The Story I Never Tell Part 8
I arrived at UVA a little catastrophe of a thing, all solid on the outside but pulled in a million directions and without a clue. I am fairly certain no one could tell to look at me. I was just the same as anyone else on the outside, but on the inside I was completely unmoored. When I look back on this period though, I realize that everyone goes to college with their own issues. Mine were not necessarily worse than anyone else’s, but they were mine. I didn’t even know I had issues.
My roommate came from home, she went to my high school and she was nice and smart, but in retrospect, I wish I had gone in for the lottery. You know why? Because when you go off to college, you get to remake yourself. You get to be something entirely new if you want. You can become your ideal version of yourself.
Aside: We had a neighbor in Charlottesville named Dan. He told me that when he went off to college, he went far from home where no one knew him. He had always been really shy and quiet but he didn’t want to be that way anymore. He wanted to be comfortable talking to strangers and he wanted to have a bigger social life, so he went off to college and just pretended to be the way he wanted to be. No one knew him, so he just adopted the personality he always wanted. And he said that over time, it just became him. He literally made himself into what he wanted to be overnight. I thought that was genius.
Granted, I went to UVA, so I knew a lot of people there. But still, you go off to college and everyone is learning to be new and free. I talked to a friend of mine the other day who checked in because he read my blog and he wanted to share with me that in high school he always thought I was perfect. Can you imagine? I was over there thinking I was a disaster and he thought I was perfect. I thought he had it all going on and he told me he was afraid. A couple of years ago I caught up with another friend from high school whom I thought was perfect and had it all going on. She told me the truth about all she suffered back then which was jaw dropping. She looked absolutely perfect on the outside. We can never compare our insides to other people’s outsides.
So I arrive at college and I have this old man boyfriend who is emotionally abusive living back home in DC. He is not happy at all with my decision go away to school rather than to a college in the city, which would have been 10 times more expensive. He says, “I will pay for it.” As though I could tell my parents, “Oh don’t worry about it, Rolando (which is not his name, who is 11 years older than I am, and who you don’t even know about, who I am dating when you won’t even let me go to the mall with my friends) will pay for it.”
When I think back harshly on teenage Sujatha, I have to give her credit for a few things: 1. Rolando wanted to marry her as soon as she turned 18, which was the October of freshman year, and she bobbed and weaved out of that like a pro, because though she was resigned that this was going to have to happen, her marrying this man, her sense of self preservation kept her from going through with it, and 2. She never converted to Judaism which was his plan all along, and in fact in a silent act of rebellion, she refused to read the books on Judaism he gave her. She read the beginnings of chapters and some highlighted portions in case of quizzes, but she never read those books. And to her great credit, the overbearing introduction to Judaism via this particular Jew and his family did not in any way, for even one moment of her life, have any influence over her thoughts on Jews or Judaism. I am so proud of teenage Sujatha for being so clear on the difference between one person and a whole people, and 3. Something inside teenage Sujatha knew better than to believe the bullshit. He told her she was ugly, which she also thought, but it didn’t make her hate herself, she just shrugged and figured she’d focus on other things. He told her that Indians were a backward people. And I interject here as adult Sujatha to say, I remember one of those conversations. One of his best friends who was a doctor had just gotten back from a backpacking trip through India and the two of them were going on about how gross India and Indians were and how it was shocking the way these people lived and how utterly uncivilized Indians were, and though I was too young to understand that I could simply stand up, tell them they are wrong and rude, and remove myself from the space and the relationship, I remember that was a turning point in my mind. That was the point at which I began to gather my wits and plan my escape. Those of you who have never been in an abusive relationship won’t realize that it takes planning, but it does. You have to get to the point where your mind starts to work again.
There are more things but this post is long enough. But I’ll close with a line my friend shared the other day when we talked. He said, “I would kill it in high school and college now.” Oh, my dear friend, I too would kill it if I got to do it all over again.
Footnote: This photograph is not from freshman year. That’s from sophomore year, and I have no recollection of who took it. It’s a picture of me, Kelly and Jen from the room across from in our freshman dorm room and I think that’s Sindu, my lifelong friend who went to VaTech, but must’ve been visiting, I recognize the back of her head. And we are talking about the pictures from my summer trip to India. Kelly and I were roommates sophomore year until she went to England to study abroad. I don’t seem to have a single picture from my freshman year. Which should tell you something, I guess. Why I have a sticker on my forehead I couldn’t tell you. And look. I wasn’t ugly at all. I was pretty. What the hell was wrong with me?