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Guest Posts, love, Travels

I Never Want to Leave Here

October 24, 2016
love

By Jillian Schedneck

At 21, it was stomping through the streets of Bath under a perpetual pissing of rain, reading the obscure poetry of Anne Finch and Lady Mary Montagu, hanging around pubs in between class waiting for English men to talk to me. It was liking myself more than I ever had before. I had left Boston a shattered, friendless virgin, but after only a few weeks in England, I was rapidly turned into someone new: a version of myself I’d only dreamed of. I spoke up in class, made my new friends laugh, and managed to capture the attention of English men, at least for a little while. And this was only the beginning.

I fell in love with waking up in Bath, blinking into the light from my bedroom window. I fell in love with ravenous lunches of Cornish pasties or brie and ham sandwiches, sitting on a bench in the Abbey Square with my knees pulled up, a book resting on the curve of my thighs, listening to the clipped accents of tour guides. I fell in love with Great Pulteney Street, a long stretch of limestone colored terrace houses that I liked to imagine myself living in one day.

My body felt different, lighter, as if I stepped on springs, as if the great knot of tense energy that had once existed in my chest was now unraveling. What had taken me so long to get away? After all, I stood on the same earth, breathed the same air, and lived by the dictates of the same sky. And it was so much better here; more than that: it was as if life, my now luminous life, happened only here, and the rest—before and after—could only be grey, dull filler.

Strolling the streets of Bath, I saw myself following in the footsteps of the eighteenth century women writers I’d so admired last semester in my survey of British literature course. I had improbably recognized myself in these women—countesses and literary hostesses, austere wives and the scandalously single—and their struggles to write. I hadn’t read Alexander Pope or Samuel Johnson in this personal way, but as old men in wigs, penning polemics that never stuck with me. But when I came to those women’s poems and diaries, I wondered, what would I have done in their places? If writing meant I would likely appear foolish and incompetent in the world of men, would I have had the courage? I didn’t think so.

That unnamed fear nettled me, made me pause and finally decide that on this fleeting, life-altering study abroad, experience was key. I had to gain that courage. In order to create worthwhile stories, I told myself I needed the insight that come from chance encounters, longing and love. And I wanted to see my see my transformation in the eyes of another, this new version of myself reflected back at me. So one night, when an older man asked if I’d travel to Barnstaple with him the next day, I said yes.

He approached my friends and me as we sipped black ciders at our local pub. “Smile for me please, ladies!” I squinted up at him and flashed a smile.

He was in his early thirties, barrel-chested, with hazel eyes and thick lashes. “I thought so! You are American. I had a bet with my mate.” I glared at him, confused. “Because you all have perfect teeth! Most of us English haven’t been so fortunate.” He let out a roaring laugh. I was the only one to join him.

My friends quickly found other men to talk to, and soon it was just the two of us. Aaron didn’t ask me the usual: how long I had been in England, my impressions so far, or where I was from in America. Instead, we made fun of each other’s accents, sang along to cheesy pop songs playing in the pub, and ordered several more rounds. I learned he was a regional salesman for LazyBoy furniture, and when I said I was studying eighteenth century women writers, he looked at me with a kind of wonderment.

After half an hour of chatter, he put his hands on my shoulders. “Listen, I’m going to Barnstaple tomorrow for work, so you might as well come along. See a bit of the country while you’re still here.”

I took a step back. Was he serious?

“Don’t you fancy me?”

“I don’t know!” I shouted. But I did like the way he was looking at me, determinedly, willing me to fancy him. “Ok,” I said, figuring simultaneously that this was just the kind of invitation I was hoping for, and that I could change my mind in the morning. “I’ll go.”

“Brilliant.” He grabbed my waist. “Can I kiss you?” Then he leaned in, soft lips on mine, hands pressing into the small of my back.
The next morning, I couldn’t work out if I was being romantic and adventurous, or insane and duped. But he exuded a kind of light, an effervescence. I liked it. Why make things complicated? I nearly skipped down the steps and waited outside in the bright, fresh morning for Aaron to pick me up. Wearing the new red coat I had bought in London, I felt pretty, magnanimous, in love with the turn my life had just taken.

A white hatchback slowed and then stopped. Aaron stepped out of the car, handsome in the daylight wearing a dark grey suit.

“Happy to see me? Or do I look too old for you now?” He said, squinting at me.

“You look fine,” I said, rising and walking to the car, and then worried that sounded wrong. “Good!” I shouted. “I think you look very nice.” Aaron laughed as we got into his car and gave my thigh a big squeeze.

