for the quarter in Living Courageously. The School of Adult had begun.