Alma matters

I have two college alma maters: Lakeland College, a rinkydink outfit in the middle of a cornfield just northwest of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and of course, Mankato State, better known these days as Minnesota State University, Mankato. MSU is a slightly less rinky-dink outfit with a town around it, and then there are corn and wheat fields.

I am nominally a member of the alumni association at Mankato. At least, I think I am – I sure as hell don’t use that resource like it’s intended. I just don’t have the money to go to $200/plate dinners to glorify the Timberwolves owner for another asshole move that marginally benefits some random college students, at least if they’re athletic. Lakeland recognizes me as its alumni on its Facebook page for whatever reason – I did go there, even though I didn’t graduate, so I guess I’m an alum if they decide to say so.

I chose to attend school out of state because I specifically did not want to go to college with anyone I knew in high school. I had yearned, cried and prayed for some kind of do-over, because attitudes towards me were so entrenched that by the time I was eighteen, I could have transformed into Miss America and the insults would remain the same. I figured that if I went to a school where no one knew me, at least they’d have to get to know me, rather than all the crap people said about me.

As it was, I blew a few things, got a few things right and wound up in a politics of personality based solely on who I was. It was nice to fuck up without being made to pay for my sister’s fuck-ups or for some stupid politics thing between my dad and a teacher or my mom and someone else’s mom. But I remained utterly unskilled in how to deal with things in even a slightly dishonest way. Certain predators recognized my naivete and hesitance in many situations proceeded to exploit my trust and goodwill. Thus my first year included an abusive boyfriend, a creepy roommate who pooped in her bed and at least once in mine and the boyfriend’s douchebag friend who hated me solely because he was Lutheran and I wasn’t what he deemed “submissive enough.” Trying to talk to either of my parents about these things was impossible; every time I tried to tell them, the response was, “Oh, colleges are all the same.” It was dismissive and shitty behavior, and looking back I realize that they were trying to demoralize me into coming home. My second year involved me getting ousted from the newspaper staff (my work got mysteriously “lost” and I’d had enough) and a bizarre situation where I was forced to sit in on  residence hall council election results meeting that was not about results but about putting me in my place – even though I hadn’t run. I only wish I’d known then that I could have pressed charges for harassment.

My reasons for leaving might be complex, but it came down to a bottom line: the school decided I was a “troublesome” student despite an outstanding academic and extracurricular record, and despite a good number of their athletes passing classes with my help. So when financial aid packages came around, I was treated to the “cut” package. The only way I could continue at that school was to get a PLUS loan. Hell would freeze over before my parents signed up for any kind of student loan on my behalf: the winter before they sat me down and told me I needed to consider “other alternatives” to college – which was either the military, or get out. Yes, they knew about the 3.8 GPA. They just didn’t care. And they expected me to rely on my friends for things like rides, etc.

I’ve always felt awkward asking for help, especially since I wasn’t the person people asked to go out in groups on a Friday night. Nope, I was the loser alone in my room listening to Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals until one girl took pity on me. We would drive into town together, and she would tell me about how I wasn’t as good a friend as all her other friends on campus, and how when she was married she wanted to have a separate bedroom from her husband. Seriously, every week this was her monologue. I concluded she was both lonely and insane, and when I could, I opted to be alone instead.

I had friends there, but not the kind I could talk to when shit got real – although they came to talk to me. And most of them had their sensitivity buttons OFF when they did. My favorite was when one girl wanted to talk to me about how my ex boyfriend had a groupie at every play rehearsal; on the surface it sounds fine, but in the context of the conversation I could swear she was wishing I’d get back together with him so she didn’t have to see the annoying girl he eventually knocked up and locked up like he tried to do to me. Thanks for the support, recovering from the year of psychological battery great, thanks. Even my roommate/BFF of ten years kind of sucked when it got down to the wire. If it wasn’t about her drama with the douchebag she dated, she really didn’t want to hear it.

I was friends with the frat boys below me, and it was a very “guy” relationship. The only time they didn’t want to deal with me was when I was being emotional, so most of the time I just switched that part of me off. And they tried to help, although their ways of helping probably did more harm than good. The way they thought of me over time did improve, but by the time we could have branched into an authentically deep friendship, it was time for me to go.