Then he tossed a spiral bound book of road maps onto my lap. “You’re in charge of directions.”

For the whole day, we drove around the English countryside, visiting quaint towns. His job seemed cursory and cruisy. He checked in on furniture stores nearly as an afterthought. Aaron even made a house call, fixing an ailing chair in an old woman’s living room. Throughout the day, I learned that he was thirty-one, a vegetarian, and, crucially, that he lived in a flat in Great Pulteney Street. I couldn’t believe he lived on the most beautiful street in the world and he wasn’t even famous.

By the time we got home that evening, the sky was deep pink and the sun was falling beyond clusters of brown roofs. I wished we could remain just like this: anticipating our entrance to the stunning city below and marveling at the night ahead. A great sense of possibility overwhelmed me, and I saw myself following in the footsteps of some of those bold eighteenth century women writers, Hester Thrale and Lady Mary Montagu, who wrote diaries and letters about choosing love that would defy their worlds. Like them, I was a woman who could fall in love deeply, recklessly.

“I never want to leave here,” I said.

Aaron glared at me, his hands perfectly still at the wheel. “You can stay with me.”

And so I did. Even when I cooked at home with my roommates or went out for pizza, Aaron would pull up at my corner of North Parade when I was through, and we would travel the short distance to Great Pulteney Street. It was always a relief to slip into his car, his green eyes flashing, his laughter booming.

We spoke of a life of travel. Aaron wanted to take me to the Canary Islands, Majorca, the Maldives, places I had never heard of. For my graduation, he said we would ride the ferry over to Calais, in France, and drive through Belgium, Germany and Holland. England suddenly seemed so ordinary.

When the semester ended, we had a tearful goodbye at Heathrow airport. But I saw Aaron a few months later, when he visited me in Boston that summer. Suddenly there he was, my connection to Bath, the embodiment of my transformation into someone desirable and worldly. While lazing in the Public Gardens, we solidified our plans: I just had to get through my senior year at Boston College, and then I would move into his flat in Bath. It sounded like a dream, to live on Great Pulteney Street, to wake in Aaron’s apartment every morning and take ruminative walks in Victoria Park with notebook in hand, teaching myself to write a novel.

When the new semester started, Aaron and I emailed and talked on the phone regularly. What in the world did we tell each other? The papers I wrote, the dramas of my roommates? Footy scores and his loneliness without me, driving through the Southwest of England alone? He went for broke on calling cards and visits to Boston, and paying for my flights to England. I was continually elated that someone who lived in Bath wanted me to return there as badly as I did.

Did I mention he was barrel-chested? A big frame, overweight: fat. Even now I cringe at the word. On his first visit to Boston, my twin sister wondered what I was doing with him. Her gay best friend sneered and asked why I was with a fat guy.

“He’s not fat,” I replied, exasperated. But he was. He was vegetarian, but not the kind who ate tofu wrapped in lettuce leaves. He consumed cheese and onion flavored crisps, pasta and pizza and veggie burgers with plenty of chips. He purchased a can of Coke wherever we went. His only exercise was a jaunty walk to the service station to pay for petrol. But I never tried to change his habits. I could overlook anything when it came to Aaron.

He was my first. We had sex on his first visit to Boston, on my summer sub letter’s bed, to the background rumble of the T on Commonwealth Avenue. I wasn’t very impressed with the whole thing, and just happy to get it over with. I figured we wouldn’t have to do that again for a while. But of course, it was only the beginning.

I woke to his entreaties for sex one morning in Spain—a trip we took just before my graduation. He told me to stop checking my emails and become more dedicated to our sex life. I was waiting for notification of a writing award from my university, and had begun to correctly presume that I hadn’t won. I wasn’t like those 18th century women writers—Hester Thrale, Lady Mary, or Anne Finch, and the many others I had admired. I wasn’t gutsy or talented. I didn’t have a vision that went beyond my years, let alone my century. I hugged Aaron and said I would do better. My chance encounter, my longing and love, had achieved the opposite intention. Instead of increasing my courage, I decided that Aaron was all I had.

That spring, I bought a one-way ticket to Bath. It seemed inevitable, the fruition of my worldly transformation, and my lack of any other plan. I didn’t envy my classmates and all their worries about jobs and moves after graduation. They were only staying in America, and their concerns seemed so small. I convinced myself that I had everything sorted for a life of love and adventure abroad. Once I got on that one-way flight, everything would truly begin.

