High school was already like college for me, ‘cos my parents had me take every advanced course in the book, plus tutor math, chem, physics and English. And I ran track. Couldn’t stomach the militants on the girls’ basketball or volleyball platoons, so I sometimes worked out with the boys’ teams. They didn’t seem to have a problem with my being there. At least no one ever complained to my face.
Imagine going through three years of what should have been the coolest days of your life, only to be drafted into this academic militia that ran on high 24/7. Honestly, I just couldn’t wait to get outta my house. I was an only child, which meant that I got all the attention. And I mean all, even the negatives. I know I’d miss my ‘rents if they were gone, and we’ll pro’ly all be best of friends when I’m 40, but right now they drive me up and down the walls and I want some quality distance between us.
Where was I? Dying to do college in Palo Alto! My first day started out fine: got up at the usual five-thirty and went for a long run, short hike and bike ride. Since no one else was up even by the time I got back in, like around seven, I had the shower to myself for half an hour. First thing I do is take a cold shower for a minute or two. Invigorates me like a shot of lightning. After my nipples morph into little rocks, I soak under a blast of hot water as long as I can take it, then wash up and just stand there under a warm stream for what seems like hours. The high lasts from the moment I’m up to the second I hit the pillow and go dreamtime. Who the hell needs coke, Mary Jane or E?
I’m way ahead of myself here. There was nothing dreamtime about the next sequence of events. I’m not one of those fashion-conscious girls who’s into the latest fashion minutes after it appears of Fashion TV or Vogue. I’ll admit it: I dress like a boy (read: slob). My clothes are clean, loose, usually earth-toney, and comfortable. You’ll never find me in heels or clogs or anything other than running shoes, Tevas, hiking boots, simple beach flips or, my fave: bare feets. Since today was special, I decided on a light sweatshirt over my sports bra, dark-blue sweatpants, Tevas and my Dad’s favorite baseball cap I stole from his collection when I was 12. I was better outfitted for a day on some backcountry hiking trail, rather than my first day at university. And the thought made me feel more at home than ever.
Dad had said I should absorb everything on that first day, so I could look back and savor it later on. Soon as I fell into line at the café’s self-serve station, I became this other person. Explaining it now is sorta useless, ‘cos I still don’t know what overcame me. Wish I could blame it all on my Dad for suggesting I “absorb” it all, but there was more to it than that. As I passed each menu item, I dumped it on my tray. Even stuff I never touched before: grits smothered in industrial butter, sausage patties drowning in various pig juices, fried this, fried that. Fuckin’ yuk!
My last stop was the severely overweight cashier, with an similarly overweight opinion: she took a long minute to survey all six feet and 170 pounds of me, then smirked as she studied my montecito of junk food. Satisfied that I appeared somewhat sane and flush with cash, her six-inch-long nails rang up each and every item I’d gotten; the bill came to $24.95. Some people around me snickered, others laughed out loud at the idiocy of it: I was Chef Bourdain, about to stuff a dozen ducks . . . or the handler at the zoo, charged with feeding six mountain gorillas.
Slightly embarrassed, I slinked off to the only lone table, this one set as far back as the eye could see. It was amply littered with dried food and unfamiliar cola residue, but so what? I took a seat facing away from everyone else, hoping no one would notice the gluttonous amazon blonde with Milan runway-model cheekbones and a third-world eating habit. Some unknown voice inside me spoke: Big day. Big girl. Big food. Eat up.
To my dismay, I did eat up. Every single piece of pork unknowns, every strip of mystery meat, every gram of fatty corn parts, every fried or toasted or burned-to-a-crisp thingee. I consumed all ten pounds of it—I know what ten pounds feel like, believe me. I must’ve resembled a deep-ocean predator whose life at the bottom of the world featured two choices: feast or famine, so when a feast magically appeared, it was dig in and get stuffed like marine foi gras.
While the rest of the café experienced a relatively fast turnover of students and faculty, my little niche in the back in the corner, the space away from the world, held me for nearly an hour. When done, I could barely move, much less breathe. My tummy was distended out to here, and I looked six months pregnant. I tried to foi gras some air down my esophagus, hoping it would release some of the gas forming like highly toxic industrial waste in my stomach, but my throat was nearly closed. If I’d had the proper tools, I woulda pumped my stomach on the spot. Nervously, I sipped some ice water, praying it stayed down. Sipping ice water or sucking on ice cubes always helped when I felt nauseated, even on the coldest of days. If nothing else, it froze my teeth and diverted attention away from the pain in my tummy.
