One of the hashtags I occasionally whip out on Twitter is #dyingalone. Apparently a lot of other people use this hashtag; I credit my awareness of it to one writer. The hashtag is my stupid way of taking swipes at myself and at the rural Connecticut way of life that I clash with, which makes it difficult for me to relate to the rare 20-somethings I meet in Conn. On Saturday night, though, it helped my brain dredge up a story from freshman year of college. While everyone I know on Facebook (and probably you) screened Guardians of the Galaxy, I sat alone in my apartment, finalizing my plans for a Sunday matinee of Guardians of the Galaxy, watching the Liverpool vs. AC Milan friendly, and piecing together this extended edition of #dyingalone. After seven years, I’m fine with laughing about it for all of the internet* to see and subsequently use against me.
Technical Writing was one of the five courses I took in my first semester at UF. It was a class that maxed out at 30 people and contained a hodgepodge of engineering students, business undergraduates who will be my bosses in 10 years, three softball players, and one Family, Youth, and Community Sciences major.
No, that FYC Sciences student was not Tim Tebow.
She was a junior in the FYC Sciences program, a lifelong southerner with long blond hair and calm brown eyes we’ll name Laura** for the purposes of this exercise. You could say she was my first crush in college, because when it comes to crushes, fear of rejection stops you from inquiring about a coffee date or because you automatically assume that it’s unrealistic for that person to be interested in you. As a naive freshman, I fell under both categories as a freshman.
The classroom was set up for peer interaction, though: two columns of tables that each had seats for three students and individual desktop computers for each student. The instructor set up in-class writing assignments and gave us the freedom to peer edit each other’s documents and help each other out with navigating that perplexing behemoth of a program known as Microsoft Word. Working with the other engineering students in the classroom limited my interaction with Laura in the classroom; I really can’t recall having to edit any of her papers or helping her find something on Microsoft Word.
Whenever I ran into Laura outside of the classroom, things were the opposite. She’d say “Hi!” and hug me and then actually hold a conversation with me for a few minutes. We encountered each other outside of our Rolfes Hall classroom for the first time at Weimar Hall, the College of Journalism building. Among a lot of biographical details exchanged that I’ve long forgotten, I learned she also taught a section of First Year Florida, a course for freshman to basically network and learn how to navigate campus, the registration system, and all those other academic details we should worry about. Maybe it was because her voice was of a higher pitch, but she always sounded cheerful when we spoke.
As a freshman, this was mind-blowing: despite little to no interaction in class, Laura knew who I was! Laura hugged me! I don’t hug anyone outside of my own nuclear family! I didn’t break out into a nervous sweat when we spoke to each other! Wait, why is she hugging me if we didn’t really speak to other class?
This cycle of running into each other happened on more than a few occasions, usually around the Reitz Student Union area, thanks to how our schedules seemed to match up for passing through that area at the same time. If I had just a tiny ounce of awareness, I could have used one of these random encounters to take a punt and see if she’d be up for Starbuck at the Reitz. But because I wasn’t not that smart and aware, I forgot that “being the guy and initiating the next step” was an option, and I simply went about my merry way after each encounter.
Once I started the second semester of my freshman year, I lost all contact with Laura and forgot about her. I went about my merry way in that period, constantly questioning whether or not to continue with the engineering program.***
One year later, on a spring afternoon in the second semester of my sophomore year, I walked into the welcome center inside the Reitz Union. Laura, in an orange tank top and denim shorts for the victorious orange and blue combo, and her blond hair tied in a ponytail, just finished descending the steps from the bookstore to the welcome center and noticed me first.
I was caught off-guard that she would remember me of all people after a year of nothing. The meeting was like we still in that first semester, though: hello!, hug, catching up on what went down the past year for almost 10 minutes. Her getting for graduation and then heading to graduate school at USF (she sounded especially happy then). Me trying to find something interesting to say besides trying not to fail my Numerical Methods class. Or my Intermediate Engineering Analysis class. Or Circuits. Or — oh geez, I want to forget about my worst semester ever at UF.
With 1.5 years of college under my belt, I should have been mature enough to just take a punt and inquire if she’d be up for Starbucks at the Reitz before the semester ended. But because we already established that I wasn’t that smart or aware at the time, I said “congrats!” and “awesome!” and then we exchanged “great seeing you again after so long!” and “see you later!” before I went about my merry way to grab a body-destroying, fast food lunch at the food court upstairs.
I never saw Laura again.
In hindsight — as in, this past Saturday, when I thought about that whole story for the first time from a distance — I was a pretty oblivious fellow. Maybe she would have said no to the coffee date, but, in hindsight again, there seemed to be enough circumstantial evidence to suggest otherwise if some light switch flicked on in my brain and told me to ask. But all things work out in the end: my obliviousness gave me something to laugh about this weekend.
As for Laura, she has that Master’s degree, now works as a family therapist, and is married to a hot shot venture capitalist. Like I said, things work out in the end.
#dyingalone #retro #extendededition
* “all of the internet” = the average of 10 people who read this site every day. Hi, Mom and Dad!
** Not her real name. The name was arbitrarily chosen from the name of the actress who portrayed Peter Quill’s mom in Guardians of the Galaxy. Go see it.
*** I have my doubts about being one of those lifetime engineers, because I still have more fun writing. But I’ll always be grateful to my Calculus 2 professor — a PhD student at the time — for taking the time to listen to me vent those fears about staying the course outside of class time. Then he always offered advice on how to conquer those fears; his advice about college and life, in general, played a pivotal role in keeping me in the engineering program.