August 25, 2017

Dorm Trials: How Living on My Own Taught Me to Socialize

By Lily Mordaunt, Learning Ally College Success Program Communications Intern, rising junior at Hunter College, and visually impaired.

Hunter College Visually impaired student

Every freshman is anxious during those waiting days leading up to the start of college.  You’ve just spent four years being told that if you think high school is hard, imagine college.  Yet it sometimes seems as though no amount of prayer or intense hoping (if you’re not the praying type), would keep high school from ending.  I was and wasn’t one of those people.  I was a little anxious about college, but not freaking out.  And while I would miss high school and did have a few moments of panic about how quickly senior year flew by, I was pretty much ready to go.

I felt I would do well in college.  I was a self-proclaimed introverted extrovert.  So I knew, even if it took some time, I’d eventually make friends.  And I’d been advocating and talking about my vision for years.  So my vision teacher’s little hints about how much things would affect me depended on me, often times felt more annoying than helpful.  Go scare some of the less prepared students.  Or find a way to help with my procrastination-a trait I knew would be a problem in college.

If you couldn’t tell, I was ready.  Or thought I was.  I even had grand plans for my vlog, the companion to my blog, wherein I would discuss all of the inevitable embarrassing and empowering moments I would have as a blind college student.  But there was one thing I hadn’t prepared for –  dorm life.

Of course I knew it was going to happen.  I was excited to be on my own: to be my own boss and have my own room.  It would be glorious.

But what I didn’t take into account was the awkwardness I would feel from living with strangers.  Would they whisper about the blind girl cooking? If I went into the kitchen to warm up a late night snack, should I be fully dressed so that no one laughed at my favorite pajamas, the dress with the bear sleeping on the moon? How childish is that?

So I found a solution.  I would wait for no one to be roaming the hall or the kitchen, and then I would go in.

Luckily, I had my own ADA bathroom so I didn’t have to worry about any embarrassing moments there.  And I had no trouble walking to the elevator and leaving the building.  Interacting with strangers while preparing food was my problem.

I didn’t have anything to do those first few days. My other friends were settling into their own rooms across the city, making friends with roommates, or they had moved out-of-state, so we could only talk on the phone, not hang out.  So I hid-a fact I refused to admit to myself then-but even for a blind person hindsight can be twenty/twenty, and I now know my actions for what they were.  I hid from my floor mates; tiptoeing to my door, so that no one knew that there was an extremely antisocial person in the room.  I’d press my ear to the door and either head out or back to my desk depending on what the sounds told me.  Sometimes, when I wasn’t sure whether or not a person was in the kitchen or lounge, I would slip into my bathroom and see if being in the hall made the situation easier to discern.  And if I still couldn’t tell, well, that was no matter.  I’d just go back to my room until I was sure.

One day, after about two or three days of tiptoeing, I was in the kitchen washing my dishes when someone sneaked up on me.  Okay, it wasn’t sneaking, but that’s what it felt like.  How was it that this stranger also had dishes to wash at the exact moment I did?

“Hey.” he said.

I looked around.  Perhaps he had a friend who had come in with him? But I didn’t see anyone.  The cane tucked under my left arm reminded me of just how impaired my vision was, but I still felt I could see enough to figure out if there were any other people around.  But there were none.

“Hi.” I said, sounding less tentative than I felt.

“This your first year?” he asked, putting his dishes down on the counter a little bit away from me.  I said yes and we continued talking from there.  He told me of the woes of being a Hunter student and living in this particular dorm.  But his complaints seemed to be mostly good-humored.  We exchanged names, hometowns, and all of the other small talk that could fit into me washing a plate, cup, and some silverware.  He even offered to travel to school with me on the days he wasn’t biking.  It was a really nice conversation, though still not quite what I needed to get me out of my shell.

A little later that day, I began planning my first vlog episode.  What had I done since moving into the dorm? Acquire thirteen mosquito bites (I kid you not, there were small holes in my shade), clog my toilet (no that wasn’t embarrassing at all), and hide in my room.  The first two gave me enough material but the third…  that wasn’t cool.  I’m supposed to be bubbly and outgoing, not reticent and worried about appearances.

Disgust is too strong a word, and disappointment is too mild.  But as I thought about my actions, I was very displeased with myself.  I was not going to be Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, who subsisted on granola bars for a few weeks because she was too afraid of going to the cafeteria on her own.  But unlike Cath, I had neither roommate nor twin sister to drag me out.  It was all on me.

So the next time I had to do something in the kitchen-heat food or wash a dish-I went out and did it.  It wasn’t as easy as I make it sound.  It took a number of deep breaths and halfhearted attempts to get up.  But after a mental slap in the face, I made myself do it.  And by the end of the week, I was going to the kitchen without my cane.  It had always been a little unwieldy balancing dishes and using the cane.  But I’d also felt uneasy carrying things with only my eye to rely on. Once I began interacting with my floor mates, however, most of them helped by looking out for me and getting out of my way.  Sometimes, I’d find myself still trying to find a time where the kitchen was empty. But by the end of the month, I was moving around the floor-in and out of the lounge and kitchen-with ease.

While I like people, I’m still a loner at heart, so more often than not, you’ll find me in my room.  But now it’s by choice, not out of fear.

 

 

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– Kristen Witucki


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