I walked down the long university corridor slower than everyone else. I was still adjusting to my new life’s pace. I’d only graduated high school six months prior, but I felt light years ahead, in another lifetime.
In high school, I’d slid through with common sense and minimal effort. I made the honour roll and still managed to skip half my classes. University wasn’t like that. I was behind in all my readings from the very first day of class. My tests reflected it. Sure, I could still skip classes, but then I’d be missing important information.
The worst part was how lonely this huge bustling campus could feel. In high school, I knew who I’d sit with at lunch. I knew that every morning, I could find my friends in the exact same spot in the atrium. I knew all their schedules because their schedules were my schedule too. Now I wandered around campus sometimes free at 1:00pm, sometimes in class until 10:00pm. Nobody on earth had any idea where I was supposed to be at any given moment, myself included some days. As liberating as that felt at the beginning, I was starting to miss having easily accessible friends.
“No thank you,” I said quickly to the guy selling luxury salon packages on my left in the hallway. I’d already been pressured into buying one I’d probably never use the week before.
“Sorry, I have to get to class,” I lied to the girl trying to get me to sign a petition to my right. People were different at university too. Everyone had a cause. Something they were passionate about. I’d only ever been passionate about Sims 3 and Eminem, hardly scholarly topics.
In my tutorials, my classmates spoke with such strong convictions. They fed off of each other, referenced things they’d read, and discussed, creating such rich conversations. I hadn’t realized before how much smarter than me people my age could be. I felt like I’d snuck into this university without merit, and I didn’t belong.
That’s why when I heard a familiar voice call my name from behind, I was relieved. It was good to be known. Even if I recognized that familiar voice as someone I wasn’t exactly friends with. Just another displaced Bridgewood kid at Shire University like myself.
“Hey Mark,” I said turning around and being swept into a big embrace. I stiffened up. I hadn’t seen Mark in a while, since I’d stopped working at the family restaurant where we’d met. He’d been my best friend’s first boyfriend years before, and he’d broken her heart accordingly. I spoke into his shoulder, “what’s up?”
“Nothing, I’m heading home, need a ride?”
“Sure!” I perked up, feeling a little guilty that I hadn’t been thrilled to see him. My commute home took two buses and an hour and a half on the road, when by car it only took 20 minutes. Mark lived down the street from me. I couldn’t believe my good luck in running into him.
“Okay,” Mark said as we started walking toward the parking lot. “But first, let’s grab lunch at the student center. I have some buddies waiting for me there.”
Oh. Oh no. Mark Davindola was the epitome of a Bridgewood douchebag. Loud, crass, entitled. The best part about being in university was that the amount of kids from Bridgewood in my life had been significantly reduced. But they were not completely gone. Given Bridgewood’s proximity to the school, more than 50% of our high schools ended up at Shire, just like us. We were just in the minority now.
Mark and I had gone to different high schools, he’d gone to the other, douchier, Catholic high school in Bridgewood. I wasn’t entirely sure who we’d be meeting for lunch, but I could make an educated guess about what they’d be like.
I spotted them immediately upon entering the student center. Bridgewood kids were easy to spot by their popped collars, soccer player hair held back with bra straps and their superior attitudes. Three rows in, on the far end sat the group of guys across two tables, their coats and bags sprawled all over the table next to them. Even though they looked like most kids I’d gone to high school with, I couldn’t believe I was about to have lunch with them. Here. At university. They felt like a relic of the past.
As we approached, I realized I recognized two of the guys. The first one, Sal Altieri, had briefly dated this girl Amanda, but had broken up with her over the summer to get back together with his ex. Now Amanda was hitting on my friend Stewie Goode. The other guy, Troy Ciocco was rich. And handsome. And so popular, everyone in Bridgewood knew him. He didn’t go to either of our Bridgewood high schools, his parents had sent him to an all boys private Catholic high school in midtown Leafton.
“Who’s the broad?” Asked one of the guys I didn’t recognize. I shuddered as we sat down, I hated that word.
To my surprise, Mark threw his arm around me and declared, “my new girlfriend.”
I gagged. Troy, sitting across from me, raised his eyebrows at me questioningly and I shook my head fiercely as I shrugged off Mark’s arm. Troy laughed, “yeah right. The day you could get a girl like her.”
A girl like me. He’d said it as a compliment. Like he thought I was cool. My heart fluttered, and I sat up a little taller. Right. The day Mark could get a girl like me.
Sal leaned over from a few seats down and asked, “hey, you’re in my anthropology class, right? How’d you do on the test?”
“Not great.” I admitted. “I got like a 72.”
“I failed,” Sam said, getting up and pulling over a chair to sit at the end of the table beside me, our anthro book in his hands. I realized that all these guys had their text books out in front of them.”I didn’t read any of the case studies she asked about. I just read those journal articles.”
“The case studies were actually so much more interesting then those articles,” I smiled. I’d been wanting to talk to someone about them for days, but nobody I knew was in that class, or found it mildly interesting. In the class, I was much too timid and overwhelmed by the other students to even try to join the conversation. “The articles discussed this notion of socio-cultural constructs, but the case studies really brought them to life.”
And I spent the rest of the afternoon like that. Comfortable with the other Bridgewood kids lost at Shire like me. Even though I hated growing up in Bridgewood, and I felt like the kids in Bridgewood were fundamentally different from me too, at least I understood them. I felt confident discussing these new things I was learning with them. I felt smart. Like I belonged here.
And more importantly, Troy thought I was cool.