Monday, September 23, 2019

Welcome Week - The Real Story

My last post featured a short story inspired by my first night away at college. When I started writing it, my intention was to tell what actually happened, but as I typed away I realized I wasn't quite ready to share the true events of that night. So instead I wrote about what I wished had happened. This week, I'm still not ready to share, but for some reason, I feel compelled to do so.

This account of that night from 23 years ago is as accurate as my memory will allow. It certainly wasn't my ideal way to start my college life at Michigan State University, but it was certainly a lesson in poor decision-making, speaking up and healing shitty first impressions.

The following is a true story.

---------------------

Co-Ed Expectations

Party Time

I breathed in the humid night air of East Lansing as I walked across Grand River Ave. The feeling was a mix of guilt and relief; guilt because I truly didn't think I deserved this gift of going to away to college and relief because I finally felt like I could make up for the years of social stagnation that my 18-year-old self had deemed unacceptable. I was sick of being the odd one out and now I could just blend in with the rest of my peers... at least on a social level. No more, "I can't go," or "I'm not allowed." For the first time, I could actually make the decisions for myself.

Back in 1996, Welcome Week at Michigan State University was a full week. I have since learned that it has been reduced down to a weekend shortly after I was gone from campus, so I feel lucky that I was one of the last to enjoy an entire week of familiarizing myself with the various aspects of scary college life. That first night, I tagged along with Kavita and her friends to a few house parties off campus. I couldn't think of anyone better to usher me into the college party life than my best friend of 9 years. She was starting her sophomore year, so she could show me the ropes.

We were one of many large clumps of co-eds crossing over to the party streets; Charles, Division, Bailey among others. Flashes of various party scenarios appeared in my head, no doubt an amalgam of tv shows and movies I'd watched for the last 5 years. People making out everywhere, lampshades on heads, loud music and dancing, keg stands, rounds of shots being passed around. Basically, if it happened on My So-Called Life, Beverly Hills 90210 or any John Hughes teen movie, it was swirling around in my head as a trailer of what I was in for later that night.

The beer was gross, but Kavita had assured me that I would acquire a taste. "It won't be so bad after you have a buzz going," she said. After achieving said buzz, I was having a great time. While not every party trope I'd seen on screen was happening, I was relishing the freedom of it all... I didn't have to watch the time or figure out an excuse to tell my parents. The night was as young as I wanted it to be, and I loved every minute of this new normal.

Post Party Time

The group had splintered into a few pairs and triplets, but eventually we all made it back to Holmes Hall. Since I was already with her and her friends, I had decided to crash with Kavita that night instead of going to my own dorm room, which was all the way across campus. Besides, I barely knew my roommate yet, so spending my first night with a familiar face was the perfect way to start my college life.

It was decided that a bunch of us would go to the brother floor and hang out. All the rooms had the bareness of the just-moved-in quality; boxes half emptied, beds barely made, closets adorned with a few hanging garments. Holmes Hall was one of the dorms on the far east side of campus affectionately called, "The Projects" since it was one of many high-rise residential halls that lined a divided road, each of them looking exactly alike with their beige brick and sterile design. Kavita had been a bit horrified that I had been placed in the West Circle side of campus, with the old architecture and dorms that resembled more of a tudor style aesthetic. She insisted all the fun happened in The Projects.

Kavita and I were hanging out with a couple of her friends in their room. One of the friends, Carl, was a guy I'd heard quite a bit about during our long distance conversations the previous year. Kavita told me all about how complicated he was, but also how smart and sensitive he could be. I had built him up in my mind to be Troy Dyre from Reality Bites.... Ethan Hawke's portrayal of a smart but damaged guy who lets his potential slip away in order to avoid becoming a yuppie seemed the perfect imagination match for Kavita's stories.

Sitting on the dorm-issued couch next to Carl was sort of thrilling. He wasn't exactly warm or friendly, but again, my knowledge of his nature allowed me to excuse his iciness. In fact, I wasn't sure he knew I was even in the same room... that is until Kavita and the other guy left, and all of a sudden Carl reached his arm around my back and hoisted me on top of him. Completely surprised and unaware of how to do... well, anything, I let him sort of take the lead. My heart pounded... first at the surprise at what was happening, but also feeling a bit flattered that THE Carl wanted to make-out with me?! I couldn't really say for certain that he knew my name.

Uncharted Territory

Before the night began, I was hoping to kiss a guy. I feel no shame admitting that. A full make-out? Okay sure! Sex? No way. I knew better than to go straight to rated-R before getting comfortable in PG-13. Ever since I hit puberty, I was a boy crazy, rom-com loving, hit teen-show watching dork who longed for my over-romanticized first boyfriend, kiss, couch make-outs, etc. Much like the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign worked on me to avoid drugs, episodes of my favorite teen shows scared my unskilled libido into submission with pregnancy scares and HIV/AIDS tests. I was eager to start, but I was in no rush to enter the world of condoms, birth control or going to the free clinic for tests. 