Yet something twisted inside me as my roommates spoke about their nascent careers. In contrast, I imagined my post-graduation life, spending every day with my fat boyfriend in his small, drafty flat. I wouldn’t have a job; I hadn’t even organized a work visa. My favorite professor encouraged me to approach a local US newspaper and write a column on my life in England, but I couldn’t imagine who would want to read about my cruisy life in Bath. I began to envision my immediate future as a failure, trudging around Bath alone, totally dependent on Aaron: financially, emotionally, socially. This dream life I had concocted suddenly seemed utterly boring and unproductive. It became crystal clear that this situation was intolerable.

Still, I hesitated putting this decision into action. Quite frankly, Aaron had spent a lot of money on our relationship, and I felt I owed him for that. But what did I owe him exactly? Another year? A few months? The idea of translating his financial investment in our relationship into days and weeks began to seem so preposterous that one night, a few weeks before my flight to England, I called Aaron to say I wasn’t coming. I didn’t think I would actually do it until I had dialed his number and said the words: “I’m not getting on that plane.”

I was back at my mom’s condo in New Hampshire by then, suitcase open in my old room, filled with the clothes I had planned to take to Bath. Aaron pleaded with me to use my ticket, promising to buy my return flight whenever I wanted to leave. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t go to Bath and then leave again. If I went, I would end up staying.

I cried for a few weeks, and then moved back to Boston for the summer. I spent my days waking at 530am to work the early shift at Starbucks, taking afternoon naps in the Boston Commons, and dating a sweet guy who showed me what great sex really was. When the summer was over, I moved to London on a student-work visa with my friend Katie, a wonderful girl I had roomed with in Bath. I got a job editing ad copy in a poorly lit office. Katie and I went out every night with the aim of finding British boyfriends. We found a few. But for me, Aaron was always in the background. I met him all over England, wherever he was headed for work: Nottingham, Brighton, Dorset.

On the trains to meet him, I would take out my notebook and write about the surprising pleasure of looking for a London flat, visiting all those otherworldly pockets of the city and imagining my life in each one. I wrote about the guys I kissed in bars. When they asked me to come home with them, I would just laugh at their proposals, because I had only slept with two people and the idea of having sex with a near stranger seemed hilariously preposterous. I wrote about how different it was here than in Bath, only a ninety-minute train ride away. Those trips, watching the dark English countryside zoom by as I headed toward the first man who ever loved me, are still the purest memories I have of the thrill of writing.

Whenever I arrived back in London after another weekend with Aaron, I would remind myself that this was the grand city of pleasure, enchantment, temptation and vice from the eighteenth century novels and plays I had studied. This had been the glittering, magical world of gardens and palaces and concerts, beautifully attired young people dancing at assemblies under golden lanterns, strolling arm in arm through the mall in St. James Park. This was where the women writers had lived, where they wrote their letters and diaries, treatises, novels and plays, and this was where they had fallen in and out of love. This was that same chaotic place where Katie and I had arrived, jetlagged and useless, where we had gotten our laptops stolen in the first flat we rented, where we shared a two-pound kebab sandwich every night. Our lives in London were neither enchanted nor disappointing, but real, and I was grateful to be there, with or without Aaron.

The last time I saw Aaron was three years later, when I was twenty-five and in graduate school in West Virginia. On my way to a summer course in Prague, I flew through London. He picked me up and we travelled to Cornwall for a few days. Even though he had moved out of Bath by then, I still fell in love with him once more as we strode through the streets of Newquay and ordered a pizza. It had been four years since we first met, and already that person reflected in Aaron’s eyes had changed dramatically.

I was no longer dependent on him for my connection to the wider world; he no longer served as a reflection of my worldly transformation. In a few years, I would move to Abu Dhabi for a teaching position; I would write a book about my life there. At 30, I would move to Australia to do a PhD in Gender Studies, and fall in love with an Australian man. All of this was ahead of me, and when I looked into Aaron’s eyes I saw a love for the soggy streets of Bath and the old dream that that would be enough.

Jillian lives in Adelaide, Australia with her husband and daughter. She runs the travel memoir writing website Writing From Near and Far, and is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights. She holds an MFA in creative writing and a PhD in Gender Studies. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, Redivider and The Lifted Brow, among others.

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their signature “Writing & The Body” Retreat in Portland March 17-19 by clicking photo.

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their signature “Writing & The Body” Retreat in Portland March 17-19 by clicking photo.

courage, Guest Posts, Racism

The Last Pep Rally

October 23, 2015

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

It was during that last, fragmented year of college when I found myself standing, once more, in a hot and rowdy crowd at what would be my last pep rally. My sorority required my attendance, to demonstrate support for the next upcoming football loss.  My school lost pretty much all the time in those days and I had no real interest in football.

