Want to hear something spooky? In less than a few days, it will have been 2 years since I graduated from college. 2 years!
ZOMG GUYZZZ I AM SOOOOOO OLD.
Just kidding. BUT AM I.
Graduating from college was a fairly underwhelming experience as I’ve noted every major graduation ceremony in my life has seemed to be. There’s a lot of waiting to get your piece of paper and handshake and then it’s all over and everyone clears out faster than lightning and has a meal together and goes home. Everything builds and builds and builds for at least a few hours and it all dies away too fast ending with everyone rolling back into the same routine as always. That never fails to stun me. You always think that post-grad your life will evolve into some sort of movie: scene one at the graduation reception with friends and family, scene two at a huge loft apartment signing a lease, scene three waltzing into your first day at work. Not so much. More like all the scenes take place at home and will continue to for a moment there because all these grown-up things after college take more time than you’d think. And there’s never a montage with ’80s music either.
I didn’t have a single blood relative present at my college graduation. This is not unusual behavior from my family. We don’t celebrate graduation ceremonies like the rest of North America does, all dolled up with a bouquet of balloons and presents and like 45 extended family members including grandparents and godparents and long lost cousins in attendance. In our family, graduation isn’t this crazy huge milestone you need to achieve in your life. It’s implied that you’ll obviously graduate from middle/high school but college is an entirely different matter. College for me has always been one of those “do it if you want to or not” matters. Being a part of a rather long military based family tree has the vast majority of my relatives rooting for all of us to do the army/navy route and when someone doesn’t (i.e. me) the ball is in my court to prove that my decision holds worth after graduation.
For my 8th grade ceremony, my parents went home immediately after with my brothers and didn’t stay for the reception which embarrassed the hell out of me because literally everyone in my grade did. I wound up walking home alone that night and crying. I do remember what I was wearing though- a very mature for my age LBD that I had bought myself with money from my first job.
In high school, my dad outright refused to attend the ceremony which in retrospect was kind of smart. It was a Catholic high school and the damn thing lasted for 3 and a half hours. My mom and brother went though. But they almost didn’t take me to my grad night lock-in after because of the ceremony going on and on into forever. I went to the lock-in, got a very cute caricature of myself as a superhero, won a mini fridge by basically laying on it in the prize room, wanted to tell a cute guy from my trig class that I liked him BUUUUUUT I shook his hand farewell instead because being cordial always wins out with me over expressing stronger emotions, went home at 5 AM with my mom, threw up on the way there because I hadn’t eaten anything all night but a stale cupcake, and went to work two hours later.
I’m still more or less the same person I was then six years later.
College! Nobody in my family went to that ceremony either. My old dorm roommate and her boyfriend (now fiance and also my intern coincidentally) went with me and took me out to lunch after which was so nice of them both that I wanted to cry. It made me feel special. Graduation is many things but above all, it’s a celebration. And for the first time, I got to experience the flip side of the coin that most graduates are accustomed to- toasting and cheering your scholarly accomplishments and the fact that for the most part, they’re over and it’s time for the real world to begin.
Since it’s that time of year again and both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are handing out life lessons you won’t hear at commencement followed by a couple more you definitely won’t hear, I thought I’d add my two cents into the mix. But I’m not going to tell you what other people won’t tell you because you’ve probably already heard it all and thought “ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE OVERLY SAPPY OPTIMISM/PSEUDO WISDOM FROM A TWENTYSOMETHING/DOWNRIGHT DEBBIE DOWNERISMS.”
Those are the three categories most of this advice typically falls under:
a) the “you can do it eventually!” stats based gold star smiley faces advice.
b) some twentysomething writing in Thought Catalog about their two years “on life’s journey” that their parents co-signed for.
c) a big mess of anger masking itself for an educational article that was probably due to the writer having a lousy college experience and not drinking as much as they should have.
These are just 10 things I did post graduation and learned from.
1) I ate cheaply and budgeted all of my grocery things. There were a lot of Ramen noodles, waffles, and quesadillas happening in my world. Over the summer upon graduating I did have ONE weekend where I went crazy with the grocery store budget- for a BBQ that my friends were coming over for- and I bought like $70 worth of food. Even got the brand name BBQ sauce. CRAY. But otherwise it was hello, coupons and sales.