We made it back to Carl's room and onto the top bunk which he had claimed. His roommate wasn't arriving for a couple of days, so we had all the privacy we needed. Laying beneath him, kissing in the dark, hearing his breathing and feeling his hands on me, it felt... okay. While my experience level was pretty much zero, I could tell Carl wasn't a master at the art of making out. His movements were urgent, sloppy and totally devoid of the romantic rhythm I had seen with Dylan McKay and Brenda Walsh. He wasn't aggressive or scary, just clumsy and clueless. As it was happening, I distinctly remember the thought, "I'm sure this will get better," crawling through my brain. 

At a certain point, my shirt was off and his attempt at unbuttoning my pants was met with a clear "no" from my mouth. "That's cool," he panted and returned his focus to everything above the equator. I felt very shy being topless with a guy, but given that the room was dark, I wasn't as self-conscious. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Carl never made me feel unsafe, mind you, but there were moments where I wondered if I was actually enjoying myself. These moments occurred when he'd be giving a lot of attention to my virgin nipples with the enthusiasm of a newborn baby. That's as detailed as I can get without wanting to melt into the floor. But yeah, let's just say that Carl had a fixation on two very specific parts of my body that night. 

I'm not sure how long the make-out lasted, it could have been 30 minutes or an hour. We were done after a knock on the door from Kavita wondering where I was. Carl hopped down from the top bunk and cracked the door open slightly. I heard some muffled talking and Kavita's signature giggling.

"Having fun in there?!?" she yelled.

"Uh, yeah!" I responded half embarrassed, half lying.

"Haha! Okay, I'm going to bed now Sheevs... you coming with me orrrr....?"

"Oh yeah, hang on! I'll be right there!"

My first make-out was done, I had decided, and it was a solid 5 out of 10. Eh, maybe 4. I re-dressed, jumped down from the bunk and asked Carl if I could use the bathroom. He nodded and yawned as he pulled his shirt back on. After peeing I looked at the mirror in horror to see purplish patches all over my neck and chest. ALL OVER. It was like a strangulation of hickeys. I opened the door and Carl stood there, bleary-eyed and waiting to use the bathroom himself. He took one look at me in the light and his eyes grew large.

"Oohhhh shit... I'm so sorry."

I fake laughed, said some semblance of a farewell and sped-walked to the other side of the building to Kavita's room, thankful to not see anyone else in the hallway. She was the one and only person to whom I could show my complete humiliation. Along with her roommates, they commiserated with me and called Carl an asshole. I didn't totally defend him, but I also kept saying, "I had no idea it was even happening!" The entire session was just a jumbled mess of kisses from my mouth down to my... well, Carl's favorite points of interest. His apparent "passion" lended itself to higher than average suction settings. 

Turtleneck in 90 Degrees

The morning after, Kavita's roommate let me borrow an ill-fitting white mock turtleneck that only covered half of the affected area. The combination of that shirt along with the expensive concealer my mother had ordered for me was how I masked my neck for the next couple of days. I could see the looks of consternation at this weird girl wearing a white turtleneck in peak August heat. The edge of the white collar eventually got stained with a ring of beige concealer as I sweated the days away. The worst part of my make-out aftermath happened under that marred shirt and was only known to me. Carl's prolonged fixation on my nips that night caused the skin to crack and bleed. In the days leading up to the start of classes, I'd feel sharp pains from the peeling skin rubbing against my bra. With every stab of nipple pain, my eyes would flush with tears and not just from my physical malady. I just wanted to have a fun make-out with a guy... but I ended up an ashamed idiot with a neck full of hickeys and bleeding nipples. College was supposed to be where I could start fresh as a confident young woman who was eager to explore her freedoms. Well, that first night certainly wasn't the ideal way to make that idealistic impression.

They All Knew

It wasn't until about a month into the semester when my new dorm friends were comfortable enough to address what they saw of me that first week. 

"Oh my god, it was so obvious! The more you tried to cover it up, the worst it looked!"

I would bury my face in my hands with a muffled, "I know!!"

"I felt so bad for you, but I didn't know you at all, so I couldn't really say anything!" said the girl in the next room over.

I finally explained what had happened and how it was basically a cautionary tale for any other sheltered girl looking for too much excitement the minute they leave the nest. 

"It could have been worse... believe me," another girl said with a serious expression.

"Oh, totally," I said, understanding her implication,"A lot worse, I know."

Contrary to what Kavita had said, my side of campus was just as fun as hers. It may have not been the mecca of secret kegs being snuck up to dorm rooms, but there were nights spent chatting with some incredible friends, who really became my saviors that first year. After they learned more about who I was as a person, that first impression of me from Welcome Week seemed to be an alien who had invaded my body. After some time, I could joke and laugh about that ugly turtleneck. While it took longer than my nips, I eventually healed from the shame and embarrassment of it all.  

--------------------

So, that's what really happened that first night away from college. This wasn't easy to share, but at the same time, I feel it sort of encompasses a lot of my identity struggles in a single night. When I find myself cringing at this story, it's not so much about the hickeys and nip abuse, but more about my inability to distinguish who I was and who I was supposed to be. 

