Someone had scrawled a long paragraph down most of the bottom half of the stall door. Two phrases caught my eye before I took the time to read the entire passage. “I can’t stop crying, because I just feel like I don’t belong at UCLA.” And “I don’t have anyone to turn to.”
I never met the person who wrote those messages. It had definitely been done within the past few hours, because the maintenance crew hadn’t wiped the sharpie from the door. What occurred during what was clearly a very bad morning/early afternoon? What prompted the final push to removing a sharpie from their backpack and losing control in such a strange juxtaposition between private and public? I wasn’t in the presence of mind to analyze the situation so thoroughly at the time, but I definitely wondered if she was anywhere near. And all right.
It was my first week of classes at UCLA. I had managed to find the Dodd building successfully and had some time to kill before Classics 10: Ancient Greeks. I wandered into the women’s restroom and stared at my reflection in the listless and brooding aesthetic perfected by teenage angst. My high school boyfriend had broken up with me via phone the first night of my freshman orientation, and I still wasn’t over it. I didn’t know my two new roommates very well and had already gained my Freshman 15 (soon to be Freshman 30) from drowning my feelings in Chipotle (I’d still rather customize a burrito bowl than a sundae, conceptually.) I missed my parents. I had never lived away from home.
I mean, I was a college freshman.
When I ducked into the nearest bathroom stall, I wasn’t expecting to see a paragraph of handwritten text describing exactly how I felt. In the selfish state of being that comes with feeling lonely and upset, I couldn’t do much more than let an overwhelmed feeling wash over me.
Yes, my stoic exterior is a shell (a shell that’s as thick as molasses-based BBQ sauce, but a shell nonetheless) for a burning passionate nature. I’m essentially a Vulcan. Or Shrek.
I also didn’t expect to see the plethora of scrawled responses. A multitude of ink thicknesses and textures made up the kaleidoscope of handwriting in the supportive replies. “Girl, we are Bruins. We stick TOGETHER!!” read one bubbly print, the I’s dotted with circles instead of dots. “You proved you were good enough by getting in! We’re the most applied-to university on the planet! This is going to be the best four or five or six or whatever years of your life and you get to live it with all of us,” read another.
I will never repeat this act in a public restroom again, but I reached out and touched the words. I didn’t want to introduce myself to every contributor and become their best friend, but I at least felt as though I’d be able to stomach a 75-minute lecture. I wiped the tears from my eyes, wiggled my feet around in my checkered Van loafers (I wore flat shoes then), and stumbled out of the restroom door. In a moment of movie magic, I bumped into a young man outside the door and knocked his laptop to the ground.
It wasn’t a Carrie and Big “Sex and the City” moment. It wasn’t even a “Kobe and Shaq exchange high-fives amid rumors of rivalry after that epic alley-oop play” moment. After getting mutually excited about the indestructible nature of Mac laptops, he noticed my red eyes.
I smiled and replied that it had just been a long day.
“Don’t wait until your senior year to finish your GEs,” he joked. “You here for Classics 10, too?”
He slung his backpack to the floor and slid down the wall to sit, motioning for me to join him. He pulled a small bag of Kettle Chips from his backpack, opened it, and extended it to me.
“It’s rough, you know? You’ll be fine.”
He prattled on about professors, classes, and tests as we continued to dip into the bag of chips. He knew I wasn’t listening or attracted to him, that we wouldn’t speak after class or possibly ever again, and he didn’t care. He was selflessly giving me the opportunity to collect myself. He was providing me with multiple iterations of nourishment.
A $2.00 bag of Kettle Chips isn’t a quarter-inch thick piece of seared foie gras on toast or my Grandmother’s pumpkin pie, but I can’t see a bag without thinking of that moment, being grateful, and hoping that girl found the push into readiness she needed. It is an intense emotional journey to experience in the span of two seconds, but one I am continuously appreciative of.
“When a film’s heroine innocently coughs, you know that two scenes later, at most, she’ll be in an oxygen tent; when a man bumps into a woman at the train station, you know that man will become the woman’s lover/murderer. In everyday life, where we cough often and are always bumping into people, our daily actions rarely reverberate so lucidly.” from Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy