Arrival

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I arrived at a college you've never heard of

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I arrived at a college you've never heard of. One that's only in the news for the wrong reasons and never on a list of tops. One that doesn't boast collegiate athletics or table at high school college fairs.

A year before, my best friend Gracie and I, applied to the schools you have heard of. I didn't get into any of them despite my 3.8, volunteer hours, my leadership roles at The Boys and Girls Club. . . my SAT scores.

Gracie said, "You can get a good education anywhere though, right?"

I visited the local community college. Really? Community college? Then Dad said, "how about this one. State school. Liberal arts. I think you could learn a lot. . ."

It was a four-year college. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't go to college and so I went.

September came and Gracie moved across the country and I stayed.

I arrived and campus was in the middle of the woods. There was no quaint town within walking distance. The buildings were not brick or rough-hewn stone. The lecture halls and library possessed no gargoyle sentries over their doors. There wasn't a stadium, for the school didn't have a football team. What the school lacked in Old World charm, it made up for in brutalist architecture. Everything was concrete and cornered.

When we visited the bookstore to get my course texts, Dad found a T-shirt that read Undefeated since 1967 and had a football on it, stamped with the school crest.

"Look at this," he said.

"Yeah."

"Clever," he said and bought it.

I only bought my books.

"This is great," he said, looking through them. All fiction, non-fiction. Not a single textbook among them.

Mom and Dad agreed to pay the extra whatever so I could have my own room in the dorms. It felt like a prison because it was.

I Googled the college and read the wiki before I arrived. I knew the campus was built with the contingency that if the school failed, the facilities could be easily converted into a prison. That was the only way the founders were able to procure the necessary funds from the state back in the 1960s. Sitting in my cell, it all made sense.

The dorm "suite" I lived in was a cluster of rooms with a hall shaped like a backward C. In the C's negative space, there was a bathroom. The floor RA came around the first evening and put up a mandatory meeting notice for our "suite." The next day we met for norm-setting. The other girls in the "suite" were all something. Aurora was a white girl with dreadlocks, which was sus. Another did her hair in pigtails and wore a black collar and dark blue lipstick. Also sus. The third wore men's work pants and left her blond hair down in knots. Like her pants, her t-shirt was smeared with dried paint. She'd perfected the art of not giving a fuck. Our "suite" norm was to clean every Thursday evening. There was a rotating list of to-dos that each of us would tackle every four weeks. It wasn't glamorous and it wasn't what college promised me.

Orientation week passed. I didn't attend a single event after that meeting. I read some of each book for my classes. I didn't know what they would teach me. Most of my time I spent on my phone. I scrolled pics of people I'd known in high school, only three months before, doing the things I should have been.

Gracie, at Brown, posted pics of her merch. Sweatshirts, T-shirts, tank, hat, beanie, lanyard—the list was inexhaustible. #brownu. I cracked the window to my room. Someone was burning incense next door. There was a selfie of Gracie with the school mascot, Bruno. She looked so small and happy, her red hair and freckles radiant in the light of Ivy Leagueness. Another pic of her in a staged crowd of people. One face in many. I zoomed in. Some pale, others dark, all smiles there and all beautiful. All #brownu and going forward.

It wasn't until classes started the next week that Gracie called.

She told me about her new friends. A guy she met who plays on the lacrosse team. She said classes sounded difficult, but not unbearable.

"There's just a lot of other things to do, you know?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said.

My classes were in the basement of the Art Annex. There were no windows. The florescent lights reflected off the concrete floor, the brick walls. Drawers and cupboards and shelves were lined with books and needles and metal typefaces and thread and yarn and whatever.

On the first day of class, the professor asked us each to introduce ourselves and what we wanted to learn. It was an all-level course and some of the students looked like juniors or seniors. Some people liked the book list. Others were fans of the professor and enjoyed book arts.

When it got to me, I introduced myself.

"And what do you want to learn this quarter, Dani?" asked the professor. He had a mop of dark hair that flew upward rather than down, perpetually windswept. Maybe he was cute ten years ago, but the bags under his eyes made him look old, tired, intellectual.

I shrugged. "It just sounded like an easy class," I said.

A couple people grinned at me. I saw my "suite" mate—the one who gave zero-fucks. She sat up near the front of the class and gave me a wink. One person behind me let out a laugh. The professor nodded.

"Fair enough," he said.

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