Look, at age 18, most of us don't know who the hell we are yet, but for me, I rushed to be what I'd seen in others rather than figuring out who I really was. Back then, I was sure my parents rules were to blame for my stagnated experiences and well, that is true, but I had also built that up as what was "holding me back." From what exactly? Oh, all the stuff that parents are supposed to protect you from. "You'll understand when you're older," has never rang so loud and true in my ears. 

This is a story about succumbing to an urgency of identity and not following your gut. It has served as an example over and over in my life of what happens when you covet an experience or lifestyle that may not be what's best for you... or even something you'd enjoy. 

I'm happy to report that eventually I did experience my fairytale moments complete with movie-like magic and true love romance. They happened when I wasn't trying so hard to be someone I wasn't... they happened exactly when they were supposed to. Go figure.  




Monday, September 9, 2019

Welcome Week

My freshman year roommate at Michigan State University took her oldest son to college a couple of weeks ago. Cortney's eyes were misty and her smile conveyed a mix of pride and heartache as she hugged her handsome boy in front of his dorm. I smiled as I clicked through the photos, imagining what Cort must be going through and thankful that her current experience is still 9 years down the road for me. My social media feeds have been full of posts about freshmen college kids going away, but since this was Cortney, the first person with whom I lived in college well... seeing her post knocked me sideways by a tidal wave of memories from that first week in East Lansing. Moreso, the first night.


The following story was inspired by true events.


--------------------
Ready. Set. GO.


I-96


Meera watched the speedometer with restrained excitement.


Don't speed! You don't want to get a ticket today!


The winding highway seemed endless, and she was half thankful, half exasperated for the seemingly glacial pace of the drive. As the signs for unfamiliar roads whizzed above her head, her mind would get sucked into reservoirs of wonder. How often would she make this drive? When would it start to feel routine? Does she deserve all of this?


That last question ached in her heart the most. For the last 2 years, she had fantasized about this very drive, but always shrugged it off as a non-possibility. There's no way, she'd tell herself. Given the mysterious nature of her family's finances coupled with her father's immediate need to change the subject, Meera had resigned herself to other options. When the decision was made, she felt an aura of euphoric instability... as if at any moment it could all change. For the last month she had braced herself for the impact of the rug being pulled from beneath her feet.


But, here she was. She glanced in the rear view mirror and caught her mother's face in the reflection. Meera's heart lurched as she saw the sadness in her mother's eyes. Gita's chin rested on her knuckles, her mind a million miles away from the Nissan Altima in which she sat. Don't, Meera thought. She didn't want to have to worry about her mother today. Today. This unforeseen day. The day her life would change forever.


Her first day away at college.


The Pit


"So dark!" Mahesh exclaimed upon walking into Meera's dorm room.


"Ugh, DAD!"


"It's like a basement! Just one small window!? For how much we are paying??!"


"Like I had a choice? Seriously, can we NOT? I really don't need the stress!"


Gita shot Mahesh a look. Seeing the worst in any situation was sort of Mahesh Gupta's specialty. His passion to always zero in on the empty air in a half-full glass was only matched by the deep love for his daughter. This was a hard day for him as well. Harder than she'd ever know. 


"Looks like Lauren has already been here," said Meera. There were 3 suitcases and some boxes neatly tucked in the corner of the room. The lower bunk had been made up with hunter green sheets and a plaid comforter. A stuffed cat rested on the pillow. 


Meera only knew her roommate from a letter she had received 3 weeks earlier. Lauren was from a small town in northern Michigan, a star basketball player who would bring a tv and computer for the room. Oh, and she was sheepish about sleeping on the top bunk, so it was decided that she could have the lower bunk during an awkward 10 minute phone conversation the two shared about a week earlier. That same conversation was when they decided that Meera would provide the dorm room staple mini-fridge. Mahesh wasn't happy about that. 


"What, Dad?! She's bringing a tv and computer! A computer she said she'd share with me for schoolwork!"


"Do you even know how much this fridge will cost? Did you even think about that? You don't know this girl, she may be taking advantage!"


"Dad, they are like $100, it's not a big deal." Meera's older brother chimed in with the hopes to squash yet another shouting match between his dad and sister. He was watching tennis, the US Open, and didn't look away from the television. Unlike Meera, Maneesh didn't go away to college, but instead commuted 40 minutes to a satellite campus of a big university. Meera never knew if that was his choice or because their parents couldn't afford to send him away. He never told her and she never asked. 


"Well, then I can pay for it," Meera said, "I have money saved up." 


Mahesh slowly closed his eyes and exhaled. Meera could see the tension in his jaw and knew this was the end of the conversation. He would later take her to Meijer to buy the mini-fridge, which was on sale according to the Sunday circular he perused earlier that day. As Meera took out her cash, he silently handed his American Express to the cashier and put his arm around her.



Olive Garden


As a child, there were countless sleepovers where Meera's father had to come rescue her after nightfall. The horror of her parents being far away in another house never failed to consume her as the sleeping bags were being set up. She had wondered if going away to college may awaken those dormant emotions, but after the last few hours of unpacking her room, meeting her RA and walking around campus, Meera couldn't start this new chapter fast enough. She loved her parents, of course, and figured she'd miss them at some point, but she had to admit a sense of relief when there was no panic setting in as their departure was approaching.


