The summer was nowhere close to over when I moved up to Rome. Georgia summers start mid-spring and end mid-fall, and I was about to learn that in Rome it was always 10 degrees hotter or 10 degrees cooler than any temperature one would consider comfortable. I wasn’t excited about going to college. I’d grown attached to Atlanta over the summer, and our orientation didn’t psych us up to move in. The one upside was that I’d be living with my childhood best friend, Rachel. On orientation night we played a game that I think was Baptist-risque; the title was Sex on the Couch. It was so awkward and not fun that we skipped the rest of the get to know you activities and sat on the tiny bed in our dorm.
We stared at the walls of our future room. Some type of fabric had been pressed into the cement, probably in the 70s… that’s when textured walls were cool, right? Some of the burlapy strings were sticking out; they poked through our tank tops as we slouched against the wall. Rachel teared up and I stared blankly. I thought to myself that God was in control but I was also suspicious of God because His Will really seemed to be fucking up my life lately.
On move in day, I arrived at Shorter an 18-year-old in an Abercrombie denim mini skirt and a neon church t-shirt. I had an orange corduroy purse from Old Navy that I’d soon attach a John Kerry 2004 button to because I was a recently-converted liberal. Earlier that year I’d gone on a school trip to New York, and Nina and I fell in love with Soho. We decided that once we became employed entertainers we’d share a loft there. I didn’t know when that would happen, but 26 sounded about right. As a kid I’d decided the age of 26 was a definitive point in the process of aging. I figured everything I wanted would happen by age 26, and then I’d be good. There was no rush, I still had eight years to figure it out.
We skipped all of the Welcome Week activities out of fear that they’d be other versions of Sex on the Couch or, even worse, more Sex on the Couch. We bought decorations for our dorm room, groceries and big gaudy rings. We did all of this at the Walmart… it turned out we were going to be doing everything at the Walmart. Rachel worked diligently on her scheme to make her mark on the Shorter social scene. She identified the ‘hot’ sorority and befriended the president of its brother fraternity. This gained us an immediate invite to an off campus house. A couple fifth year seniors were old enough to move off even though they were unmarried. Off campus houses were one of the few locations the Shorter party kids gathered to drink.
I drank twice my senior year of high school, which I chalked up to wild-oat-sewing and planned to never drink again. I did’t consume a drop of alcohol my freshman year of college. I wanted to spend weekends in dorm rooms and talk about how good the Daily Show was or listen to Modest Mouse, but that didn’t happen. For lack of anything better to do, I found myself at the off campus house sitting on an old recliner clutching a Dixie cup full of diet coke every night that week. I spent a lot of nights outside talking on the phone with Mark. He was my ex-boyfriend with whom I’d become close (but would proceed to be a little in love with for the duration of my Shorter years) who, like Nina, moved to New York to go to Columbia.
I whined to Mark that I already knew I didn’t fit. Classes hadn’t even started. He asked if was thinking about transferring. I was.
Each night a tall, skinny boy sat in the corner at the off campus house. He was one of the other ones who didn’t drink, and he only wore Abercrombie and Fitch. He seemed different too, but he never spoke and scowled always. I disliked him until the night he perked up at my mention of the nice mall in Atlanta.
“You shop at Lenox?” This was the first time the corners of his mouth turned up from the scowl.
“Oh yeah, I’m from Atlanta. I went to high school right there so we used to take our lunch break and free periods to walk around.”
Even though we didn’t have another conversation for at least several weeks, Austin never scowled at me again.