25 Years Ago(-ish), I Started College

Around 25 years ago, in late August 1992, I started college (erm, university for you British English speakers out there). It’s a right-of-passage many Americans go through every year when they’re 18, and I’m sure there are many stories about how that first year went for a great many people. Maybe my experience was unique, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

What I can tell you is I remember my Mom crying when I started college at Northern Illinois University. My excitement due to my freedom was tempered by how upset she was. Being the very anxious person I was and continue to be, I wondered if I’d made the right choice. As an aside: my counselor keeps telling me I do things to please other people instead of myself, and I’m not living my life authentically if I keep doing this. On the other side of this argument, I stayed at college because it was what I wanted, even though it did hurt my mother initially (and maybe it was more of a, “Oh my God, my oldest son is 18 and leaving home and I can’t protect him any more”, which I understand but I’ve never been through so I can’t compare that experience to my own experiences).

Sorry. I digress. You should be used to that by now if you read any of my blogs.

I vividly remember introducing myself to my Honors Floor compatriots, even though I felt very much out of my depth and it was very difficult for me to put myself out on a limb. New kid, new rules, new place, low man on the totem pole, and all that. Thankfully for me, many of the people living on my floor were in the same boat.

I am forever thankful for Mary (my neighbor on one side) dragging me out to Orientation festivities outside our dorm with her friends from high school, Steve and Paul. From memory, I think another newfound friend Kim was with us as well. We had a great time, and it really helped me feel like I was going to fit in. (Incidentally, and quite ironically, if my math is correct, four out of the five of us came out after college!)

Speaking of gay: it was around this time, after a week or so of settling in to Douglas Hall, that I fell in love for the first time. One of the guys on our floor moved in late due to circumstances beyond his control, and, a day or so after he settled in, I knocked on his door to introduce myself. It was love at first sight for me instead.

We don’t talk any more, and we have had quite the turbulent relationship-slash-friendship-slash-whatever over the 25 years we have known one another. One discussion we had, a few months before I came to New Zealand, was in a suburban Chili’s restaurant, where I told him my plans, and he simply said back, “I don’t want you to go to New Zealand.” In one of the few times I actually stood up for myself, feeling guilty as I did, I told him he no longer had a say in the matter.

But, we still remained in contact over the years, and he was a rock at times when things were difficult. For that, I am forever thankful.

When I was diagnosed with the dissociative disorder known as depersonalization, my then-counselor encouraged me to think critically about any relationship I had that I felt were damaging me. The friendship with The Man That I Loved came across as having run its course, and I (very much wrongly) snipped at him and made snide comments sometimes in our conversations. Probably, subconsciously, I wanted a response, any response, but he was tired, and so was I. At the end of 2014, I resolved to break free from our friendship as my 2015 New Year’s resolution.

It worked, mostly. But then I was back in the States when my Grandma was dying, and he reached out, and it pushed back the plans I had. I’m a forgiving person. I tend to forgive too easily, and, as my current counselor said, I thought about our relationship more so out of how he would feel rather than how I felt, caring more about he was impacted than how it was killing me inside. So we spoke a bit again between my Grandma dying and a few months after that.

I received a few messages in 2015 that made me upset, and I realised that I needed to go back to the plan of walking away. So I did. I didn’t make the first move, I didn’t email, I didn’t message, I just completely stepped back to see what his response was.

Nothing. He didn’t even bother trying to get in touch with me.

What did I feel? Well, part of me felt relieved. That was that. The end. Game over. He felt the fatigue I felt too.

Another part of me was hurt very deeply. After everything we’d been through, after all the love I had felt for him, it all boiled down to: he couldn’t be bothered contacting me? Asking me if everything was okay? Messaging me to find out if we were good or if there was a problem?

So, as the first anniversary of our last conversation approached, I wrote him a letter. It was supposed to be a letter for my own personal catharsis rather than for him knowing, but, in getting carried away with the exercise, I stuffed it in an envelope, I addressed it, and I put the right postage on it. I even took it to the mailbox with me when I went to post other letters. (The plan was I was going to burn it in the ultimate sign of “letting go”.)

The first time I did ambled up to the mailbox with it mixed in with the other mail I had, it felt exhilarating, and I was able to hide the letter in my back pocket after I posted the other letters for work.

The next time, someone was watching me as I put the other letters in the mailbox, and I posted the letter to him as I had no place to hide the letter.

Nothing. I heard nothing back.

That was over 2 years ago. And yes, part of me is still relieved. And yes, part of me is still hurt.

The wound has been picked open now it’s been 25 years since he opened the door and I fell in love for the first time. Our interaction with one another went for 23 years, so our relationship (for lack of a better word) wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan.

In college, I got a certain amount of freedom. I started to be able to discover the edges of who I am, and, more importantly, act on that. I met some awesome people, had some excellent times (with high school friends visiting and with college friends and with my brother Brian visiting), and really enjoyed it. And I fell in love for the first time. Even though what happened lately has been painful in some ways, I never want to forget that my first year at college led to the first time I met a soulmate.