"I'm so scared I'll get lost on campus!" Meera said as she tore a parmesan breadstick in half.


"Oh, everyone is so friendly! If you lose your way, just ask anyone... they will totally help you!"


Nisha was Meera's best friend who had already spent a year in college... the same college. Something they dreamed about as pre-teens. If pressed, Meera would have no choice but to admit that she had chosen this particular college because Nisha was there. All the years of their friendship were spent a few towns apart in different school districts. Their bond was kept alive by short conversations every evening along with the occasional weekend sleepovers (Meera never needed her dad to get her from Nisha's house). Meera was gutted when Nisha had left the year prior for her freshman year. As a lowly high school senior, she was afraid their friendship wouldn't survive. It did.


"Bheta, just practice walking to your classes this week," said Mahesh, "That's why they give you this week. So you can familiarize yourself with the campus."


"I'll come with you!" Nisha squealed. She and Meera had barely touched their fettuccini alfredo. The butterflies in Meera's stomach had consumed any hint of an appetite. Mahesh, on the other hand, seemed to be drowning his emotions in mouthfuls of spaghetti bolognese.


"We should go soon, Mahesh, I don't want to drive back in the dark," Gita said.


Mahesh's face grew somber and he nodded. A twinge of sadness leapt in Meera's stomach. There it is, she thought. She needn't feel guilty about her numbness for leaving. She will miss her parents, but... only a little.


"You can just drop her off at my dorm," said Nisha, "We're hanging out tonight and you're staying over, right?"


"Yup!" Meera and Nisha exchanged knowing glances.



Good-Bye


"Good luck, bheta, wish you all the best," Gita said as Meera bent down and touched her mother's feet, a sign of respect she had done for years to older relatives when they visited from India. Today, it felt right to pay these same respects to her parents. 


"Thanks Mummy," she said, "Drive safe."


She turned to her dad and began to reach for his feet, but he stopped her by the arms and pulled her in for a tight embrace instead. With her face pressed against his cheek, she could hear him swallowing down his tears, a feeling all too familiar to Meera. Although, today her tears would remain at bay. 


"Bye, Meeru Bheta," Mahesh choked out, "Study hard, ok?"


"I will, Dad."


He turned and walked away quickly as if the pain of leaving his only daughter existed in the one foot radius around her. She waved and watched them drive away in a parade of other cars full of parents and siblings leaving their own precious person behind. 


Their car rounded the corner out of sight and Meera turned to Nisha. They hugged and jumped up and down. Let the festivities begin. 



Party Time


God, this is gross, thought Meera.


She had tasted beer before. At the age of 10, she snuck a sip from one of the ancient bottles of Lowenbrau that had seemingly taken permanent residence in the back of her parent's fridge. Both Gita and Mahesh never drank, but they kept the beer "for guests." Those poor guests would suffer the consequences of their hosts not understanding that beer has a shelf life. On the rare occasions where Meera found herself at a high school party, she preferred to be the keen observer of the cooler kids getting drunk while watching the clock to make sure she wasn't late for her 11:30 curfew.


Now, she had no curfew. Now, she had no scary parents waiting up for her. Now, she could be one of the cool kids getting drunk. Well, that is if she could only choke down this disgusting brown liquid that assaulted every bitter tastebud on her tongue. 


"Sooooo, you're Meera?" The guy running the keg looked at Meera with familiarity. In the dim of the back porch light, she could make out that he had thick, dark hair, smiling eyes, and a wry grin that gave way to deep dimples low on his cheeks.


"Uh yeah! I'm Meera!" Ugh, she said that way too excitedly. Jesus, play it cool, idiot!


"I lived on Nisha's brother floor last year... and this year, too. I'm Colin."


Oh my God, it's COLIN!! Nisha had told her about Colin last year during their weekly phone conversations. Colin was sort of a player, Meera had learned, but also super smart with a complicated family situation. He plays guitar in his dorm room, prefers reading to video games and according to the girls who've hooked up with him, a totally amazing kisser. Meera immediately got nervous.


"Ohhh... yeah, I think I remember Nisha mentioning you... Colin... from her brother floor." These were the words that she said, but her mind was still processing everything Nisha had told her. She was seeing them scroll on a screen like the Terminator data download as he searched for Sarah/John Connor.

  • Colin hooked up with Nisha's roommate, Jillian
  • Colin and Jillian tried to date, but it fizzled
  • Colin got his stomach pumped last year
  • Colin looks hot with his shirt off
  • Colin writes songs that he will sing after smoking pot
  • Colin's mom died when he was young and he hates his step-mom
  • Colin was on the Dean's List
  • IMPORTANT DATA - **Nisha has absolutely no interest in Colin**



"Nisha saved me last year, man... she's an awesome friend. I know she's so excited for you to be here. All of us on the 4th floor heard so much of 'MEERA THIS' and 'MEERA THAT!' You're a legend!"


