In August of 2000, at the tender age of nineteen, I loaded up my 1986 Honda hatchback and headed off to college. The car was packed with all my favorite clothing and shoes, some inspirational books I had received as high school graduation presents, a collection of magazine clippings to decorate my dorm room walls, a blow dryer, some toiletries, and a new comforter and sheet set that my Mom had bought for me at the Target back-to-school dorm sale. Everything was strategically placed, as my dad had made sure I could see out the rear windshield during my eight-hour trek from Auburn to Long Beach, California.
He also gave me his standard lecture on speeding—primarily because he is a major speed demon, himself—and told me for the fiftieth time about how he had been zooming along I-5 one fateful day, and had later received a ticket in the mail. No one had even bothered to pull him over because they didn’t have to, he reminded me. The highway patrols were being flown around in small airplanes that day, hovering above the freeways and using radar to check for speeding vehicles. They didn’t give warnings; they just gave tickets.
I smiled and nodded as I listened to his speech. I knew I would see my parents the following weekend when they would be driving down to help me move into my dorm room; yet, it was still difficult to leave them that day. I had to go down early for an introductory course called University 100. All freshmen were required to take it to get acquainted with university life and with Cal State Long Beach, in general. The class was held one week prior to the start of the regular semester, so they didn’t allow us to move into our dorms just yet.
The good news was that my best friend, Sara, had gotten into Cal State Fullerton, which was about thirty minutes east of CSULB. Fullerton started classes one week before us, which meant that Sara was already settled into her new apartment and was more than willing to lend me her couch for the duration of University 100 class.
Although I knew that I was heading somewhere safe, to be with my best friend and to embark upon an awesome new adventure, I still felt a little scared and somewhat apprehensive. My parents gave me big hugs, assured me they would see me in another week, and then waved as my car pulled away.
The tears started flowing less than five minutes into my trip, and it quickly became apparent that speeding tickets were the least of my worries. I was crying so much that my vision was blurred and could barely see the road in front of me. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, told myself to pull it together, and turned the radio up really loud to use as a distraction. Rather than thinking about all that I was leaving behind, I used my imagination to try and visualize everything I had to look forward. I saw myself going to the beach, exploring the CSULB campus, and enjoying the newfound freedom of living on my own for the very first time. It was my personal version of a guided meditation, and it did help to lift my spirits.
Days later, as University 100 class was well underway, I found myself completing random assignments, such as scavenger hunts around campus that required my classmates and me to collect various artifacts from major buildings. We had to find a bookmark from the Writer’s Resource Lab and a pamphlet from the Health Center. This was the bulk of the curriculum, and in addition to these activities, we were given sage advice about being successful college students.
Our professor warned us to take heed of the many pitfalls most freshman fall prey to, such as ditching class because no one would be forcing us go, or partying incessantly when we should be doing homework. We were adults now, he continued, and for the first time in our lives we would need to learn to do our own laundry and keep track of our spending.
As the unrelenting nerd that I am, I sat in the very front and scribbled down every word about the importance of time management and setting goals for oneself.
On the last day of class, my professor led us all to the Japanese Gardens on campus, sat us down in a shady little corner bordering a pond and a bamboo hut, and said to us, “Always remember that college is what you make of it.”
While the rest of my classmates were rolling their eyes and staring blankly at the imported Japanese flowers, I have to admit that I was thoroughly captivated by his speech. It was empowering and rather fun to think that I was able to mold my college experience into whatever I wanted it to be.
Nine years later, after I had earned both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at CSULB, I was asked to teach a Writing Skills class during Summer Session. This class was designed specifically for incoming freshman that did not pass the placement exam for English 100 and would need to take Writing Skills before being admitted to English 100 in the fall. By this time, the state of California was in the middle of the major budget crisis we are still battling today, and University 100 classes had been cut entirely. It occurred to me that my students would not be getting much of an introduction to college life, so I dedicated the last day of class to integrating some of the things I had learned in University 100 into my writing course.