2) I lived with another set of roommates. For the most part, post college this is a smart thing to do if you want to live with people who aren’t your parents and save money at the same time while living in (hopefully) sweet quarters on your own. My first apartment is still my current apartment for the sheer reason that it is 100 times nicer than anything I expected to be living in. Hasn’t even been two years in the joint yet and I still absolutely adore it.
3) I took on a job that I hated to pay my way through life for nine months. Sometimes the first job out of college blows and you do it for survival purposes. If you’re in that situation, suck it up and deal and keep looking for something better. It’s really all you can do, outside of unemployment.
4) I didn’t give up on the things I liked. I still wrote quite a bit in an old blog of mine. It was one of the biggest releases I had after a long day of awful. The nice thing about blogging is that it just is. You can dump all of your words and issues out into a space and bitch and moan. Not everything you say is going to fall out of you painstakingly tidily and with eloquence in every single sentence and nor should you make it either. Just be and express yourself as yourself. Same goes for artwork, music, and most every other creative outlet you can think of.
5) I spent a lot of time reading in bookstores. This was awesome because I was finally able to catch up on books I didn’t have the time for during college.
6. I blew through my savings. Inevitable when you aren’t employed for two months and then get hired on a very crappy minimum wage. To almost run out of money is a terrifying thing when you don’t have a lot to begin with, but steady yourself and face that fear head-on. Money is replaceable. Money is liquid. I often thought of Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) from the Watchmen graphic novel and how he purposefully gave away all of his money he inherited to build himself from the ground up financially from absolutely nothing. Aside from the whole not having an inheritance thing, I found the image to be one that was comforting. Don’t worry though, I don’t plan on attacking the world with a giant squid or anything.
7. I stayed optimistic and kept job searching on a daily basis. It is and was a terribly, terribly hard thing to do, particularly when the news increasingly got more and more realistic day in and day out. I can’t tell anyone how to be hopeful that things will get better. I can’t create hope in anyone. It takes you to make it in yourself, corny as that may sound. However you find a glimmer of hope, in whatever capacity, take it and hang onto it and don’t let that sucker go for nothing. Find a way to make it grow and burn brighter with each day.
8. I kept up with my networking contacts. Ironically enough, I was almost hired by a company that the company I currently work for is partners with. To date, one of my best contacts has been my university. It has an excellent reputation out here and everyone knows at least one or more people who work there.
9. Sometimes I’d dream myself to a better place at night. This was especially true when I had that terrible job. It was as though my head was like, “Alright your waking life is blowing the big one right now, let’s put you someplace nicer in your nightdreams.” And it usually was. I’d have dreams about sunlight and riding bikes and fields of flowers and laughter and spending time with people I used to know and didn’t know and in places that I had never been to before. I say sometimes here because you can’t determine how your dreams will go, but for the most part mine were quite pleasant.
10. I still hung out with friends. During my two months of unemployment, my awesome former internship boss let me return to the office to work so I wouldn’t look like I had this gaping hole in my resume. I explored my new neighborhood. I learned how to cook. I put together my own set of furniture with nails and hammers and lots of swear words. I bought my first bed. I even went to Vegas that first year. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example of scrimping and pinching but all saving and no spending makes Heather a very dull person indeed. I also still found ways to laugh or make a joke which to this day I still find incredibly important to getting through the tough times. The remarkable aspect was that I found a way to make jokes or find something that made me smile multiple times a day. Times may be a’changing and hard for dreamers but you have to gather yourself up and keep on living (L-I-V-I-N).
… I think that may be the most pop culture references I ever stuffed into one sentence.
When it comes to college stories, mine is fairly unique. I picked my college based off of a postcard. That was all it took. I grew up in the Midwest and after 20 years of living in the same place doing about the same things with the same people, I wanted to get out as soon as possible. For a long time my college plans revolved around the East Coast and heading there under the guise of school but really just to fulfill my 18-year-old self’s ambition of being like Carrie Bradshaw.
One extremely frigid winter afternoon I came home from another day of high school, exhausted and cold. That former East Coast dream of mine died that day when I fell on my ass on the icy sidewalk coming up the steps to my own house. I needed warmth, I needed sunshine, and I needed it asap. This was the moment where I knew I was heading to the West Coast. And wouldn’t you know it but a packet of postcards had arrived in the mail from various schools. I flipped through the group and found the first one in California and that was it. That was how I found my dream school.