He raised his red Solo cup that was overflowing with foam and quickly put his mouth on the rim to suck up the white sea of fermentation. She watched his mouth, his sharp jawline and those dimples... oh, those dimples that flashed quickly in rhythm with his lip movement as if to tease her.


"Ohh.. pshhhhh, "Meera forced a laugh, "Yeahh... I mean, we're pretty close, I guess. I mean... like, I'm excited to be here too... totally." She's flustered. Colin was almost famous in her eyes.


For the next hour of the party, Colin keeps finding Meera. A couple times in line for the bathroom and at others he'd just appear next to her on the couch. As she choked down beer after beer ("Trust me, you just have to develop of a taste for it," Nisha had said), her body felt more relaxed and the edges of her nerves dulled with an almost purring sound that made her feel warm inside. Buzzed. She was buzzed. For the first time in her life. The warmer she felt, the more she wanted it to last, so she kept making trips to the keg, finding more confidence and less social awkwardness with each trip.


"MEEEERAAAA!!" Nisha said as Meera made her way to the keg for the 4th time, "You guys!! Don't you LOVE my best friend?!!" Nisha turned to Meera,"Are you having fun?"


"Oh my god, this is the BEST!!!"


Meera and Nisha hugged and tumbled to the poorly maintained wooden deck, spilling beer everywhere and cackling with the delight.


"Whoa whoa!" Colin appeared again and took Meera's hand. He lifted her up and against his body. She looked up into his eyes and smiled.


"Youuuuu doing okay?" he asked.


"I'm soooo good... how are you, Colin Foster?" Meera's buzz had stripped away her usual self-consciousness. He didn't stop looking into her eyes and she matched the intensity of his stare. Colin placed his hand on the small of her back, pressing her hard against him. 


YES, FINALLY, she thought.

Choke


"First time being drunk, I presume?" he asked. Colin escorted Meera into the kitchen. The tile was sticky and the countertops resembled a 1970s vibe. 


"I PRESUUUUME! Who are you? Sherlock Holmes??" Meera laughed too hard at her own quip.


"Ohhhkay, I think that answers my question. Let's get you some water."


Colin handed Meera a bottle of water from the cooler. He twisted the cap open and put it to her lips. She looked into his eyes as the cold water met her lips.


"I'm okay, really," she said, trying to sound normal, "I mean, I'm definitely buzzed, but I don't think it's only from the beer. I'm just soooooo glad to be away from home!! Oh my god, you have NO idea!"


"Oh yeah?"


"I mean, I loooove my parents. Totally love my parents... but, like, I could never just go out. It was always such a big deal... going out with friends," Meera dipped into an impression of her parents, "Who are you going with? How do you know them? Who is driving? Where is this place? What time will you be back? Blah blah blah... it was exhausting!"


"I can imagine," Colin leaned against the counter next to Meera, their arms gently touching. He gestured to her to keep drinking the water and she obeyed. A couple was kissing in the entryway.


"I could never do THAT!" Meera said gesturing to the passionate pair. Colin laughed at Meera's incredulous expression. She stared at them and shook her head, "I mean, I wanted to... I can name at least 4 guys I wanted to do THAT with, but... it wasn't worth my parents finding out. I just figured, it will happen eventually." Meera shrugged.


"Have you... never kissed anyone?"


Suddenly Meera was very aware of what she was saying and, more importantly, who she was saying it to... this was Colin. COLIN!


"Oh.. yeah! I have... of course I have!" Meera wasn't making eye contact.


"It's not that big a deal if you haven't, you know."


YES IT IS, thought Meera. Of all her friends, Meera was the least experienced. She had once shared a sloppy kiss with a drunk soccer player at a school dance, but it was more a smashed mess of tongue and teeth than anything else. She refused to count that as her first kiss. Her virginal path was yet another thing that set her apart from the friends she grew up with... friends with whom she had seen in pre-school crying for their moms to high school talking about refilling their birth control prescriptions. Everyone around her seemed to have lived those romantic tropes that Meera relished from tv shows and movies.  Meanwhile she was forced to use her imagination to appease her prudish existence. No more. Tonight, she would put an end to that era. 


"Well, I mean... we can't all be COLIN FOSTER!"


"What does that mean?" Colin asked. Meera looked up afraid she had offended him, but the look in his eyes suggested more of a sly curiosity.  


"Nothing... nothing.. I'm sorry... I..."


"I guess Nisha's told you a few things, huh?"


Meera tightly smiled as Colin looked forward and slowly nodded. He took the water bottle from her hand for a long sip. It was weirdly intimate and she felt a heat building on the back of her neck. Meera's eyes were glued to the motion of his mouth on the perforated plastic. The gentle movement as the water flowed through his perfect lips that closed as he swallowed. His tongue made a quick appearance to lick up an errant drip. Her gaze moved down to his Adam's apple then traveled over the smoothness of his neck up to his earlobe. It looked so soft and kissable. GAH!! OMG!!! YOU CAN'T DO THIS!


"I better go find Nisha," Meera suddenly said and pushed herself off the counter. She swayed at the change in position and was annoyed by how she must look to Colin; naive and sloppy.  


