Ah, college life. Hail to the wonders of freedom, parties and, of course, lots and lots of members of the opposite sex. Sounds like one big "Animal House," doesn't it? I thought so too until I had a rude awakening. This is how I discovered life is not always a box of chocolates.
Before I begin, I must explain: my brother Scott and I are pretty close, but now that he's at college he has his own life, one that doesn't include much time with his sister. When my parents told me we were going to visit him for the weekend, exhilarated would not necessarily be the first word that came to mind. Bored would be more accurate as I faced the prospect of a six-hour car ride through stimulating Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska. Who wants to spend three precious days of Spring Break in farmland?
So there I was, stuck in the car and trying to drone out negative thoughts about the next few days with my music blaring. Cow, cow, corn, ah, a house! First one in ... well, Iowa that I'd seen so far. My dad's face appeared in the rearview mirror. "Only one more hour until the next rest stop!" he announced. I looked at the pile of empty water bottles near me. Great, another 60 minutes until civilization and a toilet.
When we finally reached the campus, a decrepit sign for Creighton University welcomed us. Approaching my brother's dorm, I couldn't help but think that the building had to have been standing since at least Colonial times. The unforgiving steps of his dorm didn't lighten my mood, either. As I entered his crowded room, an overwhelming stench overpowered me. I think it involved old socks mixed with cheap cologne.
Scott appeared to have the "bum" look going, with long shaggy hair close to my length and a sad attempt at a beard. Immediately my parents left and I was alone with him and his roommate, Jason, who was going along with the same type of appearance. "Alright, man, so whatchu been up to this week?"
This new hippie tone surprised me, but I told them about the extravagant parties and movies I'd seen lately and, although I seemed supercilious with my sophomoric gatherings, Scott and Jason just glanced back with a stare that said a million things.
"Mmm ... sounds ... exciting," Jason spoke as he blew his shoulder-length hair off his face. Honestly, someone could mistake the two for brothers, not roommates.
Every college has a hot spot where students hang out. In Omaha, it's a place called Old Market, which is basically a street (or two) full of stores and restaurants that keeps students somewhat entertained. To get there, however, we had to ride in Jason's car, which I thought was going to break apart right on the highway.
Old Market has a variety of restaurants to choose from: Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, vegetarian, American, and more. As I stood in the middle of the street with my eyes open as wide as a deer's in headlights, my brother snapped me back into reality. Apparently he had already decided we were having pizza. That's the college budget, I guess, but honestly, pizza? Of all the places we could have gone, we ended up at Pizza Hut. Yum ... kind of.
While eating our large pepperoni with Canadian bacon and extra cheese, we actually had an intelligent conversation. My brother, behind the ungroomed mop and shaggy facial hair, was a down-to-earth kind of guy who really cared. This was a concept that was extremely hard for me to grasp: change. I realized he was growing up. Cheesy, I know, but true. My best friend, with whom I had played countless hours of basketball in our driveway, was on his own. No more hide-and-seek or pranks on Mom. This mini-revelation was soon followed by something I will never forget. After we were done talking about life and other important issues, there was a brief silence where it seemed as if we were talking with our eyes. Scott stared at me and shook his head, then said, "Stay young, Sunshine."
Stay young, Sunshine. Those words echoed in my head and still do. How could three words have such an impact? At the time, I was riding an emotional roller coaster, so I wanted to smile and hug him, and bawl my eyes out all at the same time. My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad trip was actually quite worthwhile.
Now, I may not be a college student, but my view on that step in life is a pretty transparent one. Although I am ready for whatever life gives me at college, I am perfectly content basking in the step that I have to finish right now.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.