This was my fourth year of college and I was twenty-one years old.  This semester I had registered for fifteen units of classes, and not attended a single one. Without a conscious thought, I had devised a simple way to sabotage my life.

My life was college life, and college was the vehicle I used to meet my whims. As a student, I could stay up late and hang out every night. I could dress in magazine fashions and boogie at the kind of parties where everyone drank as much alcohol as their gut would allow, then smile for photographs holding a paper cup while the blue light from the photographer’s flash bulb ignited and smoked.

I wasn’t new at slacking, but this year I had pushed slackhood past the point of no return. I dressed and drove my car from sorority row each morning while my friends left for class. Instead of parking at the main campus, walking inside a limestone building and facing one of the many professors I had never seen and never heard, I drove off in one of several other directions. I pointed the long nose of my yellow Mustang toward the highway, pushed on the accelerator until my toes touched the floor and dreamed I was flying. Three hundred horses of power propelled my wagon of yellow steel toward the horizon and then I was free. With a thrill in my heart, I raced past the contradictions, troubles and lies of my scrambled and misdirected life.

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Abuse, Binders, courage, Guest Posts

Fuck Us Harder.

March 10, 2015

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By Cade Leebron. 

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.

the prequel

survivor. I don’t feel like a survivor of anything. Sometimes I think that one girl died on a bed in a dorm room on her third day of college; she died in his bed while he was fucking her, raping her, whatever. Another girl was born in her place and she rose, gasping, like a phoenix and ran from the room. She was a virgin. Nobody had ever fucked her, raped her, whatever. She was brand new, and she stumbled to a different dorm room and collapsed on the floor and then eventually crawled into the dead girl’s bed and fell asleep and in the morning she took a shower.

testimony

Three and a half years later, in April of my senior year, it still feels like a lie to call myself a survivor, I still don’t feel like I survived at all. I’m sitting on a carpeted floor, the institutional carpet leaving an imprint of its texture on the bottoms of my thighs, and I look around and start to speak to the people on all sides, unsure of which way to look. It feels wrong to start my sentence with as a survivor, but I say it anyway.

We are here, at this meeting of the Wesleyan University Student Assembly, to have a community discussion regarding sexual assault on campus and the role of fraternities, if fraternities should be dismantled or co-educated in order to combat rape culture, if fraternities contribute to rape culture at all. I turn to look at the back of the room and I see rows upon rows of massive men, fraternity brothers. They are just so much bigger than me that it is shocking. Why do they get the chairs? How did they get so big? I have seen them in the dining halls, their plates piled high with what would be several meals for me, but they didn’t seem so large then. Now here they are, massive men sitting in comically small chairs, perhaps those chairs were meant for small and fragile people like me who are instead down here on the floor. I don’t usually feel small. And I do know why they got the chairs, it is because they got here first, and I know what this must look like: they care more, we the women don’t care enough, we showed up a little late. The truth is that we didn’t show up late, we were here, wandering around the student center and avoiding entering this particular room, getting coffee and pretending to text, doing anything to not come here until the last minute. We were hesitant, maybe a little afraid, they were not. But we are here now, I am here. And so I say things, I add my voice to this war that’s happening very politely in this room, I say, according to the transcript, to the members of fraternities: if you care about women, why don’t you want to share this with them?

I’m sure that’s not how I said it, I know I said something about how siblinghood can be just as meaningful as brotherhood, how coeducation is a viable option, and something about how as a survivor, I feel safer in co-ed spaces, but I don’t remember exactly how I said it and the transcript is available online. It’s accurate enough.

I know that in the context of the world, a big place almost entirely full of crime and genocide and war and hatred and dead or abused children and terrorism, if you believe CNN, this is a very tiny little battle in this carpeted room. This is a group of college students at an extremely liberal liberal arts college arguing over whether or not men get to have clubs and call them fraternities and not let women join. And if we the women don’t fight against it, if we let these fraternities continue to exist, let men be together in this way, are they more likely to rape us? And are there enough of them for it to matter? Only three campus fraternities own houses. This whole situation feels artificial and surreal. We are having a conversation facilitated and policed by members of the student government and the administration. We are not allowed to laugh at each other or speak out of turn. A woman speaks, she says that the president of a fraternity called her a slut at a party recently. In response, the president of that fraternity introduces himself and then calmly attempts to explain it away, he says she was dancing inappropriately at his fraternity and that’s why he called her a slut, she was just dancing that way, dancing like a slut. As if this is justification. As if we should not notice that he is white and she is black and he is policing her body and the way it moves in his privileged space. We are shushed by student assembly members for booing him and then we sit quietly, chastised, waiting our turn, as the meeting continues. The minutes make no mention of this incident. The administrators, the supposed adults here, sit in a row of chairs against the windows to the right, they are silent. My campus therapist is among them, sometimes we make eye contact and then look away. This is a very orderly kind of pain. And it has become the reality, the vocabulary of my life. I’ve gotten so sucked into it, using these words, triggered, survivor, rape culture, so easily that someone might think it’s what I actually mean.

