I cried my way through my first day in college. I was red and puffy-eyed on Deering Lawn after saying goodbye to my mother. I ducked out of lunches and Wildcat Welcome events to shed tears in the bathroom. At the end of the day, I sobbed in the shower. Crying felt like a desperate release; every other moment felt like holding my breath. A combination of hormones, homesickness, and overwhelming change had reduced me to a leaky faucet and I felt out of control, not only of my emotions, but of the first impressions of new faces, potential friends, and members of the faculty. Every sensibility told me I should be putting my best foot forward, but instead, I was a mess of smudged mascara and anxiety. I felt I should acknowledge the mess that I was, felt I should apologize to everyone else who I was sure felt uncomfortable. I was convinced at the time that everyone else was having the time of their lives, and it felt inappropriate of me to damper their purple pride with my damp cheeks.
I tweeted “i’m the most emotional person on this campus” just to send a sort of acknowledgment into the universe. Yes I know I'm the crying girl; Yes I dread the reputation.
I stopped crying a few days ago. The only time my cheeks are wet are under unexpected Evanston rain or in the communal bathroom shower, which has a habit of running out of hot water as I'm standing under it. I'm breathing more easily, have ventured to parts of campus I'd never seen before, have spent nights laughing with new friends. When I step into the dining hall or cross the street between classes I see faces I almost recognize but still can't quite place. I've realized first impressions are fleeting; I'm comforted by the fact that these half-strangers can't quite place my face either. There will be more room for reputations, more time to make marks. But today I am breathing easier, because I can place me. I am here. I belong, in ways I don't know yet, but ways I will find out.
I flew my way through my fourteenth day of college. Raised my hand in every class discussion, hopped from class to dinner to interest meeting without consulting my map. Drank enough water, hummed a favorite tune in my head, existed in ways that felt almost comfortable. I didn't cry, but more importantly, I knew it would be okay if I did. My roommate, full of kindness and energy, wouldn't disown me. She hadn't before. My family and boyfriend, understanding and supportive, wouldn't give up on me. They hadn't before. And my reputation would not be set. It hadn’t before.
I am a sea, sometimes rough and choppy, allowed to have rough days. Kissing the sand, washing away impressions, making new ones, day after day. Fluid.