The frat house basement smelled of vomit, mold, stale beer, and body odor. I immediately regretted going and would have walked back to the dorms had Ashley, my roommate, not dragged me to the back room. Ashley was nice and, incidentally, the only friend I’d managed to make my freshman year. She was my lifeline, and I felt that I needed to keep up our friendship.
She handed me a questionably colored drink called jungle juice and I sipped it slowly. It was my first alcoholic drink, ever, and I made a mental note to pace myself, not to get drunk. And somehow, even though she was the last person I wanted to think about, my mother’s voice came floating into my head: you’re not here to drink and have fun. That’s not what I’m paying for. You’ve got to get your GPA up so that you can get a good job…
I grew up listening to the familiar refrain about so-and-so’s kid, the doctor, or so-and-so’s kid, the one who works for Goldman Sachs. It seemed preposterous, even then—before I’d decidedly failed them—that my parents would expect such things of me. Did they not know me at all? Weren’t they as tired of being disappointed as I was of disappointing them?
I spent the next hour awkwardly watching as people around me seemed to unravel into themselves—careless, young, fun. I was halfway done with my second drink when I started feeling lightheaded, and I snuck outside for some fresh air. I woozily lowered myself onto the stoop and watched as the streetlights left lazy trails in my mind’s eye.
That’s when he sat down next to me. I don’t remember how the conversation started, and I’m sure I wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but he was out there talking to me. He seemed friendly, well intentioned. I so desperately wanted to be like the people inside, and so I let my guard down. I told him I was majoring in sociology. He told me that he and his roommates were having people over for beer pong.
I followed him to his building even though my legs were feeling like spaghetti and my mind was swirling into visions of gray and yellow. When the elevator reached the third floor, the hallway was empty and quiet. I asked where everyone was.
He said I was pretty.
I asked if we were still going to play beer pong.
He said that he wanted to just spend some time with me.
I jammed the button of the elevator over and over again, but he yanked on my arm and started sloppily kissing my face, pushing himself on me. I shoved him away but he grabbed on to me again. And I wanted to give up. I thought to myself stupid, stupid, stupid, how could you not see this coming? What did I expect, drunkenly following a guy I’d just met to his dorm room?
But then, suddenly, I was free. I made a run for the stairs, every step rising up to meet me unevenly, each breath ragged and unsteady. It felt like I was in slow motion as my heart steadily pounded in my ears, my blood flowing through my head in a reassuring swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.
I slowed my pace only after I was a safe distance away from the building. My hands were still shaking when I pulled out my phone and dialed home. My father’s groggy voice answered, and I hurriedly recounted what had just happened—asking, begging—to come home.
Listen to me, suddenly my mother’s voice pierced through the receiver. You shouldn’t have gone alone with him. Okay? It was stupid. Okay? Now, you need to go to class this week, and then if you still feel the same about everything, you can come home next weekend.
It was a few hours before Ashley came back that night, and I heard her bump into our tiny fridge as she navigated her way to the bed in the dark. I stifled my sobs until I heard her breathing settle, and then I cried harder than I ever had before. I felt so alone.
By some wonder, I made it through the week. I was already failing two classes and barely holding on to the others. I had no friends, the city scared me, and I couldn’t leave my room without feeling like the buildings were collapsing down on me. So after Friday’s last class, I emptied out my dorm room and took the train home.
When I entered my old room, relief washed over me. It smelled like me. It smelled like home, like safety, like the peppermint candle I used to burn when I still lived there. I closed the door and crawled into my childhood bed, pulling the sheets up to my eyes. I felt like I should clean my room, so I did that, too.
Then, I wrote a note: I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault. I dug the pills out of my backpack and emptied the contents into the palm of my hand. And then I swallowed them. I wanted to be alone and safe, in a place far away. I don’t remember much; they told me later, at the crisis center, that my older brother found me.