For the first months of college life, my social life consisted almost entirely of: A. people that I already knew from Pensacola and B. their roommates. When I branched out it was only to people physically in the same room as my friends from home. Now there’s nothing wrong with my old friends and acquaintances from Pensacola, but I was extremely discouraged by the fact that new people weren’t gravitating to me with a yearning for lifelong friendship. Sure I met people from time to time, but I couldn’t picture any of them warranting lasting relationships, and the movies told me that those were the type of bonds that you make in college.
My weekend nights consisted of me scrolling down my phone contacts, calling the same handful of people each week, hoping that they were doing something interesting. A lot of these folks were people that I didn’t hang out with when we were in Pensacola. When I spent time with them I realized why. Other than our hometown, I had nothing in common with the population of my weekend adventures. I was just settling for them because I didn’t have the balls to talk to strangers and meet new people. After a while, I made fewer and fewer calls on Friday nights, fewer and fewer efforts to leave my dorm room.
Many of my first semester friendship needs were met online with people I thought I left behind. I found myself in a unique position to comfort my old swim teammate, Kevin, who found himself frequently bummed out by all of the pictures on Facebook of his friends who left town for college. Kevin stayed behind to get his AA at community college and then to finish his degree at University of West Florida. I truthfully told him that college isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and he was always cheered up by my gloom.
I just felt mislead. I thought college was supposed to be a place where everyone is open minded and looking to make new friends. If those people were on my campus, I certainly never saw them. In a sea of 50,000+ undergraduates, I was just a lonely plankton.
Exacerbating my woes, I had blown the majority of the $1,500 that I had stored away for booze and fond memories in Orlando. I spent it on junk food, eating out whenever I felt like it despite the fact that I had an unlimited meal plan with unabridged access to the cafeteria any time it was open. Even without copious opportunities for binge drinking, I piled on the pounds until I got winded tying my shoes and living on the second floor became a real nuisance.
College was supposed to be a fresh start, an opportunity to find myself and get a better understanding of who I really am, but it was just another overhyped disappointment, full of the same people from high school. I needed a change. I needed a fresh start from my fresh start.
My memory went back to an awards ceremony where George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola glad handed each other in their tuxedos. They were all bros from their days at the University of Southern California. I had passingly glimpsed at the college back in high school, but my stomach churned when I researched the cost of out of state tuition, and I had a Bright Futures full ride scholarship with stipends for books if I stayed in Florida, so I pushed USC out of my head at the time. As I stared at the website for their film school, I found myself strongly reconsidering.
My heartbeat quickened as I read the list of their alumni. Above it was a note, saying something along the lines of, “A USC grad has been nominated for an Oscar every year since the invention of the Academy awards and the dawn of time.” It would be the perfect place to meet new people and network. In southern California, I could have a job lined up for me as soon as they slapped that diploma in my hand. I had to go. It was just what I needed!
The price tag still towered over my head. I didn’t want to count on help from parents, but my brothers went to expensive schools and I always assumed that my parents helped them so I figured they could chip in some too.
The escape plan was a ray of light for me, but it still wasn’t enough to chase away the creeping homesickness. It had only been two months since I hastily left home to start my college adventure and I already found myself wanting a vacation from it.
I drove back to Pensacola for a three-day weekend in October. While I was in town, I hung out with younger friends and other people that I thought I left behind. It was comforting to see them, but painful to admit my difficulties with adjusting to my new surroundings.
Over lunch with my dad, I told him about my USC plan. He thought the school sounded great, but my parents didn’t have money to make it happen for me. He wasn’t harsh or overly assertive, but I have enough trouble asking for help as it is and I wasn’t about to whine or beg for it. A dark cloud passed over my sunny southern California future.
On the way back to Orlando, I scoured my brain, hoping to find a way to get to California. I was a hard worker, gritty and determined. I knew that from swimming. When I set my mind to something, I knew I could physically make it happen. Hard work and instances of drive and motivation conquering impossible obstacles are all part of the romantic story of trying to make it in the film industry.
I recalled several instances of people telling me about how much money bartenders can make each night. It was the missing link! I researched bartending schools and found a decent looking one with positive reviews on job placement and a $500 price tag for the two-week program. I was already planning on delivering pizzas over winter break. I could save the money and be enrolled by January. It was all coming together!
Despite my relief at having a plan, I still sank back into depression and isolation, where I remained for the remainder of my first semester of college. I would surface for air whenever a good social opportunity would present itself, but I just stopped trying to seek out reasons to leave my room on the weekends.
Friday nights became pizza night for me. I would order a large pizza and chicken poppers from Papa Johns and find a movie to stream online while I ate all of the food in one sitting with a giant mug of soda. Other than that, I would hone my skills on Madden. I took the Indianapolis Colts to 16-0 before tearing through the playoffs and in my darkest moment, setting the quarter lengths to a full 15 minutes and winning the Super Bowl 600-something to 100-something in a marathon of Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne touchdown passes.
Everyday I vowed to try harder and to turn things around tomorrow. Tomorrow didn’t come until the next semester, when I started to take a New Year’s Resolution to be a better person seriously.
I stored away $500 of pizza money that December with every intention of enrolling in bar tending school the second I stepped foot back in Orlando, but that never happened.
Instead, I blew all of that money on beer, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.