I did a pretty spectacular job of denying Mercer. I had gotten in to all the other colleges I applied to, and continued pretending I was choosing between schools. I knew I would have to pay for college myself, and that I couldn’t afford any of my schools, even with scholarships. Senior winter was spent dreaming of some distant relative or fairy godmother appearing who would pass me a check for roughly $200,000. When May rolled around and all my friends proudly wore their decided schools t-shirts, I wore black. For mourning.
2. Pain and Guilt:
It finally set it that I was going to MCCC right around graduation. Graduation was a week away from prom, getting dumped by my boyfriend, my eighteenth birthday, and my mom’s fiftieth birthday. I had a sort of existential crisis, realizing high school was over, that time was moving on, and that I was going to grow old and die. While it sounds a bit over dramatic, it was true. I had a really difficult time dealing with so many milestones all in one two week period. At the same time, I began kicking myself for letting the situation get so far out of hand. How had I messed up? What had I done to deserve Mercer? I hated myself for not taking an extra AP class, for not making the top 10. I’d cry till I threw up, then I’d cry some more.
3. Anger and Bargaining:
Eventually I got tired of spending my senior summer vomiting up my sadness and then having to pretend everything was fine around friends. That’s when I got pissed. School was starting, my friends were getting ready to leave, and I was getting more upset. I hated my classes. I cried in my IST class when the first lesson was copying and pasting a picture from the Internet, then dropped the class after a week.
I’d drive to class just to scoff at professors and ignore my classmates, then go home and drink. I never really drank before, but suddenly it felt good. I was furious with my parents. Obviously they had forced me into MCCC because they hated me, and alcoholism seemed like a good way to get back at them. I wasn’t very good at being bad, but I tried my best.
Around October, my drinking and late nights weren’t cute fits of rebellion anymore. They were become habits, and they were very real. I was scared of what was happening. I wasn’t angry so much as I was terrified. I couldn’t drive to class without thinking of driving into the barricade. I’d sob for hours if I had even a five minute phone call with a friend who was away at school. By Thanksgiving I had gained fifteen pounds and died my hair black. One night, after a particularly boring math class, I came home feeling broken. I collapsed on my kitchen floor. It had taken me nearly an hour to do my usually 20 minute drive home from class because I had been shaking so badly.
That night, shaking on the floor, I told my parents that I wanted to kill myself. I felt completely out of control, and I was scared. After my breakdown, the remainder of the semester dragged by in a malaise. I was no longer manic or depressed. I was simply empty. Winter was coming and with it I was becoming colder and more withdrawn.
5. The Upward Turn:
Just before Christmas, my high school friends began trickling home. I generally ignored it, and kept working and studying. Then I got sick. Like, really sick. I had the flu for eleven days. My mom had gotten sick too, and for the first time in months we had a reason to spend time together. Exhausted, we did nothing but sit together on the couch and watch movies. I was on break, it was the season of joy, and I was hanging out with my mom. Suddenly I found I wasn’t feeling so lonely. There was a snowstorm that week, and since I’d gotten my family sick there was no way we could shovel out our massive driveway. A friend, home on break, came over and shoveled out my driveway, then checked on me just to see how I was doing.
I was amazed. I was confused, but not unhappy, and for the first time in a long time, felt like someone was there for me. Like some kind of feral animal, I recoiled on the couch and blamed my cough for not wanting my friend to sit any closer. It was strange to me that in that first semester I had not invited a single friend to come to my house, and it was almost uncomfortable seeing a peer standing in my living room.
In demolition projects, everything is broken down to the foundation and the crew tries to salvage any valuable scraps. That’s exactly what happened in my spring semester. I tore down my old ideas about Mercer and started acting like I was proud to be a Viking, and it sort of worked. By making a conscious effort to stop hating Mercer so much, I actually did stop hating Mercer. I broke my biases down to the foundation, and starting building up my life again, this time with Mercer as an ally and not the enemy.
I asked myself what exactly I blamed for my earlier angst. What was it about the people I’d met at Mercer that I’d been so reluctant to become close with them? What was it about me that made them so uneager to become close to me? Was it us? Or was it the system of long, lonely walks from the parking lot to classes and quick, awkward lunches in the dingy cafeteria, where students from the same high schools congregate in an alarmingly segregated manner? Some combination of student resentment of Mercer and Mercer’s own imperviousness to misery is the likely culprit of this unwelcoming environment.
Students from my first semester classes said hi in the hallways, and suddenly Mercer wasn’t so lonely. Some days I still hated school, and would relapse into my passive-aggressive lateness technique of avoiding dealing with MCCC. Still, just showing up to class was a step in the right direction. I worked more, and made friends. Two old friends moved home, and I instantly began seeing them on a daily basis. Just having people to watch a movie with made such a difference.
7. Acceptance and Hope:
It was this time last year that I realized I was going to Mercer and I wouldn’t say out loud where I was going for college. Now, I’m fine saying that I go to Mercer. I’ve accepted that there’s really nothing wrong with Mercer. Only the way I handled it. And perhaps the way we all handle it. Mercer is a college, and that, to me, means a place where students are meant to grow not only academically, but also as people.
As for Mercer as an institution, well, Mercer is just Mercer. Maybe its familiarity, but now I sort of like the graffiti in the stairwells that proclaims things like “next person to write here has herpes.” I like that people hate the cafeteria. I like it even more when people like the cafeteria. Mercer has an art gallery, and a comfortable library. The long walk to the parking lot isn’t so miserable when its 60 degrees out, and is basically my entire exercise routine.
Looking around Mercer now, its easy to notice what I’d ignored before. People play soccer on the quad. Groups of friends hang out in the library. People talk to each other. Mercer isn’t some jailhouse for derelict students who couldn’t figure things out. I’m hopeful that Mercer is for people who are figuring things out…including myself.