"I think she's out front," Colin said. She half expected (wanted) him to stop her from leaving, but just as his reputation preceded him, Colin rarely did what was expected. He just smiled at her with each of his dimples piercing her racing heart.

BFF


"Meers! You okay? Are you wasted? Feel sick?" Nisha said when she saw Meera's pained expression on the front porch. 


"No no, I'm fine. Just had some water."


"Good! Yes! Make sure you drink a lot of water!" 


"Yeah, Colin got it for me," Meera said looking at Nisha. Since the age of 10, their telepathy was one of the best things about finding each other.


"Dude, go for it! I can tell Colin totally likes you!"


"You think?? I totally froze in the kitchen with him... ugh, but I wanted to kiss him SO bad!!"


"You will NOT be disappointed, trust me!" Nisha said shaking Meera's arm.


"Wait... you... did you two?"


"Ohhh no no no! I've heard! Jillian practically failed her Sociology quiz the morning after she and Colin hooked up! Said she couldn't stop thinking about kissing him!"


Meera took a deep breath and was more determined than ever. This non-kissing life had gone on long enough! There was just one thing...


"You're sure he'd want to... with me, I mean?"


"POS-I-TIVE! Now GO! HAVE FUN!" 


Nisha laughed and said the rest with her expression. Her bright brown eyes were a window into all those years of endless chats about being in college together, experiencing this next phase together... not only in proximity, but an adjacency of support, guidance and love. Meera needed Nisha at that exact moment and Nisha was exactly there.



The First Make-Out


Meera charged back into the kitchen. Her mind was clear and her steps solid and steady. Colin wasn't standing where she had left him. Shit, I blew it. He must have left. She continued through the back of the house where a few people were sitting on the couch passing around a joint. Nisha's suite mate, Audrey, smiled at her and asked if she was okay. Meera nodded and kept walking. The stairwell to the bungalow loft was backed up with people in line for the bathroom. She peered around laughing faces and impatient sighs to catch a glimpse of Colin, but he wasn't there either. Meera exhaled and walked back toward the porch to tell Nisha she had missed her chance when a warm hand caught her wrist. She turned around and looked into Colin's smiling eyes. He said something smooth and adorable then clasped his fingers between hers and led her outside. The August air was warm and damp which matched how her body felt at that moment... a lifetime of anticipation was finally going to be answered. She was the girl in the movie living the magical scene where the lighting is perfect and the music tugs at your heartstrings. Meera had felt those scenes in her bones so many times, yearning to jump through the screen so it would be her feeling everything. 


Colin walked her to the side of the house where no one was around. The soundtrack of house parties up and down the street was in the air, but all Meera could hear was her heartbeat thick in her ears. She leaned against the brick and relaxed her shoulders. The adrenaline surprisingly gave way to calm as she looked up at Colin. He ran his fingers through his wavy hair and tilted his head. Was he nervous? Meera grasped his waist and pulled him against her and lifted her face to his. He said something funny, they both laughed and before she knew it, he was kissing her... soft, but with an urgency behind it... as if waiting for permission. Meera was in no mood for slow and steady wins the race. She'd lost this race a long time ago and only wanted to make up for lost time. She was hungry. Ready. Set. GO.


Over the next 20 minutes, Meera and Colin were entangled against the house, lips and tongues dancing together, hands all over each other, nails digging into backs, necks bathed in hot breath and kisses. Much to her relief, Meera felt like a natural and it was clear Colin was enjoying himself just as much as she was. He pulled back and asked if she was okay to which she just pulled him back to her mouth as an answer. He let out a gentle moan as her lips moved to his earlobe. It was just as soft as she had imagined. 


In the distance she heard her name... Nisha was calling her. Colin pulled back and they stared at each other... lips parted and breathless. 


"I better go," Meera said, "I really don't want to, but..."


"No, I get it," Colin reassured her, "You heading back to Borden?"


"Yeah, I'm staying with Nisha tonight," she said. Nisha called out her name again. "YEAH! I'll be right there!!" Meera responded, desperately not wanting to go.


"I'll walk back with you guys... if you don't mind?" Colin was still pressed up against her and Meera loved the weight of him. Mind?! Yeah, like I could mind! she thought.


"Oh, I don't want to make you leave if you don't want to," she was trying not to sound needy.


"Eh, I'm kind of done with partying tonight anyway... let's go."


Colin turned to walk to the front of the house and Meera realized this could be the last moment they would be alone together for the rest of the night.


"Wait!" she called and pulled him back to her. They kissed for another minute or two when Nisha called out for a 3rd time not at all hiding her impatience. She wanted breadsticks, "NOW!" 


"Okay okay... sorry, we better go," Meera said gently pushing Colin away. "COMING NEESH!"


"Yeah," he said, "You know, my roommate doesn't get here until Wednesday, so... I have the room to myself."


"Oh, um..." Meera's eyes darted down and around, "I don't know... I mean--"


"Oh man, sorry, that was stupid... I was just saying. No pressure or anything... ugh, I'm such an asshole," Colin's mild panic flattered Meera. After all, he was Colin Foster and could get any girl he wanted. 


"No! You're not an asshole! It's just Nisha and I agreed to spend this first night together... it's kind of, I don't know how to explain it..."