My iPhone sounded softly, telling me that I had 30 minutes before my first class. Oh, shit, it would surely take me 30 minutes just to walk from my table to the exit of the café. I steeled myself for the task ahead, and got up. Thunderous clapping filled the hundred-seat café, as I made my way to the tray station and dropped off my trash and tray. Several boys stood up from their seats in mock ovation as I walked to the exit, and one kind gentleman even held the door for me and tipped an imaginary hat. As I opened my mouth to thank him, I burped up a bolus of stinky gas that surely killed that poor soul within minutes after exposure. I was Ugly Betty, all six feet and 170—I mean, 190—pounds of me.
Outside, I spun around slowly to get my bearings, found none, then felt my tummy gurgle a noise I’d never heard before. Something atavistic. I was about to give birth to some prehistoric turd and there wasn’t a fuckin’ bathroom in sight. When tossed unceremoniously into a survival situation, with seemingly no options . . . do something!
So I ran. Oh, gawd, what a thing to do at a time like this. I ran like a wild girl through the jungle, spinning my head around and around, looking for a building that would have an accessible bathroom. The university center would surely have a bathroom! I sprinted up to the main doors, nearly ran over a pack of senior girls who were handing out flyers to a free concert, and yelled, “Bathroom!” One of them yelled back, “Uhhhhhhh, over there!” and they all giggled like preschool girls on their first prank, and pointed to a flight of stairs.
More strange gas bubbled up in a toxic cloud as I flew down down down until I reached the basement, frantically looking for signs of the little girls’ room. Nothing. I ran down the entire length of the center, then back up the exit steps and outside again, down a grassy quad to a set of dorms. Mens’ dorms. Oh, fuck. They were always locked, I thought. Still, I ran toward the first one and heard the latch of a door pop open, and out walked three boys. “Hold the fuckin’ door!” I yelled as I sprinted past the trio, down the hallway to where I thought the bathrooms would be. At least I got that right. Thirty meters down this forever-long hallway stood my fave room in the house. There were several guys standing outside by the bank of telephones, looking at me as I ran past, slamming open the bathroom door and jumping into a vacant stall. I slammed the door just as I got my pants and undies down, when this horrible cloud of gas was ejected from my netherparts below, followed by something horribly unimaginable. Five pounds of it, I guessed. I didn’t dare look down into the toilet bowl; I knew what lay there: ruins from an ancient slaughterhouse.
There was a huge round of applause, accompanied by the usual catcalls from freshman boys who’d obviously never heard a girl fart before. A very big girl. Fart like an old Evinrude 25 outboard, badly in need of a tune-up. I almost cried right there, but somehow pulled myself together, at least long enough to squirt out another gallon of diarrhea that smelled like the slag off of a pig farm. How could such a cutie like me invent such . . . ? Well, forget what it was.
The facts were clear: I made it, I involved other innocent people in it, and now I had to deal with it. Plain and simple. After all, I couldn’t spend the whole day inside the bathroom stall in a men’s dorm, surrounded by curious, uh, manlike creatures, could I?
Just as I started to feel better, I felt the air suddenly change. The presence grew and grew until I could no longer take the silence. I wiped myself with half a roll of toilet paper, checked to see that I hadn’t gotten any stuff on my hands or clothes, then stood and peered over the door to my stall. Fifty assholes all stood inside the bathroom and suddenly broke out in raucous laughter. I dropped back down and squeezed my eyes shut, wondering how I would live through this one. We all know they weren’t about to rape me, because my five-alarm shit woulda arrested even the direst of young male sexual urges, no matter how horny these boys were. Besides, the whole room stank of, well, something not of this earth.
So, I did what any semi-sane person with a gram of dignity left would do in that circumstance: I cleaned up the best I could, checked my clothes again, looked around to ensure I’d not dropped my wallet or any other items that would surely ID me as the culprit, then calmly opened the stall door and walked out. I’m happy to report that no one dared touch me; I was branded a biohazard. With my performance that morning, I coulda parted the Red Sea.
My tummy was still queasy when I reached my first class, physics with calculus, but at least I was away from my applauding audiences and I could breathe for the first time all morning. I drank a liter of distilled water I’d brought, and that calmed me down. The class itself was a delight, even though my tummy growled like Pearl Jam Live the entire morning, finally settling down to a dim Alice in Chains shortly after the noon hour.
The physics TA for the lab was cool about the whole affair. Evidently, he’d been in the dorm where I’d made my debut appearance that morning. He even wrote an expression on the board to describe what gases were being produced by the various long-dead creatures I’d consumed in the café hours earlier. We all had a nice laugh, and it was good to look at it as they did: another experience, one of thousands we all would have at school, and later on in our future lives.
Like Dad said, “Absorb it all. . . .”