Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Higher learning.

As I watch people around me going back to college or go off to college for the first time it brings to mind an exciting, heartbreaking, sobering time of my life.

When I was eighteen my father got a job transfer from Florida to Oregon. When I was thirteen, we moved from New York to Florida also because of his work - another prime age to pack up your life and leave.

But now I was in my senior year of high school and my parents God bless them, decided the right thing to do was to let me finish out my senior year with my friends and wait until the week after graduation to haul my slappy ass across the United States. My dad left for rainy Oregon while my mom held down the fort with me and my brother in sunny Tampa.

Now I didn’t know anything about Oregon. All I knew was it sounded boring in comparison with Florida. I was an east coast girl, what was there to do on the west coast I knew they had a lot of trees there – but did they have good malls? I needed to know important facts.

We arrived in Oregon and just as I suspected it, I hated it. I was only giving this state a trial run, knowing that I was now an adult and that if I wanted to and could figure out how to make it work, I could pick up and leave and go back to Florida, New York, or wherever else I wanted. But honestly, that was scary. I wanted to be with my family. I just didn’t want to be with them in Oregon.

Even scarier was the fact that I was about to be dropped off at the dorms to begin college. My parents thought it was important for me to leave the nest and I agreed, but as the drop off date got closer I wasn’t so sure…I would be attending a two year community college, since my grades were not worthy of a university. A community college with dorms? This should be interesting.

From palm trees to pine trees.

I had fun shopping with my mom for things like new bedding (black and white color scheme, very late 80’s) posters (REM, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), a giant bulletin board, and pallets of ramen from Costco.

Mom and Dad drove me the three-and-a-half hours from Lake Oswego to Bend, Oregon where I would be attending Central Oregon Community College for the next two years. So there I was, eighteen years old with gi-normous mall hair, tons of makeup, and the tannest skin you have ever seen.

This was in great contrast to the nature-loving, Birkenstock-wearing, bike-riding, snow boarding people who surrounded me.

Mom and Dad unpacked me, helped me make up my bed and hang my posters, gave me a roll of quarters for laundry, had dinner with me, and then we said goodbye.

Not one hour after my parents left I ran down to the student union and plugged those quarters into the payphone. I knew they wouldn’t be home yet, but this was before the time of cell phones.

“Mom, Dad, please come back, I hate it here. Please come pick me up, don’t make me stay here. I want to come home. I want to go home to Florida. Or back to New York. Please turn the car around and COME AND GET YOUR DAUGHTER.”

I think of how devastated they must have been, coming home and listening to that message on the answering machine. I know my mom cried most of the car ride home so that message must have been the cherry on her misery cake.

I skipped breakfast the next day to avoid having to go to the cafeteria and have a meal by myself. But by lunchtime I knew I had to eat eventually, and it had to be something besides ramen. So I went down and got myself some delicious, fatty dorm food (I could have cake with my lunch? Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad) and sat down at a table by myself, ready to eat as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there.

A girl approached me and asked if she could sit with me. She also had giant hair and wore makeup. Her name was Wanda and she was my new roommate.

Note: Kip Winger poster.
Wanda was also alone, feeling nervous and isolated. We connected immediately and as the days went on we became friends. She was a total butt rocker and had posters of Cinderella and Skid Row on her side of the room, a nice contrast to the alternative-skateboarder-indie feel of my side of the room. We were so different but we complimented each other really well. Wanda was seriously into studying; she was there on a scholarship and was a straight A student. She taught me how to be a good student and how to go to class. If I had ended up with any other roommate I seriously would have partied and skipped school, since there was no one there to watch me! But I saw how well she did and knew I wanted to do well too. I wanted to eventually go to a four year school, maybe even back to University of Florida. But I knew I had to get good grades in order to do that.

I earned my associates degree and transferred to the University of Oregon. Ultimately, I didn’t hate Oregon. I just hated leaving my friends behind. I went back to Tampa recently for my twenty (gulp) year class reunion and wondered how I ever stood the heat. I was now that annoying tourist who kept saying, “Hot enough for ya?”

Stepping out of the muggy wall of heat and into the snow and the relentless rain helped me grow up.
That and a girl named Wanda.


  1. Um, Lori? This is Wanda. No shit. Your story is so nice and I want you to know that I treasure that time in college with you. You made me laugh so hard--and we were SO not alike. But it didn't matter and I have always had great memories about you. Also, thanks for not showing the dorm photo with the um..condoms..on the wall. But you could have blurred out Kip Winger. Really?! Kip Winger? What was I thinking?! But I still like Metallica. And God bless that big hair we had. PS I will always think of you when I hear Love Shack. And a million other songs. --Wanda