Freshman Year

The Dreaded Saxon. (Beware.)

My freshman year at UCLA was lonelier than I thought it’d be. I lived in Saxon K13, one of the residential suites. There were many things wrong with Saxon. Like—

One of my suitemates only found out that our neighbors were girls in March—two whole quarters into the year. And the carpet was so dirty I didn’t walk on it barefoot—I heard it hadn’t been renovated since the ‘70s when it housed Olympians. Gross. Also, when I moved in, there was a used, untied condom behind the dresser that no one wanted to pick up, so I went all the way to Rendezvous (one of the take-out cafés) for chopsticks. And then for a while ants swarmed out of the light switch into our trash. That was when I almost gave up.

Saxon wasn’t the only thing wrong in my life at the time. There was also school. On the mornings I actually went to class—all math- and science-based South Campus classes then—I sat in the row farthest back with a book in my lap. It was like a fire in Siberia—warm, comforting, life-sustaining, in the cold. “What’s your major?” people would ask. “MCDB,” I’d say. “What’s that?” they’d ask. I don’t exactly know, I wanted to say. But instead I’d take a deep breath. “Molecular-Cellular-Developmental-Biology.” What a mouthful.

In those days I thought I’d become a doctor. “I like helping people,” I’d reason to myself aloud. The way the words flopped from my tongue was too dead to be convincing. In those days I thought I could change myself. I was in a relationship with a boy who was still in high school back home. We thought we’d get married. After we broke up I pretended to be all right. “We can be friends,” I told him. But for a long while afterward I regretted this because when we were around each other I tried to change myself. In retrospect I see that what was wrong was that I’d begun to blame myself for everything. The breakup, the aftermath. We broke up because I was holding him back. I couldn’t move on because I was too emotional. Everything wrong was because of me.

Blaming myself made me want to change myself. I tried to be like those around me, the ones I wanted to befriend. We all at least sometimes try to be someone else to fit in, to be less alone. But when you do it for someone else you only set yourself up to be lonely. It’s better to be alone than lonely. When you change yourself to meet the needs of another you lose some of yourself that you never get back.

Art was the only way I felt connected to anything. Movies, books—I lost myself in them, which is to say I lost myself in my own head. My head was an infinite creative space. In Chemistry 14A I sat in the row farthest back with a screenplay in my lap: Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation. “You are what you love, not what loves you,” says Donald to Charlie near the end. I closed my eyes. The professor’s accent lulled me into a strange reverie of winning Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, and then the sound of shuffling feet took me back into my reality: school, then med school, then residency—bags under my eyes, tiny font, all-nighters in fluorescence…

I walked out of Young Hall thinking about a story I wanted to write. “Think about it,” I heard the guy next to me say to his friend excitedly. “It’s so cool—the bonds between the hydrogen atoms…”

People actually enjoy this class, I thought, marveling. I hugged the screenplay to my chest and walked back to Saxon, smiling.

Posted by James


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