When I think back about my first day at college — move-in day — I dredge up all kinds of memories: excitement, dread, freedom, fear of the unknown, not knowing how to do laundry, nervousness, freedom, uncertainty and liberation.
Plus, that everything I owned, down to the very pair of underwear I was wearing, had my name written on them in permanent black ink. That was thanks to my mother. I think she assumed that my new roommate, or maybe the townspeople of St. Augustine, would be highly interested in sneaking into my room to make off with my shorts, shirts, and yes, underwear.
But thanks to her handy anti-theft devices, should that unthinkable happen, I could march around campus, or town, demanding to see people’s underwear and then scream, “A-ha, those aren’t mine, but you should change ‘em once in a while.”
She probably thought it would also be a good way to make friends.
I don’t know what my brother-in-law’s memories will be of that day — the kind that you can relive in vivid color 15 years later. But I could see in his face some of what he was experiencing as we moved him into his new dorm room at the University of Central Florida last week. There was a lot of terror and this look like he was quickly losing control of the situation.
Oh, not at the thought of this new life ahead of him, of having to fend for himself, find classrooms all the way on the other side of campus or try to figure out how to make $13.52 stretch for a month.
No, it was from watching his family take one look at his room and proclaim that they knew exactly how it should be arranged. Who has time to worry about the shock of a new environment when you’re being bossed around, told to unpack suitcases, plug in phones, hook-up TVs, take out a wall, repaint and put in curtains instead of blinds? It’s enough to make a new college student wonder why he didn’t check into Greyhound bus service and leave all this familial mayhem behind.
I remember being terrified that day, yet my main memories are not of fear, but of yelling at my mother. “Put that down,” I would scream, or, “Stop telling people I get a rash if I use cheap detergent. You know that’s not the whole story!”
My mother had me unpacked in the first 20 minutes I was there — towels were hung up, shirts neatly pushed into drawers, toothbrush set out and I think she put in new carpet.
My roommate, who had brought everything he owned in a couple of milk crates, dumped it into a drawer like a seasoned garbage man. My mother, horrified and beside herself, told him she would arrange it all neatly, but I threatened to pull the fire alarm and shave my head bald. She backed off.
So this guy I had never met plopped down on the bed and watched the circus as my mother cleaned the entire room and then laid out what she thought I should wear for the first 15 weeks.
Now here I was in Orlando helping to do the exact same thing to another poor soul.
“See, if you move your bed this way,” someone would declare, “it will make you smarter and you’ll get into law school.”
I agreed and then started shoving furniture around. No, what am I doing! Burning lava had begun oozing out of Richie’s nose and ears, and I could hear a sizzle coming from his brain. I knew that face. That face was once me!
He was very near to calling the campus police, or pulling the fire alarm.
Here I had become the person I swore I never would. And it felt so good. Sorry, Rich, it felt good.
I have no idea how he will remember this day in 10-15 years, but I know I will always remember it with fondness.