Live Through This

The Freshman

A horrifying tale of parental abandonment and lonely suffering! Just kidding; it worked out OK.

Illustration by Marjainez

With a “Bye honey! Love you!” and a final wave, they were gone.

Some parents cry when their kid goes off to college. Some parents make an embarrassing scene and later have trouble coping with an “empty nest.” My parents high-fived each other and drove off.

I stood in the middle of a pile of everything I owned—boxes of bedding, clothes, shoes, one blue electric bass guitar—heaped in front of Pioneer Hall, my new dorm at the University of Minnesota. All around me, new freshmen were moving in, hauling boxes from minivans, tossing Frisbees, and yelling to one another.

I fought back panic. My parents had helped me move in the big stuff, like my desktop computer and a microwave, but when that was finished, the message was clear: Adult Life Starts Here—Move Yourself In. I was on the road to becoming my grown-up self, and the drive from childhood to this turning point had taken exactly five hours—the amount of time it takes to drive from Green Bay, Wisconsin (my hometown), to Minneapolis (where my college was).

It was time. I was the baby of the family, and I’d been a particularly mouthy kid. My parents were so done with parenting. They were thrilled to see me go.

As their tail lights disappeared, tears welled in my eyes. They didn’t love me. Everyone else’s parents were moving them in. The tears threatened to spill over. How was I supposed to get this stuff upstairs by myself? Who was going to watch my stuff outside as I hauled boxes up four flights of stairs? I DIDN’T KNOW ANYONE THERE.

I had just sat down on my giant Tupperware tub of shoes to have a good “no one loves me” cry when a boy in a Phish T-shirt walked by. He paused.

“Is that your bass?”

I looked up. “Yeah.”

“That’s awesome. You’re awesome,” he said, pointing at me as if he was marking me for later.

And—I kid you not, and this is embarrassing—that’s all it took to dry my crocodile tears. Forgetting that I was an incredibly shitty bass player who only started playing to have something to bond over with my crush in high school, I perked up. That boy thought I was awesome. I was awesome! Who cared if I shouldn’t be judging myself by what others thought of me? I was off to a brilliant start at college. A guy I’d never even met before had just talked to me, which had never happened back home in Green Bay. I was clearly going to be a success.

So: what follows is a description of my first few days at college, when I was alone, without my parents or a group of friends, for the very first time in my life. Not a lot happened, but you guys, so much happened.

I managed to move everything upstairs in less than an hour. My new roommate, Cayla, had already moved her stuff in; she wandered in and out of the dorm as I unpacked. Cayla and I had emailed briefly in the summer after senior year, and…here she was in real life, standing in front of me: gross. A hippie. A real-life hippie, with dreadlocks and Birkenstock sandals and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. I was still deep into my Abercrombie phase; in my carefully faded red polo and pre-ripped jeans, I looked her over.

Cayla had posted art sketches of naked women all over her side of the room. She had a large brick of violently orange cheddar cheese in the fridge, and, as she was decorating her desk, I actually saw her pull out the cheese and take a bite out of it, and then put it back. She was gross and a hippie and possibly a lesbian (never mind that I had already experimented heavily with girls—I wasn’t a lesbian, for god’s sake, ew!!!!) and we were not going to get along. I really, desperately wanted to have a friend at college, and I had been hoping my roommate could be that friend, but Cayla and I were clearly too different. For crying out loud, she had a hacky-sack on her dresser. We were obviously doomed.

“Do you smoke?”

That was the first thing she asked me when we were finally alone on that first day, after her mom left and we had decided who got which bunk bed (I got the top).

“No,” I said. I climbed up on my bunk.

“Do you mind if I do?” she asked.

Trying to be casual, I shrugged and said, “I don’t care.” Smoking was expressly forbidden in the dorms, but I understood it would not have been cool to say I minded—I minded a lot.

Cayla grinned and pulled a glass pipe out of her men’s corduroy pants.
Oh. Marijuana. She had meant marijuana.

We were going to be expelled on our first day of college. For the second time that day, I fought back panic.

Cayla packed the first of many, many (countless, really) bowls, got out a mini fan, and stood at the window, exhaling pot smoke and sighing. I lay on the top bunk, pretending to read. Pretty soon, Cayla wandered down the hall, knocked on some doors, and…suddenly there were five other kids in the room. Our dorm was coed, so there were boys and girls, sitting in a circle, passing the pipe around and getting to know one another. Everyone was extremely blasé about the fact that they were smoking an illegal drug.