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Anonymous, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

The Turning Point.

January 24, 2015

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By Anonymous.

I’ll never forget the first time someone called me “little” during my teenage years. It was my sophomore year of high school, during our One Act Play festival. I had just won an award for best director and my opponent’s mother fondly referred to me as “that little Erin girl”. She did not say this to my face, of course. But my mother informed me that she’d overheard it. When my mother repeated it, she said it with a hint of bitterness. But I romanticized the idea, the thought that I was this tiny force to be reckoned with, a warrior in bows and ballet flats.

Shortly after this, I developed my eating disorder. Since my reputation as tiny was solidified, my obsession with keeping it began. I shed invisible tears over the size of my stomach, the slowly growing pile of white that barely puckered over my jeans. “You’re tiny.” I’d tell myself this as I ate increasingly smaller portions, to the point where I sometimes ate nothing at all.

My boyfriend called me little too. “You’re so tiny,” he’d tell me, wrapping his hand around my wrist to illustrate his point. I confided in him that I thought I might have an eating disordeI confided in him that I thought I might have an eating disorder while on the phone with him one night during my freshman year of college.

“I’ll tell your parents if it gets bad,” he said. I wondered what bad had to be, if the ritual of purposely not eating for days whenever I got stressed didn’t apply.

When that boyfriend walked out of my life, I told myself that I’d stop starving myself. If ever there were a trigger to that habit, this was it. But, not again, I promised myself. The boy who gave up on me was not worth it.

Flash forward to a few weeks later, post-breakup. I’ve left to study abroad in the Netherlands. I’m living in a castle and making fast friends. And yet, the self-loathing that I’ve struggled with since high school sets it, tainting everything around me. All I can see is the stick legs and thigh gaps of other girls.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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Guest Posts, Life

Not The Living Proof Girl.

December 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Karen Dempsey

We piled into a long, rented passenger van. Two of the juniors, Dan and Mike, had already claimed “driver” and “co” and instituted the rule that driver chooses music, setting us up for sixteen solid hours of Phish.

I crunched in next to a wiry kid with a mess of black hair.

“Benjamin.” He grinned, showing off a shiny retainer. “Freshman.”

I was a college sophomore headed out on a road trip from Boston to Savannah with a dozen kids I didn’t know. It was a Habitat for Humanity volunteer trip—not exactly MTV Spring Break. But, for me, that wasn’t really the noteworthy part.

I don’t need an introvert/extrovert quiz to know where I fall on the spectrum of personality types. I’ve always been a person who lingers most comfortably near the edges of things, enjoying the view from a distance. Even at nineteen years old, my ideal break would have looked more like a low-key trip with a good friend, or week at home in Buffalo with the people who knew me best.

But some small part of me had pushed to try it for once: fall fully and inescapably into the center of something unfamiliar, with a whole group of people I didn’t know pressed in close. And I’m being literal here, because, as I settled into my seat, Benjamin the freshman was making the case that he should be allowed to sleep on me.

“I know we just met,” he said. “But you’re going to know me really well by the end of the week. It’s a long drive. And if I can’t lean on you, I’ll never get any sleep.”

The drive was long. With Phish cranked up and Benjamin nuzzling my shoulder, sleep wasn’t really an option. So I spent the ride trying to catalog the other volunteers by the things they said, the way they interacted.

By virtue of being a senior, Cindy had earned some kind of a supervisory role on the trip, a designation quickly challenged by several of the boys. She was enthusiastic but wavering, an unforgivable combination among ruthless twenty-year-olds. But she had two smart, solid girlfriends with her, and they shored up her confidence. You could see they wanted her to succeed. Eventually, the rest of us would, too.

Anthony from Staten Island was an RA on campus. He had signed up with his friend Eileen and a kid from his floor named Rob. From the moment we all introduced ourselves, Rob began working the refrain, “Come on, Eileen,” a la Dexys Midnight Runners, into every conversation.