I selected Mankato for two reasons: for a brief while, I had a boyfriend who attended the school. He promised to be friendly when I arrived and even intimated we might see where the relationship might go with us in the same town. And even with out of state tuition, it was cheaper than attending a school in Indiana and had the added attraction of no one I knew in high school. The financial aid package was extremely generous: my dad agreed to cosign one loan, and the rest was made up for as they were eager to grab someone with my academic background. After frequent calls and nags, I was all set, and I only had to threaten to walk out once to get them to give me my junior status. I just had to pass a math test (the proctor pointed out my errors and closed her eyes while I corrected them) and complete a library-use course that caught me up on all the technology I’d missed at Lakeland.

The ex boyfriend turned out to be a lying, promise-breaking rat. If it were solely about him, I’d have found somewhere else in Indiana to go. But my family had a big enough collective tantrum about my leaving for Minnesota that I was convinced I needed to leave for my own safety. This was especially true after my mother screamed at me as I’d “never intended to attend Ball State!”  I had actually applied, but their financial aid package was shitty on par with Lakeland’s, and they absolutely refused to evaluate me as a junior. After a particularly awful Thanksgiving with my family ((her favorite holiday also seems to be the one where she tries to kill me the most often)) I was starting to suspect that there was going to be some kind of forcing me to live with my over-strict extremely invasive to the point of creeptastic grandparents in the deal there somewhere, too. And since any association with a boy got my mother to respond as though I greeted people with “Hi! I’m from Slutsville!” I decided that for the sake of my extremely limited dating life ((I’ve had maybe ten boyfriends/five dates-no sex –  over the course of my entire life))that I just wasn’t going there. Besides, the chances of accidentally dating a cousin in Indiana were a little bit too high.

My father’s dismissive question, “Are you just doing this because of hormones?” was sufficiently insulting and hurtful to make me lie about the existence of my ex. I never dated casually, ever, and I am still insulted that they thought I was some moronic slut who would change schools solely for the sake of a man.

MSU was different. First of all, Minnesotans are much more reserved than Wisconsonites, and they’re more openly assholes about anybody who’s an outsider. They’re also much much more small world. So although I went from a school with 3,000 students to a university with 14,000 students the world suddenly narrowed as almost nobody in Mankato strays that far from home. The end result was that those of us who did go out into the world and found ourselves in Minnesota eventually banded together, and the occasional disjointed Minnesotan might come into the picture, but usually left when we lost patience with the Minneostan-centric view of the universe, which for the most part is pretty hateful.

Because I lingered in Mankato longer I did end up making friends and keeping them. I have good friends, and while there’s been a river-like flow through my life, a few of them have been there for me when I’ve gotten sick, hurt, divorced, violated or otherwise taken the knocks on the chin that life sometimes gives. I can’t say anybody from my life in Wisconsin is like that or was ever on their way to being like that. I was pretty much there for even the guys, but when it counted, they never were for me. The only people I really heard from were, as always, ones who wanted to babble on about their lives without any real interest in my life (and no, I don’t think you’re supposed to just volunteer that info as a response – we’re not toddlers, for Christ’s sake.) Or one or two guys who pretty much listened because they wanted to hook up with me  – and that’s not really listening so much as it is looking for an opening.

One or two people from Lakeland have found me on Facebook, and when I made the mistake of signing a guestbook on the old newspaper a few years ago I did hear from people that I really couldn’t care less about. Today I got one indirectly from someone I first met at the school: a nice person, but she didn’t seem to want to reach out to me all that much, and I felt awkward always calling her. I do remember her fondly, though – she is the one who helped cut my hair the time I set fire to it. Unfortunately, she married the douchebag that was dating my ex BFF. I strongly suspect that the connection was a request/order from him so he can peer into my life. Which is utterly stupid since Google clearly displays my rather busy online public life anyway. Then again, the school had exactly two machines with Internet access when I left, and while it improved, they didn’t have half the advancement of Mankato State.

But the request did send me on a fishing expedition, and I saw people from Lakeland I liked, who were friends so many years ago. I almost clicked “add.” But then I stopped. The ones I mattered to will find me, and I don’t think there’s very many of them. So why put myself out there for people who just want to babble on about their lives? I got enough of that from high school revisit hell.

Moral: I hate Facebook.