If you’ve read My High School Self, you know I had a very serious boyfriend in high school. We were still dating when I went away to college. My boyfriend lived at home and commuted to a local school in the city. I, like my sisters before me, went away to school, at a private, residential four-year university. This was in the dark ages, meaning before everyone had cell phones. I had two roommates and we shared a land line in our room.
To keep in touch, my boyfriend and I had set up a calling schedule while I was away. He called on Friday and Saturday nights at 11:00pm. Think about it. Weekends at 11pm. This was not good for my social life. Not at all. It suited him, though. He came home on Friday nights an had nothing to do and no one to do it with.
The weekend calls placed me in an awkward position. If I went out with people I’d have to come back alone by 11 for the call. If I waited until after the call, it would be too late, people were either already out and about or by the time I got off the phone they might be coming home.
I was having a hard time fitting in anyway. I didn’t drink. Most of the freshman nightlife had to do with drinking at Frat Parties and such. (Frat Parties were so important I still feel the need to capitalize it). But I just wasn’t the Frat Party type. And there was the dating scene, of which I was not a part because I already had a boyfriend. And, at this time in the dark ages and at this university, as a woman of color I was kind of invisible to the cute Frat boys. Plus, I felt I needed to show my boyfriend I was doing the right thing, or more accurately, not the wrong thing, while I was away. I didn’t want him to think I was drinking, cheating, changing in any way or even having a good time. He was lonely. Most of his friends (including his girlfriend) had gone away to school and he hadn’t. He had gone from big man at High School to being just another commuting student in college. I knew how miserable he was and I wanted to be there for him. I was also determined to beat the odds and show the world that I could fulfill my academic promise yet still keep my boyfriend and be faithful to the parameters of our relationship. Yes, co-dependency at its finest, ladies and gentlemen. Neither one of us was going to be happy if we clung to each other and our mutual miseries, limitations and fears.
My college had a homogeneous population (huge understatement). The university was not known for being diverse or popular among people of color, who were a very small minority there. And the majority of the majority were from suburban or rural areas, or prep schools and really had not been exposed to much diversity and did not choose this college in order to be exposed to different types of people. So many of them had the same backgrounds, ambitions and interests. For folks not in the mainstream, sometimes the culture shock was an insurmountable obstacle. Add to that the fact that the school is in the middle of nowhere. There was no town or city to which to escape from the suffocating sameness. Consequently, people of color, foreign students, and city kids regardless of socio-economic status would sometimes seek each other out for support. I, in addition to being African-American, was more of the creative type, and just, well . . . different. But being a suburban girl, I thought I’d be okay there; I didn’t expect a culture shock at all. What a silly girl I was, I did not fully appreciate the level of isolation and cultural homogeneity I had signed up for. This place made my vanilla suburb seem like the Rainbow Coalition. My sisters (who attended similar schools) assured me that once I found friends I’d be hanging out in dorms playing cards and listening to music. At my college, the only people I’d met so far just went out to the Frat houses and drank. I felt invisible yet at the same time exposed — like I stuck out like a sore thumb — not drinking, not dating, not looking like the other kids — it was a culture shock.
If that wasn’t enough, by the luck of the draw I had been assigned to the only female freshman dorm located “up hill” on campus. It was physically removed from the other dorms and the upper class houses which were all “down hill.” Frat houses and most of the lecture halls were “up hill.” I wasn’t really sure what was “down hill,” other than the cafeteria. But I was beginning to realize that unless I started to go out somewhere, I wasn’t going to meet people outside of my dorm floor. Yeah, I was having a hard time fitting in . . . again.
Then I got an invitation, right there in my mailbox.
It was an invitation to a party at, let’s call it, Walnut Street House, sponsored by the Black Students Association. The House, which was a restored Victorian home turned into a small dorm, was kind of like an International House, except it was inhabited by upper class African-American female students, mostly. But this invitation was for a dance party in the common room there. Cool. And it said to dress up!!! Yay! Now, I may not have been a drinker back then, but I did love to dance. And a chance to go somewhere in something other than a turtleneck, sweater and duck boots was enticing. My musical tastes were classical by day and classic R&B by night, and in a campus full of beer drinking rockers who didn’t dance – unless you count the drunken jumping up and down thing — this sounded like fun. Maybe I would go, I thought. Maybe I would go.
But the dance was —- yikes! — on a Saturday night. How would I be able to explain this to my boyfriend? I might miss his call! And I’d been complaining to him about how everything at the school was all about the drinking and the Frat parties and we were acting so superior to it all, blah, blah, blah. He never liked me going to any kind of parties. In fact, in high school he forbade me to go to parties. How could I just tell him I’d found somewhere to go? But I was so lonely. I needed to meet other people. My initial attempts at going out with the girls on my hall hadn’t been fun. Really, I just hadn’t found my niche yet and it was taking too damn long. I’d started skipping meals to avoid the cafeteria and studying more than probably necessary (I made the Dean’s list, though, . . . but I digress) . I was bored, I was starting to need more. My two roommates were okay, my Hall was okay, but I hadn’t made any good friends and spent too much time alone. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, and my College Self, in a new place, and separated from the boyfriend for the first time, thought life was passing me by.
I decided I would go to the party. Alone, of course. Going places alone is a skill I developed too early. Women are supposed to travel in packs, right? I hadn’t gotten that memo. But after all, I was invited, by name, so I could go — alone. And I was going to go, damnit.
There was only one other black freshman woman in my whole dorm (out of a couple of hundred girls). She was probably invited also, but she was not in my half of the dorm and we had never spoken. Even when I had passed her in the courtyard and said hello she had averted her eyes. No judgment, but clearly I would be walking “down hill” alone. I could only hope that once I got there it would be okay. It was a big chance.
