Over the last few days I can’t say how many people I’ve had to give directions to. They’ve all got a similar look about them; they’re panting and sweating bullets.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry to ask you this, this is my first week on the main campus and I don’t know where to go. This is so embarrassing and I’m so sorry to bother you,” they say at a rate comparable to light speed.
As a battle-hardened veteran of the campus, I always do my best to set them on the right path. The first week of school is a crapshoot. I haven’t met a single student who hit the ground running, and I doubt I ever will. It’s a terrible experience, but a unifying one.
It’s easy to assume that everyone’s first experiences on the main campus all balance out at the same level of awful. However, that’s not true. I can say with absolute certainty that mine was worse.
The spring 2018 semester started with a snowstorm. It wasn’t a particularly bad snowstorm, nothing compared to the icy hellscapes we got hit with in 2015 and 2016, but the city of Richmond was unprepared for it all the same. We were supposed to start on Tuesday, but the snow pushed us back two days. So on that Thursday, I started classes in Richmond.
I had already spent a year and half at regional campuses and foolishly thought that I wouldn’t have any trouble with the move. I parked my car around the middle of the Alumni parking lot and stuck 1 foot out of my 2005 Camry, ready to take on the world. I immediately slipped and fell.
The ground, you see, was covered in ice. For about 2 seconds my body was entirely airborne. At that same time, I screeched out the f-word at the top of my lungs. I landed on my fists like a gorilla, my head whipping into the pavement as I fell. This happened in front of about 20 people.
I sat huddled on the ground, breathing heavily, balled fists still stuck on the ice-frosted pavement. People just walked around me as I kneeled there, like a rock in a stream. I’m not quite sure how long this went on. The blow to my head was pretty hard. Could’ve been 2 minutes. Could’ve been 10. Eventually I sauntered up off the ground and did an odd, scoot-like walk towards campus.
Little did I know at the time, but the knuckle on my right pinky finger had split open in spectacular fashion and was profusely bleeding. I didn’t piece this together until later, but it explained the groans and reeling away I got from the people I hailed.
“Do you know where Combs is?” I asked, bloody hand extended and clearly still dazed from the blow to the head. It took about five people before anyone was kind enough to point me towards my destination.
Whenever I finally scooted my way to Combs, I held the door open for a young woman who had been trailing behind me. In response to the cartoonish grin I gave her, the woman’s face contorted and she took the other door.
This left me frustrated, not noticing the smattering of blood on my hand and the handles of the door into Combs that no doubt frightened her away. I foolishly made the mistake of taking the stairs up the third floor rather than the elevator, meaning I wasn't only going to be bleeding but sweaty, too. Chalk that up to shoddy nerves and being about 30-odd pounds overweight.
When I stumbled into my class, already about five minutes late, the professor gave me a strange look as I took the syllabus out of his hand. Terrified and for some reason out of breath, I sat down to who I perceived as the least judgmental-looking person in the room. I awkwardly stuck my hand out and introduced myself. Knowing what I know now, I’m no longer angry that he chose to nod rather than shake my hand.
Sometime into the class I figured out the source of my problem. My copy of the syllabus was soaked in blood. Before I could protest this to the professor, the mangled knuckle finally drifted into my peripheral. Embarrassment would be a bit of an understatement. At the end of the class, I violently snatched another copy of the syllabus off the professor’s desk and jammed the bloody hand into my coat pocket, rolling it around.
I hurriedly dropped my backpack off in my next class and ran to the bathroom to wash up. Not knowing the layout of the restrooms in Combs, I barged into the room and managed to catch the end of some poor guy finishing his business at a urinal. Neither of us said anything as we washed our hands. I felt like the proper thing to do at the time would’ve been to apologize to him, but the easy thing to do would’ve been to just say nothing. So that’s what I did.
The next class was better. I made an ass of myself in the introduction, but it could’ve been worse. I didn’t have any more classes that day, so it was time to go. I got lost trying to maneuver my way back to Alumni and spent approximately 45 minutes aimlessly walking around campus before I found my way back to my car. After running through the drive-thru at Raising Cane’s, I hopped on the interstate and went home.
Starting something new is scary. And whether you had started at a regional campus or jumped straight into Richmond, those first couple of days of school can be really bad. As far as those bad days can go, it’s really hard to get worse than mine. It took a while for things to improve. But after a few weeks, I knew my way around campus. Then I started making friends. And seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself joining a club - something I swore I would never do.
Yeah, things can seem pretty bad at first. But before you know it, you’ll get into the swing of things. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with this place.