To read Part 1, click here.
To read Parts 2 & 3, click here.
I remained college roommates with my friend Liz until her graduation, one year ahead of mine. In my sophomore year (her junior), I lived with her and two of our friends in a campus apartment. It wasn’t long before I realized that I preferred dormitory life. I felt frustrated with the apartment arrangement for various reasons, but mostly because it seemed isolating. Something else might have happened, or not, but I grew very depressed. That year, I had the second worst depression to that date, after one I had at 15 ½. I couldn’t leave my room, at times, and therefore missed many classes. I stopped eating. I was paralyzed! I went from getting all A’s and B’s to getting mostly C’s and a D one semester. I had dropped out of two classes, decreasing my credit load to 12, the minimum required to live in campus housing. But the depression eventually passed. Not slowly, but quite suddenly.
The night that depression passed, I had a dream that I died. I had never had such a dream before. I was looking towards the “light” they always talk about, and there I saw my paternal grandfather, who had died when I was only nine years old. I had really loved him the most, of all my grandparents, and remember grieving deeply after his loss. In my dream, he smiled at me and I remember feeling great joy that death would not be a tragedy, but that I would join my “Pop Pop” again. He would play his guitar for me in heaven, and I would dance. After that dreamy thought, I woke up, and the depression was virtually gone.
When summer came, I joined Susan and Vilma (my other two apartment roommates) in living in rented rooms in a shared house in the university town. I was glad not to have to go home to be with my parents. Not that I didn’t love them, of course. It also gave me the chance to take a college course during the summer to make up for my low course load the semester before.
Vilma rented her own room in the house. Susan and I shared a room. There were other university students, all females, in the house’s other rooms. The other females were not particularly friendly to me, or even Vilma or Susan. Two of them showed downright hostility towards me. I confess that when I’m a bit up in mood (likely hypomania, in that case), I can be aggressive and rough around the edges, with a temper. I never directed it towards them, but one could hear and see me throwing things and screaming out in anger, on occasion. Mix in my impulsivity and loud pressured speech, and I can be overwhelming or offensive. I lacked all insight into that back then!
I got two summer jobs that year. One was as a cashier in a pharmacy, the other a clerk in a donut shop. Me in a donut shop? Good grief! Donuts are my favorite evil food!
My mania grew in intensity and I’m sure it affected my behavior at the jobs, too. But I remember walking around town for hours each day, in my mix of elation with occasional fury. Manic people can become quite exuberant. It can be like light shining from you from head to foot. Here she comes! The “Star of the Show”. Watch her Trip the Light Fantastic!
One day, some of the other women in the house were talking about a strange man that showed up at the door with a bouquet of flowers. He asked for “the pretty blond girl” that lived there. This guy apparently came across as quite spooky, so they told him he had the wrong house, yet he reluctantly went away when they shut the door on him. They all thought it was this one housemate that they liked, who was indeed a pretty blond. That kind of pissed me off that they didn’t consider it could be Susan. She was also a blond, and pretty. Then I thought that I hope he wasn’t there for Susan since he was described as scary. I was certainly glad he wasn’t there for me. I had light reddish-brown hair, at the time.
A couple days later, Susan and I went somewhere downtown together, in the afternoon. We were heading back to the house on a busy street, and I spotted a man coming towards us holding a bouquet of flowers. I said “Oh my God, Susan! Do you think that’s the guy?” And he kept heading towards us. We didn’t know if we should cross the street or not. We didn’t.
The man was looking straight at ME! When he reached me, smiling widely, he pushed the flowers towards me and said something like “I’ve finally found you! I’ve been trying to give you these flowers, but you haven’t been home.”
Stunned and scared, I thought fast and said “Ohhh, you must have the wrong person!”
“No, it’s you! Don’t you live at 45 Prospect Street?” he insisted, in a sort of distress.
“No Sir, you have the wrong lady! I don’t live in this town. I live in Piscataway.”
“No, you live on Prospect Street!” he almost cried.
“I’m sorry, but you have the wrong lady! I really DO live in Piscataway.”
After my second insistence, the look on his face became tragic. He turned, with the bouquet still in his hand, and walked the other way.
Soon after we got back to the house, Susan must have started telling the story to everyone. I truly think that it greatly disappointed the other women in the house. I was told they were snickering about it. You know how some women can be. If they hate another woman, she is definitely “the ugly one”, regardless of looks. That didn’t really bother me, though. I will say that I became a little paranoid that I would walk out the door one day and see that man holding the flowers again. Then, how would I escape that?
It was likely less than a week after when I lost both of my jobs, days apart. I had no income, so I was thinking I had to return home to my parents’ house soon. That was a bummer! I’ll admit that it was getting very uncomfortable in that house. Not just because of the cattiness, but also because there was no air conditioning and it was one hot as hell humid nasty summer. Susan and I had a fan in our room, but it was not enough. Plus, when my mood is elevated, I seem to become a furnace – even without external heat.
Stir crazy, with energy to power the whole town, I roamed the streets of my university town, looking for adventure. I happened upon one of those ad boards they had on the university campus. You know, the ones with the sheets of paper tacked on, where people post events, job listings, etc. As I perused it, one particular notice caught my eye reading the following:
Teach Conversational English in Poland
No teaching experience necessary
Small Stipend Provided
Sign up by contacting Agnieska Gerwel at xxxx by July #
Local Democracy in Poland
I thought “Whoa!” Would that be exciting! It would give me something to do. I had only ever taken a trip to China in the past. I definitely wanted to go to Europe. I never really thought of Poland, but why not? It would be interesting in that Poland was transitioning to a democratic country after years of communism. I studied about China, a communist country, and its language. It might be cool to see what a former communist country is facing. I pulled the notice down and took it home with me. That weekend, I visited my mother and it took her literally seconds to say “Do it! I’ll pay for your airfare.” So, I did it, and it was an incredible experience in my life that has literally led to many significant things, including my career and even hitting it off with my Czech husband. Bravo!
To read about my time in Poland, see my post Summer work abroad in Poland.
As a final note, I want to say that I love flowers. I always have. The above experiences never spoiled them for me. My dear Czech husband has given me countless bouquets over the course of our time together. I have loved every one of them and expect to happily receive many more.