"You don't have to explain. I just... well, I was having a lot of fun," Colin held Meera's cheek in his hand and melted her insides with a dimpled grin. 


"Me too," Meera said shyly.


"OKAY SERIOUSLY MEERS!! GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE NOW OR YOU CAN FIND YOUR OWN WAY BACK! BREADSTIIIIICKS!!!!"



Buzzkill


The rest of the night paled in comparison to those lustful minutes she had spent with Colin. A large group of 4th floor Borden residents all walked together to get Nisha's breadsticks then slowly back to the dorm. Everyone kept getting distracted seeing other friends and acquaintances who Meera didn't know. She started to get bored and just wanted to go to bed. The buzz was totally gone and the aftereffect of all the beer and excitement exhausted her. Colin would catch her eye every now and then to deliver a sexy smile, but he would get sidetracked by some dude asking about weed or some other dude telling him about a band he should see. She so wanted to be back against that brick wall with him again, but the moment had clearly passed and sleep was a far more attractive scenario. 


They finally arrived in Nisha's room around 2am and Meera's feet felt like aching stumps. Partying in college involves a lot of walking, apparently. 


"Oh shit, I forgot to set up Jillian's bed for you!" Nisha stood in the lamp light dejected.


"Honestly, just give me a blanket and a mattress and I'll be fine."


"I hear you. OH! So tell me about Colin!!" To Meera's amazement, Nisha seemed to have a lot of energy left. 


"Oh, um.. yeah, it was fun. We hooked up a little... he definitely knows what he's doing," Meera said tiredly as she clumsily pushed her shoes off one heel at a time. She saw a blanket on the couch and pulled it to the bottom bunk and laid down. Her feet throbbed so hard she didn't even care about her face touching the bare mattress. 


"YAYYYY!! I'm so happy for you!" Nisha was changing into pajamas and Meera felt jealous that she didn't have the energy to change out of her jeans and t-shirt.


"He.. he actually invited me to go to his room tonight," Meera looked at Nisha and smiled with her eyes widening. 


"Whoa! Seriously?"


Meera nodded and buried her face under the blanket. In the darkness she was immediately transported back to Colin's body pressed against hers, his hands in her hair and his lips everywhere... oh yeah. 


"You didn't want to?" Nisha asked. 


"I mean, I did... kind of, but we agreed to spend tonight together, so..."


"Oh, Meers! If you want to, it's totally fine! He's just the next hallway over... room 412, and I'm sure he's still up... he can never sleep anyway." 


Meera lowered the blanket off her face and stared at the criss-crossed frame of the upper bunk. Tonight had been amazing and while the thought of being alone with Colin without the chance of interruption excited her, she knew it would be an unnecessary epilogue to an already perfect story. 


"Nah, I'd rather be here! Neesh, can you believe it? We are here... at college... together!"


"I know!! This is just the beginning of so much fun!!"


Nisha turned off the lights and climbed up to her bed. The girls talked in the dark until each of them fell asleep... same as when they were 12 years old. 



The Morning After


Oh, holy shit. Meera stared at her reflection with horror. 


Nisha was still fast asleep, but the sun woke Meera at 6:15 as did her full bladder. After what seemed like a 4 minute pee, Meera glanced at herself in the mirror. At first she thought there was a weird shadow or smudge on the glass. But as her eyes adjusted from her slumber to the fluorescent light of the bathroom, there was no mistaking what she saw. A fucking hickey. It was right above her left collarbone, clear as day and dark as night. She pressed her finger against the jagged purple mark as if she could somehow wipe it away like magic marker. Meera frantically tried to pull her hair over it, but unless she glued it against her neck, it was hopeless.


She wanted to wake Nisha in her panicked state, perhaps there was some college secret to hickey removal? Her v-neck shirt was of no help and besides, only a turtleneck would cover the damn hickey and it was going to be at least 90 degrees for the next few days. She decided to leave Nisha be and crawl back into her pathetic sleeping arrangements. 


This is what I get! I shouldn't have made out with a boy last night. This is my goddamn karma!


When Nisha finally woke up 2 hours later, Meera had showered, read all the campus literature that was distributed to every dorm room and done 12 crossword puzzles out of a random book left in a desk drawer. She was sitting on the bench seat next to the window staring at the campus. 


"Hey... morning," Nisha said mid-stretch, "How long have you been up?"


"Couple hours... couldn't sleep," Meera said.


"Oh... you okay?"


"Umm... well, not really."


Nisha looked at her quizzically. Meera exhaled and walked to Nisha's bunk. She stood there for a few seconds staring at Nisha with an expectant look on her face. 


"Well? Notice anything?"


Nisha looked at Meera confused. She studied her face and was about to say something when her eyes traveled 5 inches south. Nisha slapped her hand over her mouth as both an expression of shock and to stifle a very loud laugh.


"OHHHH MY GOD!!" 


"I know!! I'm so embarrassed!"


"It's... it's not that bad!" Nisha was still laughing, but Meera had yet to find any humor in the situation. 


