In 1984 my Mom and I went to look at several colleges. My favorite visit was to Washington D.C. to tour the campus of Catholic University. I absolutely loved Washington D.C. There was so much to do and see. My Mom graduated from Rutgers and my Dad from George Washington University. I was born at George Washington Hospital while my Dad was still in school in Washington D.C. We moved to New Jersey when I was not quite 3 years old, so I have almost no memory of my time in D.C. Yet, somehow, I was being drawn back there. I feel I must mention that I was not a practicing Catholic (neither were my parents), but my grandmothers were. They were thrilled when they found out I was considering applying to C.U.
My Mom and I visited C.U on a beautiful Spring morning. I instantly fell in love with the campus. The grounds were immaculate and filled with flowers. The National Shrine sits majestically on a hill adjacent to the campus. It’s truly breathtaking and I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to go inside. Our tour guide was a chirpy young woman, a student no doubt. As our small group walked around the campus, she’d point out the various buildings. “This is the dining hall.” I looked to where she was pointing, expecting to see a boring, boxy building. But no, it was a beautiful edifice. We continued on and she pointed out the theater. She wasted no time telling us that Susan Sarandon had graduated from C.U. and waited for our reaction. I wanted to major in theater and was sufficiently impressed. The rest of the group couldn’t have cared less.
Later in the tour, our tour guide pointed out the Metro station on campus. “This line will take you right to M Street in Georgetown.” We all had blank looks. “There are stores and restaurants…,” she clarified. I found out later that there were also a shit-ton of bars on M Street, but that little tidbit was strategically left out of her spiel. During the whole tour I was thinking “yep, this is where I want to go.” Chirpy also explained that C.U. was a part of a consortium which meant students could take classes at many of the other universities in the area. THAT was really appealing to me. My Mom was impressed as well, which made me happy.
I applied to C.U., was accepted, and in the Fall of 1985, I began my college journey. The ride from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. was hellish, not because of the drive, but because I was insufferable. I had to say goodbye to my boyfriend, my first love. It was all very “life or death” at the time and because I was 18, I was ridiculously dramatic. In fairness, this was long before the days of face-timing, texting or even emails. Still, I drove my poor Mom and Stepdad crazy during the whole 10-hour trip. Each time the theme from “St. Elmo’s Fire” came on the radio there were fresh tears. But to their credit, they tolerated my crying (and later sulking).
When we arrived on campus, I couldn’t help but notice how many cute boys were roaming around. Boyfriend? What boyfriend? My parents helped me move into Spellman Hall, an all girl’s dorm. The boy’s dorm was adjacent to ours. I don’t remember all the details during this time but I know that the following day my Mom and Stepdad took me to the on-campus bank to open a checking account. There was a long line of students and parents. I stole a glance at the guy in front of us. He was chatting with his parents. He was incredibly handsome—so much so that even my Mom made a comment to me. Little did I know that months later he and I would go to one of the big freshman dances together. More on that another time…
During orientation I met the girl who would later become my roommate and one of my best friends (we’re still friends today!). We were both theater majors and chatted excitedly about everything under the sun. Her boyfriend at the time was attending Georgetown University and we talked about heading to M Street to meet up with him and his friends. It was all really exciting to me. I just knew that I had made the right choice in coming to C.U.
When it came time to say goodbye to my Mom and Stepdad, I was sad and a little scared. But mostly I was excited. I had no idea when I would see them next and, because phone calls were expensive, we agreed that I would call every Sunday. I watched them drive away and fought back the urge to run after the car for one last hug. I went back to my room. My roommate was there. She was awful. I won’t get into the craziness that I endured because of her and her friends, but thankfully after about 2 weeks I was able to transfer into a room with my friend from theater. I went from a double room to a quad, which might sound dreadful, but it was the best thing ever. I loved my 3 roommates and we had so much fun together.
Back to that second night…
At this point in my life I had never had a drink. I’m not kidding—never. So, when my new friends and I went to the lawn party at the boy’s dorm and they offered me punch, I thought nothing of it. It was purple and it tasted pretty good. My friend told me it was grain punch. “Oh, ok,” I said, having no idea what that meant. At some point during the evening it got chilly and I went back to my room to get a sweatshirt. As I headed back to the party and began to descend the stairs, I got this strange feeling. It wasn’t a bad feeling per se, kind of like a dizziness deep in my head. I remember distinctly thinking “Ah! This is what it means to be buzzed.” From that night on, being buzzed (or wasted) was a common state Wednesdays through Saturdays. Miraculously, I maintained all A’s during my first year of college, despite partying most of the week. My high school teachers had prepared me well!
By Sundays my roommates and I were toast. I don’t believe any of us learned our limit that year. We’d sleep until noon and then drag our butts to the dining hall for breakfast food or anything that would soak up the alcohol. One morning, as we were crossing the street to go to breakfast, we saw a delivery truck parked at the dining hall unloading boxes of food. The delivery men were bringing in boxes labeled “hot dogs.” In my current hung-over state, my immediate reaction was “Gross.” But what I read next has haunted me to this very day. On the next line, in smaller print the box read: Grade D but edible. We all noticed it at the same time and broke out into laugher and choruses of “Grooooooossss!!”
I transferred at the end of the year, not because of hotdog-gate, but because I switched majors. But that first year of college is clearer to me than all the other years combined. It was a time of growth, learning and coming into my own. I’m forever grateful to my 3 amazing roommates who gave me unconditional love and acceptance. I’m grateful for all the times I went to the Smithsonian or sat on one of the benches outside the National Shrine. Washington D.C. will always have a special place in my memories—maybe because I was born there, or maybe because that’s where I transitioned out of childhood and into adulthood. Who knows for sure? But I can tell you this, I never looked at hotdogs quite the same way.