Fake-reading on the top bunk, I watched them out of the corner of my eye. I felt left out; an antisocial who was failing at making friends on the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives. I climbed down the bunk ladder and sat with everyone. I was so nervous—here was my first real interaction with real freshmen my age, and, I was about to blow it.

The pipe was coming around the circle. I had no idea what to do. I’d never smoked pot in my life, and all of these kids were clearly old hands. Each person seemed to have been born knowing which little hole in the pipe to cover with their finger, and they expertly inhaled, held the smoke in their lungs for the “right” amount of time, then let it out without coughing. How did they all know what to do? Had they read a book I’d missed? Is this what people did at the “wild” high school parties I had never been invited to, even if I’d have been allowed to go, which I would not have been?

When the pipe came to me, I just passed it. My hands shook.

Eventually, it was dinnertime, and Cayla and I went down to the dining hall together, where she promptly split off from me and went to find the (enormous) group of friends she’d apparently brought with her from high school. I scanned the groups of rowdy kids in the cafeteria. Everyone was already in a group. When had these alliances formed? For the first time in my memory, I had no one to sit with.

Well. Who cared. I was an adult, and I could sit alone. I was brave. And plus, y’all, that first night? I know it was just a campus cafeteria, but…everything looked amazing. There were french fries and chicken patties and tacos and bagels and every kind of sweetened cereal imaginable, along with soda machines and soft-serve machines and waffle irons and a salad bar and fresh pizza. I didn’t know where to start. Unlimited pizza was such an unimaginable treat that I forgot my social anxiety and went to town, pausing only to inhale Mountain Dew in great, draining draughts.

Prior to that moment in the cafeteria, I had never had access to much junk food. My mom was the kind of mom who bought the natural-foods peanut butter, the sugar-free kind you have to stir the oil into. My sister and I were allowed to share one box of sugary cereal per month. And here I was, suddenly able to make the kind of food choices my mom had been trying to shield me from my entire life. Cap’n Crunch! Cookie Crisp! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Sweet cereal and chicken nuggets became my go-to meals. A sophisticated palate requires sophisticated nutrition.


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  • La Fille August 3rd, 2012 7:13 PM

    Wow, I was just thinking about that. I’m going to college in late September and from the people I’ve heard, I have to make friends in the first week of school, and I’m kind of paranoid about that. But this article did reassure me that college is more than first impressions.

    It sounds both scary and exhilarating to be free.

  • Roz G. August 3rd, 2012 8:07 PM

    how awesome is it that this came out on my very first day of college?

  • Blythe August 3rd, 2012 8:09 PM

    I totally relate to your relationship with Cayla. There was this weird girl my parents used to make me hang out with (because they knew her parents) and she would steal my sleeping bag and hold it ransom until I promised to sew clothes for her American Girl Dolls.
    Now she’s one of my best friends, and a fellow theatre geek.

  • kelsd August 3rd, 2012 8:47 PM

    I spend the whole day shaking/ having anxiety about my first year of college – thankz for the perfect timing, rookie!

  • Abby August 3rd, 2012 9:00 PM

    OMFG KAYLA WE ARE THE SAME PERSON. This is how I feel about college. I start in… Oh my god… A few weeks, and I honestly think that what happened to you in the first few days is going to be me. I know that I actually have to GO and actively try to make friends, but I’m terrible at it, and I’m frankly really scared. It’s freeing to be responsible for myself, but also really scary. Especially for the part about making friends. I just hope I can take your advice and know that it will probably all turn out okay.

    • Abby August 3rd, 2012 9:02 PM

      OMFG ALSO WHY THE HECK DID I CALL YOU KAYLA I’M SO SORRY KRISTA. I have no clue how I got Kayla…. I think I might be going crazy…

    • Abby August 3rd, 2012 9:03 PM

      Oh… It’s because I saw your name with the k and somehow blended it with your roommate’s… Whoa… Anyway, sorry again!!!

  • danasusan August 3rd, 2012 9:04 PM

    My roommate and I weren’t friends for a month or two. We weren’t friends with my suitemates until right before winter break! Those first few weeks of school were long and anxiety filled, but things really do get better.

  • GildedLocks August 3rd, 2012 9:54 PM





  • kendallkh August 3rd, 2012 10:37 PM

    How are Rookie’s articles always PERFECTLY timed to match what I’m currently worrying about?

