You know when you’re driving and then you look up and you’re at your destination and you don’t even remember getting into your car? And by the grace of God you somehow got there safely? That is a metaphor for my coming to university. I don’t really know how I got here, but I’m going to get out of the car and act like I wasn’t doing jumping jacks on Mars for that 20 minute car ride.
I was on autopilot for a long time. I’ve always had an unhealthy attachment to clean paths and denial, so I walked what was laid out before me and pretended that was enough. I went to school to get the grades to get to university to get a job to get a house and a family and a comfortable life to get to retirement and watch other people walk the same path. My only choice was toothpaste: one drop or two drops today? That’s not to say that I didn’t live a vibrant, chaotic life – I have an African family. My house had an aunt or an uncle or a grandma in it at any given point in the day, and there were always pots and spicy smells and laughs being thrown around. But that’s the thing, we were an African family. The kids, as all immigrant kids do, felt the pressure to prove themselves, to make their parents’ sacrifice across the great Atlantic worth it, to live the life our parents never had. I practically had Don’t mess up tattooed on my forehead. So I walked the walk.
Then Western happened.
My dad, who’s always had an affinity for detours even on already insanely long road trips, had already thrown me a plot twist by announcing that he didn’t want me to go to law school anymore and he instead wanted me to choose a future career that would make me happy. I had had to take inventory of everything in my life that didn’t make me want to pluck out my eyeballs and had decided on a dual degree with English and Business at Western. He then proceeded to laugh, quite boisterously I might add, at the thought of paying 14,000 for first year residence and the next thing I knew, he had put that money he would have used on residence towards a down payment for a house. Also known as Richables, the house I’ve lived in the past 3 years of my university career with the same wonderful 4 roommates. At that point in time though, it was known as The House with No Washrooms because none of them worked until 3 weeks into the school year.
That wasn’t the most traumatizing part of my first year, sadly. That was me breaking down in the middle of my 600 people calculus class when I asked a “ridiculous” question and the prof proceeded to use me as an example of what not to do. That was me being catcalled on the streets of London the second week of school at 10:30 at night when I had no bus pass and no idea where I was. That was me failing my business operations exam by 1% after studying harder than I ever had for any calculus or physics exam in my life. That was me having a roaring fight with my roommates over the dishes, our first fight, and a teary me running to pick up the phone and realizing that all of my friends were in the house fuming at me downstairs.
It was a bit much, to be honest. I was in a foreign place, a lonely place, where it felt like nothing I was doing was right and I didn’t quite remember what happiness felt like. I was tired of winding roads. So I swallowed my pride and called my parents.
My dad laughed that full laugh of his. “Well there we go, it’s about time. I was waiting for this call. When you would ask for help.”
Find something familiar, they had said. Which was how I found myself at meetings of Western Marching Band and in the university’s poetry writing club. All of a sudden, I had friends to walk to class with, and study dates at the library. They would get angry with me about essay marks or agree with me over points I’d made in class, unknowingly giving me the confidence to go talk to my professors and understand where I had gone wrong. I was leaving the house to go to dinners with my roommates and meeting them at school to do work together. I was living a life.
I think that’s the one piece of advice I got that I have to critique: Take a risk. University is already a risk, for most it’s the biggest one they have ever made. Asking people to then add on to that with other new experiences is difficult. Everything is going to be new. For those who are used to clear paths, it is all forest. So let them find a patch of meadow first, something familiar so they have the strength to tackle the forest. Having a foundation, a support system to fall back on, was the only way that I took other chances like sophing and going to Ivey, which were the greatest experiences of my life.
I guess if this whole thing doesn’t work out, at least I’ve got a promising future as a lumberjack.