I spent my whole life dreaming about being in college. Nerd. I used to organize the books on the shelves in elementary school classrooms after absorbing as much as my little brain would allow, until my teacher stopped me one day and said, “Kaitlin, books aren’t organized in size order.” After a year of remedial classes to try and figure out my cognitive issues, it was determined that I was suffering from a syndrome known as being an eight year old, and I was released back into the wild of elementary bliss.
Even under the oppressive hand of my third grade upper echelon, I maintained a desire to learn. The life of academia was a safety blanket for me. It was an escape into classwork – an art project, a paper, a diorama; something I could sink my teeth into and that’s how it always was. There was no coercing me into wanting to do my work. My parents never had to threaten me with bludgeoning to finish an assignment, unlike my brother who, with much struggle, would generally have to be strapped into his chair and threatened with beatings and the ultimate capital punishment of any 2000s teenage boy – no video games. My parents were wrought with polar opposite children who possessed only the same destructive and distasteful sense of humor.
They put us in jiu jitsu in an attempt to keep us calm and somewhat healthy. Sports never favored my brother and I. He didn’t play a sport a day in his life, and as for me – I scored on my own team when I won the ball in a toss up at the beginning of a basketball game. I was full contact. I would do anything for the ball and in turn would foul out of every game, cry, and wonder why I was a pre-teen mongoloid. My brother was bullied when he was younger, I, too oblivious to know if anyone was bullying me, and thus, jiu jitsu seemed to be the appropriate outlet for a kid being picked on and a full contact elementary school girl.
It proved in our favor in the long run, I suppose. Good on Mom and Dad. My instructor helped me in containing my reactive, explosive behavior and placed me in kick boxing tournaments where I landed a spot in the junior Olympics when I was 9 years old for kicking a fourth grader in the chest. I never pursued it, and to this day wonder how my life would be (and how hot my bod would be) if I continued with a life of fighting for sport. Maybe I would have been Ronda Rousey. But like any phase of a child, they flip switches overnight, and jiu jitsu became a hobby, then a lifestlye, then hobby, then absent, then a lifestyle, until I graduated high school and moved on to college. I was absorbed in schoolwork, trying to seal my fates with college, while maintaining an almost perfect GPA, playing the saxophone, learning Spanish, being in ROTC, building robots, doing community service projects, and staying out of my house as much as possible.
Mom, a maintenance alcoholic who worked as an associate real estate broker from home, Dad, a workaholic who maintained his sanity by going on fishing trips and working out everyday butt heads more and more as my brother and I aged, like as if we were old enough to start to see the toxicity around us. It was always present, but I had too close of a relationship with my mom, and I suppose I was so used to the things that happened under the roof, that it was more second nature than anything.
Now, as an adult, I chalk up my constant desire to travel and move around when I was a kid to my subconscious telling me that I had to get out of the situation I was in. I always had a natural gypsy curiosity of the world, and immersing myself into culture, and people, and different food (which I now believe is due to my gypsy heritage; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). When I was younger, though, college was the way out. It was my chance to reinvent myself, to be someone I always wanted to be, to be in control of my life for once. I was so excited. I applied to somewhere between twelve and fifteen colleges, got into nine, wait-listed on two, denied a couple, and even got a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology for mechanical engineering which I, in turn, declined to pursue my dreams to be a writer or English teacher or a scholar or something that would be marginally low-paying and give my parents a mild heart attack when they realized that I was required to pay for college in the 21st century.
September of 2008 came and I was officially a college freshman. The tadpole, the bottom of the totem pole, the sticky gum stuck to the shoe of collegiate social standings. It felt amazing. Luckily for me, I befriended twins down the hall from me who convinced me to join the local rugby team. I was excited to find an outlet for my deep-rooted and youthful anger so quickly. I had a new wardrobe, mostly because I gained weight after dropping jiu jitsu (5 foot 3 and 208 pounds. I’ll never forget that number).
The first day of class was on a Wednesday. I registered for classes per the recommendation of the orientation back in June which was everyday…at 8am…because I’m gullible and thought it was also a fantastic idea; I was still in the process of learning freedom and how to question authority figures. I had all of these wildly varying prerequisites picked out that were mandatory and also earth-shattering-ly boring. So, as a treat to myself, I opted for a night class. Each Wednesday I would walk across campus and spend three hours immersing myself in the Russian language. It was something I wanted to do, and something my mother almost killed me for.
“Why the fuck am I spending $800 so you can learn Russian? What the hell is wrong with you?”
I took the verbal abuse because I knew, someday, I would need Russian – at least that’s what I told myself. This was the new Kaitlin. This was the new new me. I was going to speak three languages and be a scholar who played rugby and was smooth like butter, cool as a cucumber, sweet like candy, and descriptive as fuck.
I even wanted to dress cool. Which, apparently, 2008 me decided was dark skinny jeans, a lime green American Eagle polo tee shirt, and clear plastic Converse low tops. This was college fashion, I told myself (looking back now, I should have probably watched Clueless a couple dozen more times and taken a hint that not only was I not wearing fashion, but my body shape and tummy girth couldn’t support the skinny jeans at the time. I tried. I hyped myself up to walk across campus when I realized I was actually going to be late for my first day of classes. Panic set in as I threw all of the books on my desk into my backpack, weighing myself down an extra and unnecessary ten pounds for one class. I grabbed my iPod off the shelf, threw my pack on in a frantic sweat, and ran out of my room.
My dorm room was located on the first floor, so I only had four cement steps to go down and it was a straight shot out of the building and I would be on my way all the way across campus to Russian. Awesome. I pushed open the stairwell door, and with the motion, hurled my iPod directly out of my sweaty little palm and down the four steps which I would forever remember as oppressive and mocking.
Ting. Clang. Thud. Scratch. Slide. There went my iPod. I picked it up. No visible damage. I went to turn it on. Nothing.Nothing. In one sweeping motion and four small steps I broke the only thing to occupy me from my freshman hall to literally one of the farthest, un-air-conditioned buildings on campus. Fuck. I choked back a tear, threw my iPod into the side pocket of my backpack and trudged out into the unbelievably humid September midday heat. Was it this hot this whole time? Am I just stressed? Oh god my feet are so sweaty.
In my too-tight shirt, my now-slippery plastic shoes, and my dark pants, without music, without hope left, I power walked with an over-sized backpack to class and still managed to be fifteen minutes late for my first lesson in Russian. Pit stains went down to my love handles, my hair was frizzed out uncontrollably but I couldn’t put it up at the risk of exposing my underarms to the other eight people who elected to learn a new alphabet on Wednesday’s between four and seven pm.
Is this what I intended by reinventing myself?