  • miranda11 August 3rd, 2012 10:38 PM

    Dudes, this is so fucking accurate and close to reality–well mine, at least. It’s not fucking easy making friends at college or in a new city, but it happens, no matter how awkward and shy you are. No matter how weird and goofy. Movies and books about high school and college make it seem like everyone neatly fits into one stereotypical category, but in the real world, it’s all about finding friends that fit into as many random and varied categories as you do. It took me a ridiculously long time to understand why everyone tells you to “just be yourself” when you’re growing up. Being yourself means not trying to emulate all the stereotypes of how people “are” that you see all around you–in tv, movies, etc. Even trying to emulate people who are “weird” or “edgy” isn’t being yourself. It’s all about, like, really being yourself. Duh!

  • stellar August 3rd, 2012 10:42 PM

    great experience w the new choices–way to go!

  • whatnaomiloves August 3rd, 2012 10:48 PM

    I can totally relate to your experience as a freshman. I actually had to spend the first night in my dorm alone. It was so weird how my parents were there one second and the next I was literally all alone with no one I knew in a big city (Chicago). Luckily the weekend before school I had a trip to MI to look forward to with good friends, but after that freshman year was not so fun. I cried so many nights, ate so many meals alone. Not to mention I was not so lucky with roommates – 3 other girls, not just one – and was almost going to leave…but, as you said, it eventually got right and better and I moved to a room with awesome girls and now I am living with one in my own apartment who is from the SAME CITY as me!

    Thank the lord freshman year is over.

  • ladyjenna August 3rd, 2012 11:00 PM

    At a summer camp at a college campus.


    It will be lentils and yoghurt when I get home.

    • NotReallyChristian August 4th, 2012 8:58 AM

      What is ‘soft serve’ anyway?

  • libbyjuju August 4th, 2012 12:07 AM

    I went to U of M too! I didn’t live in Pioneer but I visited a lot during my very own awkward I-have-to-make-friends-right-now phase.

    I’m 26 now and just moved across the country. It’s so reassuring to be reminded that yes, everything turns out, and there is no deadline for making new friends, and change makes you better. Thank you.

  • Adrienne August 4th, 2012 12:42 AM

    I’m going to be a junior in high school, but I do occasionally freak about the future… especially college. I’m more of an introverted person, and I’m really only myself with my family and friends. Oh god and I don’t like public bathrooms haha.. yeah I’ll need to solve this problem.

  • chameleon22 August 4th, 2012 1:12 AM

    ROCK ON MINNEAPOLIS! I’m going to be a freshman at the U in 3 weeks! Thanks for this article. The perfect thing to read.

    • Johann7 August 7th, 2012 5:19 PM

      It’s a fantastic campus; I had a friend who went there whom I visited frequently. The dorms she was in sucked, but then most dorms do. The city is so much fun, and a really excellent one for exploring (might be why Krista took to it so well). It was trippy reading this and knowing EXACTLY what she was talking about when describing the space.

  • Gypsy August 4th, 2012 5:10 AM

    I always feel like when I am going through a difficult or weird “life experience” or just plain old growing up, that i find someone is going through the same thing or someone offers advice about it. I found this really timely, although im sure a ton of other people did too because we all have weird/ difficult growing up situations that we go through everyday! Sometimes all it takes is someone to say they’ve been there, it was hard and that they made it to the other side slightly better off. I want to just start believing that everything will work ok and its ok to have scary/nervous/excited feelings about things. I want to be enlightened/ challenged/enchanted through these experiences I have during life’s journey.

  • radiofireworks August 4th, 2012 7:50 AM

    Man, I just literally – as in yesterday – finished my Masters dissertation, and that marks the end of my student days (unless I do my doctorate, but I can’t afford that for a long time).

    This made me very, very, very sad about that fact :(

  • EithyPan August 4th, 2012 8:25 AM

    Thank you so much for this article! I just did my first night as a waitress and it was awful and I nearly quit before I started. But I shall carry on now!

  • AClementine August 4th, 2012 8:46 AM

    I love this because it’s exactly how I felt and actually what happened starting a new school. I just hope next year’ll be the same too coz it’s a great feeling actually … and weirdly.

  • NotReallyChristian August 4th, 2012 8:57 AM

    I had the friend-making problem slightly before college – I took a gap year between school and college, and although I worked for most of it, I also spent three months taking Italian and Art History classes in Italy (I live in the UK, so it isn’t that far from home).
    Anyway when I first arrived at the house of the lady I was staying with, I was so struck with terror after I unpacked that I just sat in my room for the whole evening and cried (really quietly so my landlady wouldn’t hear me).
    Looking back now, that was such a fun trip, and I made some amazing friends that I’m still in touch with now. Also, I know all the best places to eat in Florence :)

  • Nishat August 4th, 2012 9:25 AM

    I’ll admit to having a really short attention span sometimes, but I read through all of this and it was wonderfully helpful and so honest (as all things are, on Rookie.)