There was the soft-spoken, fair-minded guy who was treasurer of student government. The amazing pianist who would spend his junior year studying in South Africa. The pretty, smiling girl who was active in a Christian youth group on campus. There was Beth—alternately friendly and harsh, caught in the push-pull of wanting to fit in and pretending it didn’t matter.

And then there were Mike and Dan. Pushy, I thought. Kind of jerky. But they were the type of kids who pulled the outliers into their jokes instead of making them their (easy) targets. Also? They were really, really funny.

Along with being an introvert, I was a person known to develop crushes on smart, funny boys. Driving across those ten states, as we neared the end of our drive, I was falling hard for Mike.

Like the children we still were, we found ways to debate everything from seating arrangements to whether beef jerky was an acceptable snack choice. But there were long, quiet spells where no one said anything at all. And there were discussions about things that mattered, too, like the fact that we were getting a chance to help build a house that an actual family would live in.

A few hours into the drive, someone brought up the subject of abortion, and the exchange got heated, fast. Beth’s voice trembled. She seemed about to cry. Cindy and her friends exchanged a look, and stopped talking. The silence hovered there in the thick air of the van. Then, carefully, someone started a new thread—something light. And someone else picked it up. And just like that, we were a group of people who looked out for one another.

We passed a hand-lettered, misspelled sign on the road: “Acers of land for sale,” someone read. “Ace – ers of land.” And then someone screamed, “Yeah! We made it! We’re in the south!”

The house we were to stay in was a mustard-colored ranch set up with several rooms of bunks for Habitat volunteers. I was glad when Anthony called to me, “You wanna bunk with us?” He, Rob, and Eileen had kept up a steady stream of lighthearted bantering and bickering since we’d all met in the van. They were easy to be around. All I had to do was laugh.

The work would start Monday, but first we had the rest of the weekend, beginning with a night out in Savannah. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, so we planned to head downtown to a popular Irish bar. I was glad I’d packed a little makeup along with my work jeans and tee shirts.

“Is that my brush?” Eileen asked, as Rob checked his hair in the mirror over the bedroom’s one small dresser.

“Oh, come on, Eileen,” he shouted back.

We drove into the city and found parking; we weren’t even through the door of the bar when a beaming blond girl flew into Mike’s arms out of nowhere. A girlfriend. Of course. She—Amy—and her friend were sailing the friend’s dad’s boat (I know) down the coast for spring break. They had run into us coincidentallywe were assured, with no previous planning between Amy and Mike, on our one night out in Savannah.

“Man!” Mike said. “Can you believe this?”

No. I really couldn’t.

  • ••

One night later in the year, my roommate Caroline went out to see a popular band—Living Proof—that was loved mightily for its covers of new wave songs. Disappointed she couldn’t convince me to join her and her new beau, Caroline went to the show dragging her feet a little. But she came home effervescent. Drunk on keg beer, she gushed about this beautiful nameless girl, who had spotted her not having fun and pulled her out on the dance floor, turning her night around.

Caroline called her The Living Proof Girl, which became shorthand for the enviable, carefree spirit who approached college—and life in general—with a seemingly effortless upbeat attitude. Be charming and pretty! Dance with strangers! Infect the world with your happiness!

Soon after we went to see the campus improv comedy group, My Mother’s Fleabag. Caroline said, “It’s her,” at the same moment I thought it. We both recognized the girl on stage for different reasons. The star of Fleabag was The Living Proof Girl. Who was Mike’s girlfriend. Who was Amy freaking Poehler.

(“You’re funnier then she is,” my friend Kim said recently when I told her this story. “But I think she’s got you beat in the tits department.”)

  • ••

My heart sank a little as Mike melted into Amy’s hug. But I had only known him for a matter of hours. I swallowed my Guinness and made myself start conversations with the other volunteers. I even tapped my Irish American upbringing and requested songs from the band. The singer asked where I was from, then gave our group a shout-out into the microphone. I had fun.

  • ••

The next day, Sunday, we had planned to drive to Hilton Head. But Anthony wanted to go to church first, and we had only one van.

“Guys, I haven’t missed Sunday Mass my whole life,” he said. “You can’t wait an hour?”

There was grumbling. Silence. He looked around at the group, pleadingly.

“I don’t think we can make someone miss Mass for the beach,” I heard myself say. Anthony had pulled me into his little crew when I was apart from the crowd and I owed him one.

It turned out Anthony had gotten the time for the service wrong, so he would miss Mass after all. But he seemed grateful we’d made the effort, and I was glad I’d spoken up.

