Today, I traveled nearly 800 miles. I traversed six states and found myself amidst the blue-collar industrial machinery of a hulking metropolis, the rusting bridges and abandoned tools swathed in the dwindling twilight of my city.
My city. That was my thought as I neared the heart of Chicago. I didn’t express the fear of my mother as she released the slightest gasp at the sight. I didn’t feel the begrudging surrender of my father for permitting my frittering away of thousands upon thousands of dollars in tuition. I, after three long months languishing in the hot Southern sun, felt only the overwhelming sentiments of coming home.
Sure, it’s a cliché, emphasizing the importance of Northwestern, my collegiate experience, adolescent freedom, blah, blah, blah.
But in all sincerity, while returning to Northwestern means coming home, it means, moreover, getting a fresh start.
I think it’s entirely fair to say that my freshman year was a little rough around the edges. Without disclosing the nitty gritty on my first year, I will say this: My GPA left much to be desired; I returned to the Bible Belt with a bitter self-righteousness and fairly significant financial debt and I severely disappointed my parents by, among other things, getting a darling tattoo on my left shoulder.
I’d like to chalk up my recklessness and wide-eyed disregard of all things academic to my previous freshman status. I was young and naïve, experiencing the terrible excitement of autonomy.
As my friend I dub The Boy With Knowledge, one of my closest confidantes and a bona fide “freshman stupidity” expert, constantly reminds me, freshman year was the time for me to make my mistakes. In our interactions over the course of my freshman year, I found him approaching me with a blend of glee and humility. As I detailed my inane problems, he, in all his wisdom, shook his head with a light tinkle of laughter and told me I’d things were bound to change as I transitioned into upperclassman status.
“Oh, to be a freshman,” he would murmur. “I know we’re not far apart in age, Coco, but you’ll see next year. There’s just this gap between freshmen and sophomores. You’ll get there.”
Thus, sandwiched between Cincinnati and Indianapolis, I nurse aching fingers, crossed tight in hopes that The Boy is wise indeed. Tomorrow, I move (along with the help of my persistently patient parents, who trekked the twelve hours with me in the backseat, tonally challenged and yelping along to the ’80s hits of Eddie Money and Supertramp) in at my new residence, the dauntingly pretty sorority house. At this point I fully expect to transcend the pettiness and ignorance of being a freshmen. I expect to drink wine with my pinky out, watch foreign films, gossip over Sartre and discuss the political climate of the nation in only the most correct and informed of manners.
If The Boy is correct, I can anticipate perfection, right? I can look forward to enduring the rigor of Medill with the sorority smirk and the unending optimism of a mature individual.
And from here, my ivory tower, that all seems so implausible. I can’t fake that bemused expression, and many of my conversations regress into embittered arguments about Miley Cyrus’s weird behind-the-teeth braces.
But here comes my banal train wreck.
The highway signs ahead of me are more than just mileage markers on the physical trip from Georgia to Illinois. They indicate the stops along the way in my search for something bigger. There are the concerts and parties that accompany the social side of Northwestern, but there are also those abhorrent sleepless nights that are punishment for procrastination and apathy. “Chicago – 81″ translates to the battle of the bulge (hopefully not as a literal parallel) as I stress-eat my way through ten-pagers and stat assignments.
I don’t expect perfection, really. And, I suppose, I hope The Boy doesn’t actually, either. But, I admit, he’s not entirely wrong.
As I approach the Second City, it signifies the inevitable change that will accompany this year. I am prepared to admit that things will have to be different if I am to succeed at this wonderful but competitive institution. I will have to find some sort of middle ground, an acceptance of the humanity of the charm of being a freshman, while realizing the need to grow.
I guess I will have to leave that freshman me — the stereotypical, full-of-excuses kid – at the start of this trip, some 800 miles, six states and 12 hours back.