    Thanks so much for writing it!

  • actressgirl August 4th, 2012 9:35 AM

    Krista I can totally relate to that article, I remember college feeling the exact same way when i started. You may have been a little hard on the house parties though, lol.

  • NorwegianPerson August 4th, 2012 10:56 AM

    Thank for this, I`m from Norway, and not only am I starting at a new school, but I`m also moving across the globe. To the USA. Dreamed about it for years, and finally I get to be a senior(?) I think, for a year. It`s really scary changing my surroundings like that. Practically overnight. And I´m kinda nervous about how people will respond to my humor, or my English. And if I will ever make any friends. BUT hopefully I will, and everything will be ok. And it`s really good to know I`m not alone when it comes to new beginnings.

  • aworkingrachel August 4th, 2012 11:08 AM

    This, times a million. On the first day of college, at our first “event” (some kind of dorm orientation), my roommate, who I’d come to the event with, ran into a girl she knew from camp and immediately went off to sit with her. I probably could have joined them, but I was too shy and awkward, so the first few days of college were my roommate (who was so pretty and always perfectly put together) reconnecting with her friend and me…well, talking a little to people but also crying a lot and feeling lonelier than I ever had in my life. I’d moved a lot as a kid, but this time my parents and brother weren’t there, and everyone else seemed to know at least one person, and I could hear people laughing and having a great time through the walls AT ALL TIMES, which made me feel lonely even if I had intentionally come back to my room for some alone time.

    But then some girl complimented my boots and became my best friend, and we made a bunch of other friends (slowly! There were still a lot of weird, left-out nights that first semester), and my roommate, though we never had a ton in common, was a fine person to live with that first year. And college turned out to be pretty awesome after all.

  • Emmie August 4th, 2012 1:35 PM

    this is exactly what my first weeks of college were like. But it does get so good!!

  • Whatsername August 4th, 2012 1:59 PM

    “That’s awesome. You’re awesome.” LOL! This is how I’ve made like half my friends, they notice my odd-colored hair or bass-playing skills or music taste and say something along those lines, and suddenly we’ve formed this kind of alliance of awesome musical people.
    I’m going into sophomore year of high school so I have a while before I need to start worrying about college.

  • Devan August 4th, 2012 6:04 PM

    Thank-you so much for this!! I’m still nervous about starting college, but this article definitely made me feel a lot better!!

  • purplebabaushka August 4th, 2012 10:56 PM

    Rookie has such a distinctive writing style and strong voice- I’m really happy it ended well- that makes me feel better about college

  • letthemeatkake August 4th, 2012 11:32 PM

    The beginning of freshman year at college is one of the scariest things for an introvert, even if you didn’t think you were an introvert. I can relate to sitting by myself and having an awkward roommate situation. After living with two foreign roommates (who I absolutely loved but were besties) and a girl who hated my guts for no reason, I moved to a new room the second semester (which IS a totally available option if you absolutely can’t STAND where you live/who you live with). My second roommate was the sweetest, sassiest girl I had ever met and I’m happy to say that we are still good friends. AND I learned after my first few weeks that it is completely okay to go up to people and ask if you can sit/eat/talk whatever with them. I saw a Facebook post by a girl in a group that I had seen around that seemed like they might be fun to hang out with even though they appeared pretty exclusive. She invited anyone to attend a viewing of the GOP debate that was airing (Republicans and Democrats alike). I decided to go and met an amazing group of people that night that I am proud to say are my best friends. Btw, I also met my boyfriend there too :)

  • janie19 August 5th, 2012 12:31 AM

    krista. your lyfe is my lyfe is your lyfe.
    just finished my first year at minnesota, lived in pioneer, parents left as soon as they arrived on the first day, roommate smoked pot, etc. I got butterflies all over again reading about an experience so similar to my own. I can’t believe college ACTUALLY goes by as fast as parents said it would. Rookies heading to college: be your ROOKIE selves and you’ll be loved!! friends can be family.

