“Suffice it to say,” she continues, “I thought I could be happy living just with my head as a guide. That if I made other people happy and accomplished my goals, that would fulfill me. But I never dreamed how much I was missing out until my heart got involved. It’s the little things . . . like going to Silas’s games and attending parties and meeting new people and acting spontaneously. I feel like I wasted the last two years of college trying to grow up too fast, and now I’m playing catch-up.”
I frown. “If you’ve wasted the last two years, what does that say about me?”
I’d put my time to good use. Not many people our age can say they’re going to graduate college after only two and a half years. Granted, I came in with a ton of hours from AP tests and summer courses and the like, but no one could say I squandered my time here.
I’d meant the question rhetorically, but when she remains silent with her gaze carefully directed away, I reconsider my words.
“You think I am wasting my time?”
Her reply is slow and careful. “I think that you and I were a lot alike.”
“Are. You and I, we both have a tendency to focus on achievements, on checking items and goals off a list. And what I’m realizing is that living isn’t about what you achieve, but how you achieve it. We’ve both moved full speed ahead toward the things we want, but I know I hadn’t lived enough to really know what I wanted. In fact, I was spectacularly wrong about most of it.”
“And you think I’m wrong, too?”
Damn. Those questions I’m not allowing myself to formulate? It’s a lot harder not to ask them when someone is basically asking them for you.
“No, I’m not saying that. I can’t know that. Only you can.” She pauses, and her gaze is speculative. “All I’m saying is college is a time to experiment. If you were trying to solve some equation or test a theory, you wouldn’t only look at it one way. You would evaluate all possibilities, explore different methods, study every variable. So maybe you should look at your time here as an opportunity to explore. Trial and error. Especially since you’re graduating early. Because once you finish here and move on to grad school, I don’t know how many opportunities you’ll have left.”
I have to admit . . . she has a point. If I am anything, it is meticulously thorough. But I haven’t done that here. I picked biomedical engineering, I put my head down, and I got to work. There’s been no exploring or experimenting of any kind. In my classes and labs, I would never choose a predetermined outcome and railroad my study to meet that expected end. That’s not reasonable. It’s not . . . smart.
“So, what?” I say. “I should get drunk and dance with a lampshade on my head?” That’s certainly not any smarter than how I’ve behaved so far.
She pauses in her cooking to laugh, and then laugh some more. “That is . . . not something I ever thought I’d picture. No, you don’t have to do a drunken lampshade dance. Unless you feel like it, then have at it. I just think you should step outside your routine, do some of the normal college things.”
What does that even mean?
I frown for a moment, and then point back into the living room.
“I’m going to study.”
Except I don’t.
Instead, I sit down on the couch, and I think about what I’m not supposed to be thinking about. Two months until graduation. Two months until I’m done with college.
Granted, I have a research job lined up for the spring semester, and I’m applying for grad schools for next fall, but even knowing I’ve got a lot of education still ahead of me, there’s something so final about it.
College is this one big transitional period, and when it’s over you’re supposed to have transitioned. You’re not just an adult in age, but in experience. But the thing is . . .
I don’t feel any different.
I don’t feel like someone about to embark on the first steps of her career.
I don’t feel any different than I did the first day I set foot on campus.
I’ve learned a lot certainly. My high school science and math teachers can’t hold a candle to the kind of stuff I’ve been exposed to here. But me—the me that is not what I’ve read in books or memorized for class or learned in a lab—that girl has hardly changed at all in my two-plus years here.
And in my quiet moments, when my brain is not occupied with some problem or study, I wonder if I’m ready. And what happens if I’m not?
Thinking of Dylan’s words, I flip to a new page in my spiral, grab a pen, and write.
NORMAL COLLEGE THINGS
I stare at the letters scrawled across the top of the page and think about how Dylan has changed in the past few months, about the “normal” that she found. Then I write down the first item on my list.
Hook up with a jock.
I stare at those three words, and I laugh. They’re just so far outside the realm of my existence that I can’t even picture it. Besides . . . it’s not as if athletes have this magic ability to turn girls’ worlds upside down.
And it’s not as if a guy is the thing solely responsible for making Dylan happier. It was her choices, whatever weird enlightenment she experienced. The guy was just the catalyst.
Maybe that’s all I need, too. I could try some new things, step out of the realms of my knowledge and comfort. Maybe it will rocket me forward into some previously unknown future.
Or more likely it will show me that I was right all along. That I know who I am and what I want, and all these doubts are just my brain balking at change.