I put brand-new, navy green sheets in with the rest of my laundry this morning. I figured I was combining old boxers, FabIndia kurtas, and synthetic lingerie, so why not throw in the sheets, too? I chose Perm Press from the display (instead of Normal or Delicates, made sense to hit the middle button, didn’t want to risk an extreme). Hoped for the best. This afternoon, my bed is fresh and warm and detergent-smelling, but all my whites have taken on an aqua tinge.
Whaddya know? And I thought laundry segregation—whites in one load, coloreds in the other—was a thing of the past.
College, week two, lesson one: Plessy vs. Ferguson is alive and well at the laundromat.
I’ve only been away from home a fortnight, but it feels like forever. I’m getting used to French toast and grits for breakfast, 2 percent milk that tastes like sour-water, the temperamental nature of the communal coffee maker. The futility of drinking decaf. I’ve adjusted to locking the door every time I leave my room. To country and death metal and new wave goth music that filters from rooms down the hall. I automatically put shoes on before heading for a shower. I have newfound appreciation for the ironed shirts that lie in my drawers, untouched since I packed my life into three suitcases two weeks ago. I’m eating breakfast daily because my parents are paying for it. I’m checking my mail on a semi-regular basis. I manage my own bank account, take out the trash, and separate the recyclables into newspaper, glass, plastic, and other. I go to class every morning even though the professor doesn’t take attendance.
My schedule’s all messed up. I’ve started showering in the middle of the afternoon. Friday morning I went to class at nine, then came home (home?) and slept until three in the afternoon. The only food items I keep in my combo fridge-freezer are water and Butter Pecan ice-cream. There’s something about Butter Pecan that seems a lot more sophisticated than Mint-Chocolate Chip. Now that I’m in college, I’ve moved on to mature flavors.
One thing I don’t understand: everything is so expensive here! No sympathy for poor college students at all. Each meal costs approximately 10 dollars and the cheapest birthday card for sale at the convenience store is $2.50. I recognize that universities have a guaranteed market in the student population, but there’s something inherently exploitive and cruel about the system, especially in light of the already exorbitant private-school tuition.
Last night I went to a frat party. I abandoned my dignity and joined the masses of desperate freshmen in pursuit of free booze and social fulfillment. Not that I have anything against frat parties—actually, yes I do—I just think it’s sad that we underclassmen have no qualms about begging (literally, in many cases) for alcohol while sketchy (“sketchy” is the hip-and-happening word used to describe anyone remotely unsavory, lecherous, or just-plain-weird, or any place that fits the same description or is populated by frightening “sketchy” people) upperclassmen peruse the class directory, a.k.a. “the menu,” for tender, frosh-girl-meat.
There are condoms in the vending machines in between the Three Musketeers bars and the M&Ms. I am shocked.
There are free chocolate, strawberry, and grape flavored condoms available in the health center. I giggle, until I realize I’m the only one amused, like the boy in my fifth-grade-class who laughed when the teacher progressed from Venus to Uranus.
I’ve become accustomed to the sight of shirtless young men walking around our co-ed dorm floor. Every once in a while a girl who forgot to take her towel in to the shower jets out of the bathroom in her underwear. Whether you want intimacy or not, you have to become close to the people who live in the rooms next to yours. After all, you see each other in the morning, eyes crusted over, brushing teeth, and ironing hair (I am still amazed that so many girls will wake up an extra hour early to flatten their roots with hot irons). You hear each other agonize over boring classes and extended assignments. You are subjected to each other’s musical preferences repeatedly and sometimes at odd hours of the night.
College. I’m a college student. When I come home for vacation, my younger brother will be happy to see me. My parents will want to control me. Aunties will try to feed me more than I want to eat because I, like all other starving college students, have been eating “dorm food.” I wonder if I’m going to put on the freshman fifteen. I think it’s too early to tell. Thus far I haven’t been eating much—boiled vegetables and scrambled eggs get old really fast—but I did recently discover the potato chips section of the grocery store and the self-serve ice-cream machine.
The only Indian restaurant nearby is called Dale’s Indian Cuisine. All the waiters are Hispanic. The food is fairly average, but I imagine Dale’s samosas will look much more appetizing after a whole semester of pasta.
I miss Thai food. I miss driving. I miss my mother’s cooking. I miss the way my brother yells at me for hogging the computer, just because he wants to play pirated video games or download Japanese anime. I have my own computer now, and nobody ever asks to use it.
I don’t hear my father’s footsteps on the stairs, or hear him scolding me to do more exercise. Nobody here cares if I exercise or not. My mom can’t remind me to drink water. She doesn’t ask me to bring down my laundry. For some inexplicable reason, I have to do it myself.
I just don’t understand how I got here. To this age, this stage, this place so far away from everyone and everything I know. I am living what I’ve been looking forward to for years, living what I will one day recall wistfully with friends and, maybe, children. I’m wearing my aqua-colored, crumpled tees and living alone—a life that for the first time is one hundred percent my own.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a freshman and Angier B. Duke Scholar at Duke University.