Now let it be known: this is NOT how you traditionally pick the college you want to attend. This is the equivalent of spinning a globe and the first place your finger lands on will be your supposed country of choice to live in for the rest of your life. The gamble was stupidly high. Over 4,000 colleges in the United States and I found mine by playing eeny meeny miny moe with the system. I didn’t know if I would get into the school and I had never been to California or the campus before and wouldn’t actually go to either until the day before my first day of orientation. But I just knew that this school was meant for me. I’ll never be able to know just how I knew either. The way I felt about that school was on par with how I imagine people feel when they meet the loves of their lives: it’s a gut feeling that’s new and exciting and wakes you up and also one that seemingly opens your eyes wider and fills you with a sense of serenity. It was the first not-sure sure thing in my carefully scheduled life. You have to know just how delicious a risk like that is.
So I applied and got accepted and everything was happy.
And then I didn’t get to go right away because I was too young to sign my own loans so I waited a year and a half, did my general education credits at a local community college, and reapplied again, got in the SECOND time around, and actually went and then graduated and everything was happy.
There’s a portion of that second time around story that rarely gets told that I’m about to tell. I’ve told the “theatrical version” of this story quite a few times. The clean version. The “I won’t get in trouble for this one later on in life!” version. It’s even been published on the school’s website because the sheer notion of finding a college to attend and making a snap decision based off of a postcard is pretty rare. But the full story, the uncut part that gets left out is too much. You may not believe it even happened, but I assure you it did. I am a target for all of life’s weirdness. Being the bullseye for bizarre instances doesn’t allow you much room for embellishments. You say what happened and that’s that.
This is the story of how I drunk dialed my own university financial adviser.
It was the summer of 2008 which if you recall were the summer Olympics. I spent all summer cramming in three final college classes to transfer over to my dream California college in addition to working fulltime at Subway. I had gotten all of my vaccination shots, went to the dentist, paid for my admittance fee, filed for my student loan, put in my two weeks at work, and bought my plane ticket. And when you buy the plane ticket, that’s when you know shit got real. Nobody backs out on a scheduled flight unless they miss it by arriving late.
This summer was also important because it would mark the first summer I would begin drinking on a regular basis. As of right now, my drinking habits have scaled it back. Big time. If you haven’t noticed it yet, I can tell you I work round the clock. All day, errday. I also don’t like to wake up in the morning hungover and sick because literally the first thought that enters my mind when that happens is “oh god, I wish it was yesterday morning and I didn’t feel like a tow truck rammed itself into my skull.” The older you get the more it sucks. Hard. The summer 2008 version of me was still in her drinking training wheels which was at the time, awesome. Little did I know that these training wheels would be taken off at the speed of light once I hit college. College is a cesspool of cheap booze at all hours of the day with all the people you know and don’t know and I would rack up an impressive black book collection of stories about my drinking habits by the time I hit graduation. I know. It’s surprising to a lot people. To quote the comedian John Mulaney, “I don’t look like someone who used to do anything. I look like I was just sitting in a room in a chair eating Saltines for like 28 years.” But then I recount my most infamous drinking story about how I woke up in a wheelchair in a hotel I had never been to in my life and that changes fast.
Cut to 2008 again. It was a humid Friday night and my Subway coworker Rachel was excited about me going to California and wanted to invite all of our coworkers to go to a bar to celebrate after we got off that night. Now going out to a bar as opposed to drinking at someone’s apartment was tough because at the time I was not 21. And neither was she. But we knew the guy who worked at the bar we wanted to go to and would not have any trouble getting in and getting drunk which was key. So I agreed to go with her and she’d come and pick me up about an hour after we got off so we had time to scrub out the Subway stench and get ready.
I got home to my parents both looking ashen-faced which immediately prompted me to ask what was wrong. They told me a bill had arrived from my college and judging from how they looked, they had both cut open the envelope to see how much it was. Now, my student loan was supposed to have kicked in by now because I had signed it about a month ago. Sallie Mae should have been on top of it. I went to my room, opened the envelope, and stared at the number in front of me.
Sallie Mae had not taken care of it.
Two thoughts jumped into my head all at once and I immediately began to backpedal into crisis mode. Plan A and Plan B. The first was that I could deplete my savings and credit card the rest of it if need be to make this payment I was looking at. But the second was all the more painful and terrifying because I knew I really couldn’t actually do Plan A on my own: I can’t afford this. If I can’t pay the tuition, then I’m not going to college.
