75: Just What I Needed

75: Just What I Needed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Just What I Needed

Give people enough guidance to make the decisions you want them to make. Don’t tell them what to do, but encourage them to do what is best.

~Jimmy Johnson

In college, people don’t tease each other like they do in high school.

I learned that the hard way. Some people gain the freshman fifteen; I gained the freshman forty-five. I had struggled with my weight in high school — people taunted me in the hallways, called me names like “hippo” and “lard-butt.” But in college, no one said a word.

Instead, they whispered to their friends and giggled as I went for more French fries or scarfed a piece of chocolate cake in the dining hall. They didn’t need to say anything; the way they looked at me said it all.

I dealt with a lot of issues that year — adjusting to life away from home, making friends, finding the right classes to take. Food became my way of dealing with my problems.

By sophomore year, I found a supportive group of friends and learned to manage my weight, shedding almost thirty pounds. But I never forgot what it was like to be on the outside, to feel like you were all alone and no one cared about you.

One night early in spring semester my second year, a friend dragged me to a party at a freshman dorm. He wanted to flirt with some girl he knew from his hometown. I reluctantly agreed to go.

The dorm had a cafeteria on the first floor, and the rooms upstairs smelled of stale pizza, cinder blocks, and grease. When we got inside, about twenty people were crammed into a tiny space with fluorescent lighting and crusty wall-to-wall carpeting. Generic indie rock blared from a set of small speakers, and everyone was crowded around a mini-fridge playing a drinking game.

In an instant I recalled all those miserable, awkward parties where you sit around with people you don’t like and guzzle crappy beer in the hopes of having a good time. Afterwards, I used to raid the vending machine and binge-eat under the covers so my roommate wouldn’t see.

“I can’t do this,” I said quickly to my friend.

He nodded, understanding how I felt. “It’s cool, give me a call later.”

As I was about to leave, I noticed a nervous-looking guy leaning against the wall a few feet apart from the group. He was staring blankly ahead, looking unhappy.

“Hey Max,” someone shouted to him. “Come party with us!”

“Give me a minute,” he answered.

“Don’t be a buzzkill!” a girl shouted back.

“Why does that kid even hang around here?” muttered another girl sitting on the floor.

I wasn’t sure if Max heard her, but when no one was looking he slipped out the door.

For some reason, I felt compelled to follow him.

“Hey, wait up!” I shouted.

I chased him down the hallway, nearly tripping over another group of freshmen who were camped out on the floor.

“What?” he asked flatly.

“I never really had fun at those either,” I admitted.

“Oh yeah?” he said, his eyes full of mistrust.

“I’m just trying to help, that’s all. When I was a freshman, I was really unhappy too.”

“What makes you think I’m so unhappy?” he demanded. “And why do you even care?”

I started to feel a little guilty. I realized I had my own selfish reasons for helping Max. I wanted to be the cool older kid who steered him away from a bad party and bad people — the friend I wished I had as a freshman.

“Look man,” I said finally, “I don’t know anything about you, I just saw you and it reminded me of how I used to feel. I should have left you alone. I’ll see you later.”

I started to walk away.

“Wait, wait,” he said, motioning me towards the stairwell. “I’m sorry. You’re right, I don’t like those people. The truth is, I don’t know who else to hang out with. It’s been really hard here. Everyone says college is the best time of your life, but so far I’ve been really unhappy. I hate this place.”

“Well this might not make you feel better,” I said, “but we all go through it.”

“Really?” He looked at me.

“I wasn’t lying when I said I had a hard time as a freshman. Trying to make friends, adjusting to life away from home... plus everyone made fun of me because I was fat.” I paused as I remembered eating alone in the dining hall downstairs. “People at this school can be really hurtful; it doesn’t matter that they’re smart.”

“Yeah, I hear that. Can you believe what that girl said?” Max said, referring to the girl on the floor. “I’ve never even talked to her!”

“Don’t worry about those people,” I assured him. “You’re gonna find people you actually like. I promise.”

“Okay,” he said, “I have a hard time believing you, but I hope you’re right. I should go back to my room. See ya.”

“Okay, bye.” I watched him stroll away, looking at the ground. Suddenly, he turned his head.

“Hey! What’s your name?” he asked.

“Craig!” I shouted.

“Nice meeting you, Craig, I’m Max.” I could tell there was something different about the way he held himself.

I smiled and said, “Nice meeting you too, Max.” I realized he was really saying, “Thank you.”

I only saw Max a few times after that. But when I did, he seemed to be in better spirits. From what I could tell, he had made some new friends. I don’t know if what I said that night helped him, but I’m glad I did what I did. Not just for Max, but for me, too. I realized how far I had come since freshman year, and I was proud of both of us.

~Craig Raphael

More stories from our partners