"Serves me right! I bet my parents sent down little angels to curse me while I was making out with Colin!"


"Do Hindus have angels?" Nisha asked.


Meera glared at her and couldn't help but twist her lips into a smile. Sure, this was embarrassing, but Meera had to admit, after 18 years of living a boring life in the corral of her parent's rules, a hickey from a glorious make-out session with a hot guy was pretty damn thrilling. She full out laughed then, bending over and shaking her head. Nisha joined her and sat up, giggling her perfect giggle that hadn't changed since they first met at an Indian weekend party over 8 years ago. 


"Come on, let's go to the caf and get some breakfast," Nisha said hopping down from her bunk. 


"You know, I think I'm just going to walk back to my dorm. I still haven't even met Lauren!"


"Oh right! You sure you know how to get back?"


"I'll figure it out," Meera said, "Thanks for taking me out last night... I had so much fun!"


"Like I said, this is just the beginning!" Nisha hugged Meera and made loud sucking noises.



Nice To Meet You, I'm Not A Slut


Meera wasn't quite lost, but she also couldn't say she was 100% sure where she was on the sprawling campus. She knew if she kept walking toward the tall clock tower, she'd eventually get to her dorm. At any rate, the leisurely pace was preferred as she digested her first night away. Unlike her father, Meera liked to focus on the positive. After all, 99.99% of her body was NOT marred by a temporary collection of bursted blood vessels. The hickey would fade away, taking with it the evidence of her experience with Colin. Well, physical evidence anyway. Meera knew she would never forget her first make-out... at a college party... with a hot, considerate guy who did everything right. In fact, she considered herself lucky. There were cautionary tales floating around the Indian community about kids going away and getting raped or alcohol poisoning soon after leaving. Meera always brushed those off as standard Gita Gupta exaggerations, but they seeped into her brain nonetheless. Even though she'd rather die than have her parents know what she did last night, she knew that things didn't get too out of control because of them. 


Meera held her breath as she approached her dorm room. The door was slightly open and she could hear the television. It was a rerun of Friends where the gang is at the beach and Monica gets stung by a jellyfish. Lauren had seen the cheerful note from Meera telling her she was staying with Nisha last night. But was that rude? Should Meera have spent the night getting to know Lauren? She was second guessing everything and wanted to turn around. 


Don't be ridiculous, Meera told herself, just go in there and introduce yourself.


"Hi Lauren!" Meera peeked in with a broad smile.


"Oh hi! Meera!" Lauren was in the middle of hanging up some of her clothes. "Sorry, I sort of claimed this closet, but if you want it, I can take the other one!"


"It's fine! Take it!"


They both stared at each other for a bit, smiling and nodding. Lauren thanked her for letting her take the bottom bunk and Meera thanked her for bringing the tv and computer. 


"Oh, my brother is coming up today with the fridge. Sorry, we couldn't fit it into the car with everything yesterday."


"Cool!"


Meera's expression changed at the thought of Maneesh seeing her hickey. He wouldn't tell their parents or anything, but the thought of her big brother knowing she had a guys lips on her neck was beyond mortifying. Lauren noticed the pained look on her face.


"Everything ok?"


"Um," Meera sighed, "Okay... I'm super embarrassed and feel like a complete idiot, but... can you help me cover this hickey??"


Lauren leaned in and assessed the situation. She smirked, looked up at Meera and gave her a tight hug. Shocked, Meera stood perfectly stiff. 


"Don't worry, some concealer and red lipstick will do the trick!"


"Oh my god, really?!"


"Totally. My middle school boyfriend used to give me hickeys all the time... as a joke. He was such an asshole, so I got pretty good at covering them up! Yours is tiny compared to what I had to deal with! It'll be easy!"


Meera watched Lauren rifle through her cosmetic bag. This girl was basically a stranger, yet here she was, in crisis mode to help her keep a pristine version of herself for her big brother. Meera suddenly felt the need to explain herself.


"Look... I had no idea it was happening and well, yeah, I had just kind of met him, actually... I knew him through my best friend, so he wasn't a total stranger and... okay, so my parents were strict growing up...I've never really dated...  I felt like the last girl on earth who hadn't... you know, I, um..."


Lauren was looking at her, amused and trying not to laugh. She held her hickey concealing tools in one hand and held up her other hand to stop Meera's babbling.


"Hey... no judgement, trust me."


"Sorry," Meera buried her hands in her face, "I just... I just didn't want you to think I was a slut or something."


"Neither was I back in middle school! Hickeys don't make you a slut, Meera."


"Yeah... yeah, you're right, they don't!" Meera avowed. 


Lauren sat Meera down on the desk chair and faced her toward their sorry little sliver of a window. She went to work smearing, dabbing and blending. From the confidence of her application, she certainly had done this many times before. 


"I really appreciate this, Lauren. Not really the first impression I wanted to make with you,"Meera laughed.


"Oh please. I just wanted a normal roommate and well, making out with a guy and getting a hickey is just about as normal it gets!"


Finally, thought Meera, I'm finally normal. 


--------------------


Here's to all the college freshman starting their adventures away from home. May you all find a Lauren to cover those hickeys.