I have four clear memories of my first day at Swarthmore — more feelings at this point. The acute humiliation of a cool frat bro helping me carry a literal arms’ worth of tampons from Ben West to my dorm. The panic when I first stepped into my empty, ugly Willets double and thought, “How can this be home?” The social anxiety of coming up with something witty but offhand for the devil’s party game: icebreakers. And lastly, several emotions, jumbled and stacked, loud and strong, as I sat beneath a large tree and said goodbye to my crying father.
I don’t remember the subtleties of that girl, the girl who wanted to be an English or History major. Who was definitely going to run track and probably going to write for the Phoenix. Who had no idea what programming was or how to plan a trip through Spain without her parents’ help.
As this is a reflection on my time here, it seems fitting that I would reflect on all the progress I’ve made. After all, people tell you that college changes you. You’ll grow, mature, and hardly recognize yourself at the end. True, I do psych and computer science now. I’ve lived abroad and gone almost an entire year without going home to California. Next year I’m moving, not to San Francisco, as I always planned, but to Chicago, an even hellier weather hell than Philadelphia.
But here’s the deal. When I was little, my older brother was precocious. My mom would sometimes have him do math problems for friends. She’d turn to little six-year-old Steven and say, “Steven — if a train is going 60 miles an hour for 500 miles, how long will it take to get to its destination?” And the adorable cyborg would promptly reply, “Eight and one-third hours.” Then she’d turn to me and say, “Ruth, can you make an odd face?” And I’d scrunch up my face into the bizarrest look I could muster.
When I was in high school, my AP Euro teacher caught me doing the macarena in an empty hallway. By myself. With no music. I’d really like to be able to say there was a reason, but I don’t remember one.
At least it’s all in the past, right?
Last week I walked into a pole, apologized to the pole, and then muttered at myself about how idiotic that was. That’s right, when I’m feeling really embarrassed, I do the coolest thing one could possibly do: I talk to myself about how embarassing I am.
My primary form of communication remains making faces at people. I’m still bad enough at basic math that I’ll never be 100 percent sure the example problem I used above is correct. I recently spent hours drawing the artwork for my brother’s wedding invitation, only to forget to seal the envelope when I mailed it to him. The envelope made it to California. The drawing did not. My ideal night still involves at least a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. If crying in public was a sport, I’d get more medals in it than I ever did in track. Despite what I tell people, I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
When I set foot at Swarthmore, I assumed that the only sure thing to change would be that in four years, none of the idiotic shit I did before college would still be happening. Truth be told, it’s the only thing that’s held constant. I’m lost, and I’m awkward, and based on 18 year-old Ruth’s expectations, I know I didn’t figure it all out in college. But that’s okay, because I know whatever happens, I’ll have myself to talk to about it.