42: Tree of Knowledge

42: Tree of Knowledge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Tree of Knowledge

Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.

~Victoria Holt

I hefted my backpack onto my shoulder, locked my dorm room, and headed for the stairwell. Outside, I looked around for my bicycle, but couldn’t see it anywhere. Then I glanced up and saw the bike — nestled high in a cluster of tree branches, completely out of my reach.

I experienced many an excruciating moment during my first, and only, quarter away at college. But this had to be the most excruciating of all. My cheeks burned with humiliation. Who had done this? Did I know the person? Had I angered someone? Or was it just some random and unkind act? It took all my strength not to fall to the concrete in a sobbing heap.

Unfortunately, this was only the latest in a series of incidents that led me to a huge decision. I’d had it. I withdrew from the University of California at Davis only a few weeks later.

I’d decided to attend Davis for one and only one reason — my friend, Karin, was going there. “It’s close enough for us to come home when we want, but just far enough away so that it feels like a true college experience,” Karin maintained. But she and I ended up living across campus from each other. I was left adrift on a raucous, coed floor (I’d asked for a same-sex, “quiet” floor). I grew lonely and depressed, homesick beyond words. I began restricting my food intake, the only area of my life I felt I could control. If it weren’t for my no-holds-barred weekends of eating back at home, I might have easily succumbed to anorexia or bulimia.

One afternoon, I found out that the boys on the floor had rated each of us girls on a scale from 1 to 10. I scored second from the bottom, with a paltry three. I’d never felt so undesirable. How would I ever find a boyfriend?

It didn’t help that the one boy I danced with, at the one get-together I attended, didn’t talk to me afterwards and ignored me when we passed in the hallways. My self-esteem was suddenly at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, my roommate viewed dorm life as the ideal chance to break away from her conservative upbringing. She began experimenting with drinking, partying, and sex. Because her college experience was at the opposite end of the spectrum from mine, she couldn’t sympathize with my unhappiness. And Karin was busy making new friends. She loved the dorms and the socializing. She also couldn’t understand my plight. It seemed like no one could.

The story had a happy ending, however. I graduated three years later from UC Berkeley (a university I was able to attend while living at home) a much happier woman. I was wiser, too, for I had learned an invaluable lesson about myself. I was not a typical college student.

Our society places a high premium on going to college, and views the social opportunities to be just as important as the educational ones. Living in the dorms is considered an important and desirable rite of passage. But not everyone is made for college, nor is everyone made for a college dorm. I had a miserable time at Davis, but I learned something important — I wasn’t like everyone else. I needed a lot of alone time and privacy, and it took me awhile to warm up to people. I didn’t like staying up all night, and preferred reading to partying. And all of that was okay. That was just me.

No textbook or teacher could have taught me a better lesson, and for that reason I don’t regret my brief foray into college life. Well, maybe I do regret parking my bike so close to that tree.

~Carol E. Ayer

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