I actually had to sit down for a moment there because acknowledging this after a long day of work was far too much to deal with. The left side of my brain, typically the one that keeps me from exploding with rage at inopportune moments, was being overridden by the right side which was somewhere between blinding fury ("Why didn’t the school call you to tell you about owing this much money??? You leave in a week! A week!") and stricken with fear ("You’re going to be trapped in your parent’s house FOREVER. I knew it. You can’t have nice things. 20 years old and it’s already all over before it even began.")
Good ole rational Lefty finally piped in loudly enough, "HEY! You’ve got a party at a bar to go to in your honor!. Get up, pull yourself together, put on a happy face and don’t you dare tell anyone that this is happening."
I got dressed and made up some lie about hanging out at a friend’s house to the parents and Rachel picked me up and we drove to the bar. The first thing she said to me was something like, “Aren’t you so excited for California?” And that was it man, I spilled the beans about the letter I received and started to cry because I was really afraid and nervous and everything got quiet and she said, “I’m sure you’re fine. You have to be!”
"We can’t tell anyone about this." I told her as the car pulled into the parking lot.
For the next couple of hours, I proceeded to “forget” about the letter from my dream school by drinking everything in sight. A pitcher of beer. Red Bull and vodka. Shots. More beer. More shots. The Olympics gymnastics were playing in the background. I sang along to the jukebox with M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes” (with gunshot hand motions included). I might have fallen off of my stool at one point (note: bars should not have stools or chairs or anything that you can and will climb onto and fall off of.) Before I got sufficiently hammered, a lot of people kept toasting me which was awful because all I could do was grit my teeth into a forced smile and try my best to look as happy as possible. We never truly know what goes on in people’s minds, do we? How the emotions there don’t often translate to the surface. For me, this was one of those moments where my mind was screaming but I couldn’t actually scream out loud. I’m pretty sure that everyone else thought I was drinking because I was happy to be moving and going to school. In actuality I was doing it more excessively than usual to try to kill the brain cell that contained the memory of that damn letter.
There comes a moment in every drunk person’s mind where you think an extremely irrational thing to do is truly a rational thing. For me, that moment was when I decided to call my financial adviser at the college. Now let’s review, shall we?
a) I was very, very drunk.
b) It was already past midnight which meant on the West Coast everything would be closed and I’d be cleared for a voicemail landing.
c) My adviser’s number was already secured in my phone. Conveniently enough, my phone was on my lap.
d) I wanted to go to that school so much it hurt and maybe, JUST MAYBE, if I conveyed that in a proper and friendly enough message they’d waive the tuition or something and it’d be okay.
It was not okay. This I knew from the moment I started slurring during my voicemail to her. Which took all of two seconds to happen. But the not okay part came when other things started happening. Like when I kept calling and leaving multiple messages on the automated college phones to my adviser. And that moment in which I started crying. And also when I actually left the bar and wandered out into the street, still on the phone, still crying, and still leaving messages. Eventually I wandered over to sit down on the curb outside of the bar, finally off the phone and bawling my eyes out, alone.
When I look back (or try to anyway) at some of my more elaborate drunken affairs, I can say that this moment was unique in being the first time I would ever actually drunk dial a person, place, or thing. More or less it would be one of the last times too because I would switch over to drunk texting later. (Note: I’ve quit doing that one in the last couple of years too. Time to grow up, y’know?)
Here comes the best part: this little bit of dialogue I still remember to this day between Rachel and me when she came outside to find me.
R: “Heather! Have you been outside this whole time?”
H: “Awwww c’mon I’ve only been outside for like, five minutes.”
R: “No, you’ve been out here for 30 minutes.”
I was leaving drunk messages on my financial adviser’s voicemail for 30 straight minutes. WHAT.
The two of us left some time later and when I got home, I went straight to the bathroom and called my best friend Melissa who was not at the bar and began to sob out either that story or something else to her. Melissa told me the next day that my last words on the phone to her were, “I’m sorry I have to go throw up now.” and I hung up.
I threw up a lot that night and best of all, my parents caught me drunk for the first time. Because I knocked a bunch of stuff onto the floor of the bathroom which was conveniently located next door to their bedroom. In classic parent fashion, they weren’t even mad, but disappointed. Which is always the worse of the two options to get saddled with because disappointment lasts longer.