After passing back their final exams and issuing their course grades, I decided on a nostalgic whim to tell them we still had one more thing to do, and proceeded to march my troupe of incoming freshman down to the Japanese Gardens. I sat them in a shady little corner, right beside the pond and the bamboo hut, and told them that the one thing they must always remember is that their college experience was going to be whatever they made of it.
I know, I know. But I couldn’t resist.
I also hosted an impromptu question and answer session where they could ask me all their major concerns about parking on the first day, buying textbooks, and locating all their classes.
The whole experience was both ironic and amusing, as I was inevitably struck by the realization that my time at Cal State Long Beach had come full circle. Somewhere in between that fateful day when I arrived in Southern California and barely knew how to navigate the freeway system, I had transformed into the university instructor who was now running the show and dispensing advice. It was rather strange to consider; yet it had happened.
So much has happened over my last decade in Long Beach. I have lived in dorm rooms, condos, houses, and apartments—some spacious and beautiful, others located on the border of the ghetto—with mice scurrying around in the middle of the night. That was definitely one of the lower points, in case you were wondering.
I’ve had my share of ridiculous moments, like the time in college when my roommates and I had a Halloween party and I got so inebriated that I ended up puking in the planter right outside our apartment. Apparently, it all landed atop a Birds of Paradise flower, and my roommate says that even to this day, that image of me is inextricably linked to every Birds of Paradise plant she sees. (Sorry, Trisha.)
Since I’ve moved to Long Beach, I have gotten my heart broken, was turned down by multiple creative writing programs, dyed my hair black in a state of melodramatic depression, and to mention it one more time—because it was rather traumatic—lived in an apartment that was infested with mice!
Visualize, if you will, my Taiwanese roommate and me crouched on the floor, peering underneath my bed, and trying to lure a mouse out with cheese. Picture us both screaming when the mouse actually appears, capturing it eventually, humanely letting it outside the door, sighing in relief, and waking up the next day to discover that this mouse has not only found its way back inside our house, but has also given birth to a litter of baby mice on our kitchen floor.
As Joseph Conrad (and Marlon Brando, for that matter) so aptly put it: “The horror, the horror!”
Yet, I have also had some truly amazing experiences in this city. I’ve fallen in love, found a wonderful church, grown in my faith, earned two academic degrees, and learned to parallel park like a champion. I’ve participated in clichéd, Southern Californian activities, such as surfing, roller blading on the beach, and auditioning for a reality TV show.
Yes, I did audition for MTV, but it wasn’t my idea. It was the casting director’s. He came whizzing through the drive-thru window one day when I was working at In-N-Out, and as I handed him his Double-Double, I told him he could have his people call my people.
Just kidding. But I will admit that MTV was far from interested in my reserved and practical answers to their scandal-inducing questions:
MTV interviewer: “How far would you go on a first date?”
Me: “Ummmm, I would kiss someone . . . Maybe.”
MTV interviewer: “Okay, and what if a guy tried to push you to do more? How would you react?”
Me: “I guess I would tell him to stop.”
MTV interviewer: “I see you left this part blank on your application, so would you like to add anything about what turns you on, any sexual fantasies you have, etc?”
Me (looking visibly annoyed and glancing at the video camera that is recording my every word): “I’d really rather not.”
Needless to say, MTV didn’t call me back, and I didn’t really want them to at that point.
All jokes and crazy stories aside, this really has been an amazing decade that I’ve spent in Long Beach, and I dedicate this blog post to the city, itself. To the city that embraced me with open arms when I showed up crying on its doorsteps. To the city that watched me grow from an awkward post-adolescent, to an actual capable adult. And to all of the friends I have made and the people who have helped me along the way, I dedicate this to you, as well, because you are awesome and I will miss you like crazy.
Until next time.
Thank you, and all my love,
~ Christy ~
|Trisha and me|
|Me and the roomies at Christmas|
|Our Condo decorated for Halloween|
|My Dorm at CSULB|