  • madame_addie August 5th, 2012 4:16 PM

    This is great, like a lot of the comments I’ve read, it was the perfect timing. I’m starting college tomorrow :) I’m very exited and scared too, but it’s very different from the universities in the USA; still I think this is such a great article. And just for the record, I would LOVE to have a friend like Cayla hahahaha she seems really cool xD

  • rookips August 5th, 2012 5:09 PM

    oooh, i know this feeling! i hadn’t visited my college prior to my parents dropping me off, as my college was on the other side of the country, and I had no idea what the dorms or the campus or the other students were like. luckily, I ended up loving it! for the first time in my life, I suddenly had a group of friends that would /call me and invite me and include me in things/ and I met my girlfriend three days into that semester C: (we’ve been dating almost a year now)

    college is really terrifying at first, but once you get settled in, it’s really awesome. just don’t forget to bring a water boiler. and an extra towel. definitely an extra towel.

  • russianroulet August 5th, 2012 6:44 PM

    Mannnn, I have dreadlocks and wear birkenstocks, that’s sad if that is the first impression I make on people :(
    but this is an awesome and timely article!

  • periwinkle_dreams August 5th, 2012 11:14 PM

    I’m leaving for college soon, and this made me ridiculously excited about it, and it will be another one of the trillion Rookie articles I pass along to all of my friends :D I’m not that nervous about getting to know new people, but I don’t entirely know what to expect either…I’m hoping my cactus (his name is Javier) might end up being a handy conversation starter. lol

  • meels August 6th, 2012 1:07 PM

    great article! i wanna know about the phish guy haha!!

  • FossilisedUnicorn August 6th, 2012 1:44 PM

    American college sounds so weird to my European ears. And although I will not be living with room mates or all-you-can-eat cafeterias I AM moving away in less then three weeks to another country and living in a house where I’ll share a kitchen and a common room with some other students and I’m just happy that if I seem to feel at first at making friends, I will not be the only one in the world.

  • Meandmysara August 6th, 2012 3:36 PM

    Yay!! So happy :) That made me feel much less anxious about socialising in any new environment – because I am pretty much exactly that awkward.

  • sarahlapetite August 6th, 2012 8:15 PM

    I just wanted to thank the Rookie gods for coming out with a lot of articles that are particularly useful for incoming college freshmen. I have been so nervous and rookie articles (especially this and the drug guide) are easing my worries.
    So thank you again!

  • aminas915 August 7th, 2012 1:50 PM

    I read this article at the perfect time. I don’t know if it’s cosmic synergy but it was just what I needed. I start college in matter of weeks in a whole new city, with new experiences completely different from what I’m used to. I’ve been excited to leave my tiny town forever (no exaggeration) but in the back of my mind, I’ve always been wary about starting completely over. This article gave me some much needed clearance.

  • runningscissors August 9th, 2012 6:48 AM

    Thank you for writing this! You don’t know how this article changed my look on next week, when my introduction of uni starts.

  • queenofthedinosaurs August 9th, 2012 5:39 PM

    This is exactly what I needed to read. I’m moving across the country for college and I’m super nervous about making friends and socializing. I hope I can take some of this and use it for my orientation week :)

  • sinclair August 12th, 2012 3:52 PM

    I really needed to hear the “no deadline for making friends” bit. Thank you.

  • larvaa_ August 14th, 2012 9:55 PM

    I’m not going to college currently, but I will keep this in mind a couple of years from now, when I do. Not even just for going to college, I sometimes get anxiety when in at a new place where I know no one, so I’ll remember this.
    PS. I love hearing about college stories :)

  • LEL August 28th, 2012 10:23 PM

    First of all, every article I’ve read here on Rookie Mag so far is incredibly amazing and relatable. Even though I recently started my senior year in college, I look back and think ‘Yeah, that exact scenario happened to me too.’ I’ve definitely had my fair share of ‘I have no friends/life’ sob sessions while sitting in the back row of my history lecture. (Sometimes you just can’t hold it back!) I also gained my freshman fifteen/twenty from eating the endless pizza carbfest at the dining hall and then taught myself how to eat reasonably, and went back to my original weight. Those first few days/weeks are ROUGH for a lot of people, but it really does get better. After reading this article, I took a moment to look at where I am today and realized that I’m still moving forward and evolving as a person. Everything really is OK! It takes time to figure out the ropes and you’ll end up finding friends in the most unexpected places. My theory is that the majority of people around you are feeling the exact same thing you’re feeling, but they’re better at hiding it, so know you’re not alone!

  • berniewang October 3rd, 2012 10:45 PM

    Literally on the verge of tears. I feel like I’m one of the only kids in college that can’t make friends.