My bigger concern, though, was my boyfriend. How to deal with my boyfriend? The one who didn’t drink, didn’t dance, didn’t go away to college, didn’t want me to do . . . any of those things. Hmm.
On the Friday night call I explained to him that I thought I’d go out Saturday, and asked if could he call me later than 11:00. (I know, not the best move on my part. But I felt I needed to reassure him of my faithfulness and commitment to misery.) He planned to call me at midnight. I’m not gonna lie, this was okay with me, it gave me an out in case the party was horrible or if I felt stupid going alone. And, I figured, the party started at ten — two hours would be enough, right?
Well, Saturday night came. I put on a skirt and sweater and nice shoes. Told my roommates I had somewhere to go — ha! I took my “Walk of Shame” “down hill” to the party alone, passing people walking “up hill” to the frat houses. They were dressed for drinking; I was dressed for dancing. I arrived “down hill” almost exactly at 10 o’clock. Now I ask you, have you ever known a college party to start when it’s supposed to? Is it ever cool to show up promptly when a party starts? No, no, no. Yet there I was, right on time. I walked in and the lights were off — in party mode, somebody was DJ-ing — and yay, it was R&B and Funk, something to dance to. . . but no one was there!
I wandered around in the foyer for a bit, occupied myself by pretending to read bulletin boards, contemplated leaving. Finally, people started to trickle in. Some dude came out from the back, saw me and left. I saw the “I can’t believe she showed up” look. Ha! But now I couldn’t leave, I’d been seen. Truly, I didn’t care. I was just happy to be out of my room, and somewhere that didn’t smell of cheap beer.
Once the party actually got started I got lots of attention and dances. And bonus, everybody was nice! I met some other freshmen and some upper classmen. People were wondering why they hadn’t met me before. Well, I was an “up hill” girl and these students, at least the girls, lived “down hill.” I had no idea. That night I planted the seeds of some friendships that last to this day. It was college, so I’m sure some of the people there were drinking, but the drinking was not the focus of the party, it was the music. I was actually having fun.
But, in horror . . . I looked at the clock, it was almost midnight!!!!
Crap! I wasn’t in any deep conversation with anyone, I was just starting to meet people. In short, I really had no one to say goodbye to. It’s not like there was a formal host or hostess.
So I just, well — left. As mysteriously as I’d arrived, I left—-
. . . at midnight.
Alone, I ran up the hill in heels to try to get back to my room in time for my scheduled Saturday night phone call from my boyfriend.
I’d missed it. But c’mon, folks, of course he called back.
It didn’t all change in one night. I remained separated and aloof and miserable for a while. But by my sophomore year of college, I’d found people with common interests, and made friends with some of the people I’d met at that dance party, one of whom became my sophomore roommate and a very good friend. I’d changed my major to my love — music, and met more of my creative brethren there. I learned to drink (hard liquor, not beer) and made my own stories in that regard. Still, I never became a Frat party regular, except for Reggae night. Reggae nights were fun, because of the dancing. I think the last time I went to a regular Frat party some dude pissed on the floor right in front of me, and I was done. He’s probably a Congressman now . . . but I digress . . . again.
Much later, one of guys I’d met at that first dance party told me that that was the night the boys started calling me . . . Cinderella.
Well, I had been the mysterious (and yeah, I’ll say it — pretty) girl who showed up alone at a party, danced her behind off, and ran out at midnight without saying goodbye.
There was no Prince Charming or anything like that. But there were two evil step sisters — my roommates. Alright, so they weren’t actually evil but since they were having an easier time making friends and fitting in while I sat in my room and watched — well, in my fairy tale that qualifies as evil.
What about a wicked step mother? Well, my boyfriend, of course. He seemed intent on keeping me in my place, in my own little corner in my own little chair— meaning, in my dorm room on the phone with him — on the weekend.
As an added postscript, shortly after the party a couple of the guys came knocking on my door to say hello. They weren’t looking to fit a lost glass slipper, but they were coming to find me . . . heh heh heh.
However, there was most certainly no Fairy Godmother. Still waiting for her ass to show up. Humph.
Anyway, it was the closest I’d been to being a fairy tale princess, if only by accident and circumstance.
Just Me With . . . a Cinderella Story, well kind of . . .
Aww…I love your college stories! I really wish I had gone to college the “traditional” way instead of skipping out, getting married, divorced, etc lol
I know it is not easy (as your story points out!) however I am sure I would have learned and experienced so much.
Thanks for sharing..I look forward to reading more!
LOL…even young boys learn ways to keep a woman in line. Good for you for finding your way and finding friends. I loved the story. Is the pretty girl in the post you?
Thanks, but no, that’s the singer Brandy who played Cinderella in the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with non-traditional casting.
I loved your story! And the whole co-dependency thing, waiting for him to call… I can so relate!
LOVE this story! It reminds me in many ways of my own college days … except I had no serious boyfriend back at home … and I was doing a lot of drinking at the Frat Parties … but I was a woman of color at a predominantly white university in the 80s. 🙂
Wait…where did you go to college…because that sounds a lot where I went: LaGrange College in Georgia. it’s like you were describing the campus perfectly…
Really? No, I didn’t go to LaGrange. Funny how experiences can be so similar.
That’s the coolest behind-your-back nickname I’ve ever heard!
And I love that you referenced Gilbert & Sullivan’s Cinderella!
[…] For a story on what it was like to still have my boyfriend when I went away to college, see The Night I Became Cinderella. […]
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[…] All of this reminds me of when I went away to college many moons ago, and my ex-husband, then boyfriend, still scheduled my time with him. See, The Night I Became Cinderella. […]
[…] The Night I Became Cinderella — A College Story […]