The next day was a Friday and I had promised my brother we would both go see Tropic Thunder together. I felt like death and couldn’t eat anything except for pickles for some reason. The biggest priority in my head was the fate of will I or won’t I go to college, namely having to patiently wait until it was 9 AM PST to call to explain myself.
I called my adviser and we talked about the loan and the letter for all of three minutes. “We got your student loan all squared away! Just disregard that letter, don’t even worry about it!” She cheerfully said.
"THEN WHY DID YOU EVEN MAIL IT????" My brain screamed on all sides, both logical and not.
"Great!" I just as cheerfully replied back, keeping my head muffled, "Oh, but there is one more thing. Could you not listen to your messages from me from last night if you’ve got any?"
This was the moment where my mother, conveniently in the same room as me while I was on the phone, looked up with an extremely questioning look in her eye.
My adviser laughed in a way that I could kind of tell had already heard some of them, “Don’t worry I won’t.”
We said goodbye and I hung up. There was a brief pause of silence and then my mom asked me, “What kinds of messages did you leave her last night?”
About a year into attending that school, I would finally meet my financial adviser who would then be working in a different department on campus. It was a very pleasant meeting that included zero recollection or mention of the messages I left on that voicemail.
The day after my drinking fest I remained hungover until about 6 PM.
I still went and saw Tropic Thunder and laughed my ass off though.
Since 2011 is more or less over by now, in four more years guess who will have a high school reunion to show up to?
This girl right here. And I mean that in a yes, it’s my high school reunion sort of way, not in the “I will show up for it, woo woo!” kind of way.
The thing about my graduating high school class is that they already had a reunion. A five year one that they celebrated last July and had been planning (and I am not kidding about this) since before we even graduated. When I went home over the summer to visit my family, I arrived a month after the event went down. One of my best friends back home is dating my former high school class valedictorian so during a dinner one night, I got to hear some of the awesome dirt on the 5 year reunion night. Sort of. The reunion was kind of pitiful as it appears that much of my graduating class has not moved out of the area, are still hanging out with all of the usual drinking suspects, and are popping out kids. One couple in particular from my class are now married with three kids and they live in a trailer. Delightful.
You really could not convince me to show up to a high school reunion for a multitude of reasons. A lot of it boils down to proximity and time. Would I take the day off from work and fly out home to revel in some nostalgia about my 11th grade religion teacher and get wasted off of cheap wine? No! Why would you even need to when Facebook can more or less tell me what all of these people have been up to? The ones I don’t know their whereabouts as to are probably people that I wasn’t friends with online to begin with because I don’t like them. Are we having fun yet?
Do you remember that scene in The Dark Knight where Christian Bale shows up to the party in the helicopter with three women on his arms, looking every inch the mysterious and dashing playboy? That’s my ultimate entrance to ever attending one of these things, only with three handsome guys, a really insanely beautiful dress, and looking more like a respectable international playgirl type than a really big slut. Knowing me though, I’d be more likely to show up as a Heather Mooney from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion- dressed all in black, with a sneer and a pack of smokes. Minus the cigs, that was me more or less during high school. My freshman year was alright. Made some trouble for myself by attempting to steal some girl’s boyfriend but not much else. Junior year I got into a big fight with a group of friends I had and didn’t wind up talking to them for about 13 months, despite having tons of classes together. Senior year, I was more or less done with the entire experience and spent more time at my two jobs than dealing with school and read more than talked.
That was high school in a nutshell for me. I was also a hell of a lot more high strung and bitchy back then than I am now. Post H.S. I did wind up talking to some girls I graduated with who are genuinely cool people, thanks to the miracle of Facebook. But I’m not sure how much I would enjoy a stiff 3+ hours in the gym/mass room/pep rally hall discussing um, kids and stuff with everyone. The only way I can really foresee enjoying this is if they had an open bar and an amazing DJ which would never happen because this was a Catholic high school. The five year reunion was held at a bar off campus.
Would never go to one, in short. Though there is one girl in particular I’d like to throw a couple of drinks in the face of. My junior year in high school as a joke, she and my ex-best friend sent me a bunch of candygrams on Valentine’s Day and made me believe they came from this one cute hipster guy in my grade who had zero interest in me whatsoever.
She will get all of the sticky drinks thrown in her face.