At the beach I sat taking in the view of the Atlantic, seeing it for the first time from a place other than from the New England Coast. It was chilly out, which didn’t stop some of the girls from peeling down to bikinis. People swam and screamed and splashed each other. I was happy to sit on the beach and watched, wiggling my toes in the sand, wondering what else the week held.

In the morning, the alarm sounded early.

“Ugh!” Rob groaned. “Come on, Eileen.”

We were putting up the framework of the house. When had I held a hammer before? To hang cheaply framed posters over my bed? The nails bent at odd angles or went in sideways. Wood splintered. I was sweating, and my shoulders ached. Jack, a guy who lived on the property in a trailer with his dog and managed the volunteers, walked around offering guidance. I swung the hammer. Thwack thwack thwack. When a nail bent or broke I wrenched it out again. Eventually, I could set those nails in perfectly and my beams came together, part of a wall that was part of a house that a family was going to live in.

Mike and Dan walked over with a sledgehammer.

“Ma’am, this wall is going to have to come down.”

“This is going to hurt us more than it hurts you.”

“Don’t laugh, ma’am. You should probably look away.”

We watched the walls go up. We filled them in. Jack handpicked the best workers to hang the drywall. We screamed and cheered because, at that age, when you accomplish something big, you can still do that.

One morning there were gnats—no see-ums, people called them. They descended on you and filled your nose and mouth. I was near tears. Bug spray didn’t work, the nets on your head helped but obscured your view, and no one else was wearing them. I snuck back to the house, made myself a peanut butter sandwich, and used the house phone to call my sister. “Why did I do this?”

I pulled myself together. Back outside, a little rain descended and drove the bugs away. We celebrated.

Another day, Beth cut her hand using the table saw and Jack had to take her for stitches and a tetanus shot. While they were gone, we lazed around a bit. There was chalk on the worksite and Mike splayed across the ground and had me trace his outline like a body at a crime scene. Then he called Jack’s dog and coaxed it to lie beside the tracing so that he could trace the dog too. Laughing, I took a picture of their two empty outlines.

Our last night in Georgia, Cindy hooked up with the freshman.

“Tell me you didn’t have sex with him,” one of her friends fumed.

“She would,” Beth said acidly.

And the confirmation was written in the grin on Benjamin’s face.

Mike gave me a wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of exaggerated shock and I had to leave the room and laugh.

  • ••

Back at school, I mailed off my rolls of film and when they came back, I bored everyone I could with photos of the house going up. I slipped the crime scene picture into an envelope, carefully wrote out Mike’s address and dropped it in the mail. And soon after I got an envelope from him—an invitation to the party he’d promised us all he’d throw at his off-campus apartment.

I went alone. The Savannah group came, in pairs and with roommates or on their own.

“That picture was so great,” Mike said to me.

I walked around his apartment and saw a picture of him with Amy and then, eventually, the real Amy, hanging out and laughing in a hallway.

I stood next to Beth, watching Mike laugh with a group of his friends.

“I had such a crush on him,” I said.

“Who didn’t?” she answered dismissively.

There wasn’t a lot for us—any of us—to say to each other now that we were back on campus. But somehow, that seemed okay. It seemed, in fact, exactly right. The experiences we’d shared together, and whatever we’d learned about ourselves as individuals, weren’t the kind of things we needed to say out loud.

Content to leave it that way, I finished my drink and slipped out without saying goodbye.

  • ••

Junior year at a football game, I was walking through the stadium with a boy when I saw Mike and Dan in the crowd, running toward me.

They spotted me, whooped, and each grabbed me in a hug, and I felt like my face would break from smiling. I introduced them to my boyfriend and they shook his hand because we were in that strange world where adulthood and childhood, job interviews and football tailgates, collide. Mike, who was then a senior, put his hands on my shoulders and leaned down.

“You’re good?” he asked, while the crowd roared around us. “You’re good?”

“I’m good!” I grinned back, and he squeezed me in a last hug.

“Good luck,” we called to each other, and laughed. And headed back toward our futures.

  • ••

Twenty years later, I’ve discovered via the magic of the web that Mike is even handsomer than I remembered, with three equally photogenic kids hanging off of him in his Facebook picture. Dan is a New York Times bestselling author who has been interviewed on all the major news shows. Amy Poehler continued to pursue her interest in comedy. And the guy who shook hands with Mike and Dan at the game? He’s my husband, and we have two (adorable, hilarious, introverted) kids.

  • ••

KAREN DEMPSEY has written for The New York Times Motherlode blog, Babble, and Brain, Child. She lives in Massachusetts. Read her work at kdempseycreative.com or follow her @karenedempsey. This essay originally appeared at Full Grown People.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

A detoxifying, weight loss, energizing, strengthening superfood blend. The Green Dream was the first superfood blend I created. "Green foods" are one of the least common foods consumed, yet they are the most nutrient-dense and most important! I wanted to find a way to get these incredible foods into your body without compromising flavor or convenience.  Green Dream is high in plant-based protein, so it keeps you full for longer and helps burn fat. Unlike other protein blends on the market, there are no "fillers" to extend the blend:  Green Dream uses only superfoods as ingredients, thus providing abundant, concentrated nutrient power with each teaspoon you consume.  Green Dream cleanses as its pure ingredients break down toxins and ushers them from the body. And Green Dream is energizing: it provides a natural, caffeine-free power boost every day as it sets the stage for sustained energy while your body releases old materials and rebuilds with precious new fuel. This blend also supports the body in weight loss, if needed: when your every cell is nourished from the clean protein, good fats, and detoxifying green power it provides, the body gives itself permission to let go of unneeded material.  By feeding your cells only the best, Green Dream makes being healthy and fit easy... like a dream.

A detoxifying, weight loss, energizing, strengthening superfood blend.
The Green Dream was the first superfood blend I created. “Green foods” are one of the least common foods consumed, yet they are the most nutrient-dense and most important! I wanted to find a way to get these incredible foods into your body without compromising flavor or convenience. Green Dream is high in plant-based protein, so it keeps you full for longer and helps burn fat. Unlike other protein blends on the market, there are no “fillers” to extend the blend: Green Dream uses only superfoods as ingredients, thus providing abundant, concentrated nutrient power with each teaspoon you consume.
Green Dream cleanses as its pure ingredients break down toxins and ushers them from the body. And Green Dream is energizing: it provides a natural, caffeine-free power boost every day as it sets the stage for sustained energy while your body releases old materials and rebuilds with precious new fuel. This blend also supports the body in weight loss, if needed: when your every cell is nourished from the clean protein, good fats, and detoxifying green power it provides, the body gives itself permission to let go of unneeded material.
By feeding your cells only the best, Green Dream makes being healthy and fit easy… like a dream.

1798X611

Abuse, Guest Posts, Women

16 Year Old Girl On a Mission to Keep College Girls Safe.

December 16, 2014

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By Emma K.

“The fact that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted while in college should frighten all of us.”

California Congresswoman Jackie Speier said this recently in a letter to her constituents when she and Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Meehan submitted new proposed legislation on the subject of improving campus safety standards.

Question to parents: Would you send your daughter to college if the statistic was that 1 in 5 women would be mauled by a bear? And that 80% of the mauling’s would happen to your daughter while she was a freshmen or sophomore? My guess is that the answer would be a sudden decline in enrollments across America accompanied by a spike in online college education.

Earlier this year President Obama created a task force of senior administration officials to make recommendations on how to involve the federal government in the process of raising awareness of the issue and getting colleges to step up to the plate and take responsibility for these crimes on their campuses.

Tough laws and penalties already exist for colleges that don’t conform to the reporting guidelines and many have already been hit with fines: Yale ($165,000), Eastern Michigan ($350,000), University of Montana (undisclosed), to name a few. The even tougher laws and penalties under discussion may or may not solve the problem, but I believe the root of the problem can be solved by Engaging with college students, Educating those students about the problem and Empowering those students to think and act differently.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) employed similar tactics when it was formed and I think successfully drove drunk driving fatalities down over a ten year period. It wasn’t easy to retrain people’s thinking on why it was a really bad idea to drive drunk, but it worked there and I believe it can work here. I heard a TED talk recently and the speaker was talking about how the best new technology was “disruptive”. Well, we need to disrupt the norm in order to effect change and keep college girls safe. We need to be confident and patient about our ability to effect true social change. Nelson Mandela waited 27 years in jail, to effect true social change in his country. Now that’s commitment and patience! He said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. We will not have to wait that long. Through education and action, we can get college students to take a different view on things.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing

Rape That Isn’t Really Rape (And Other Lies I Told Myself.)

November 22, 2014

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TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.

 

By Kathleen Emmets.

Words on paper tearing open old wounds

Tears falling

Rolling Stone: “Rape On Campus” read the headline

Scandal at UVA

I put the magazine down and head to yoga

I focus on my breathing

Losing myself in the rhythms

Supported back bend

Heart wide open

I begin to crack

I am 16 again- Continue Reading…