Thursday, January 10, 2013

White flag

One of the weirdest experiences of my life was going away for camp in sixth grade. It was the morning after my pet beta fish had passed away and I was still feeling terribly distraught and painfully nostalgic as I boarded the bus that would take me and my classmates into the mountains for a little "outdoor ed" away from home.

This was my first time away from home without a family member. I was going to be living among my peers. I had high expectations, but I also didn't know what to expect. I had never been camping before, nor had I even really explored a wilderness area. The closest I'd been was Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland. That didn't quite count, though there is quite a bit of dust, sand, plant-life and tall rocks to climb on the island.

Anyway, I digress.

I was feeling terrible that morning. My mom and I had a celebratory goodbye breakfast at Carl's Jr. (I ate a lot of fast food when I was younger) and she dropped me off at my school to be picked up by that ominous yellow bus that takes us on fun field trips as well as daunting excursions like Outdoor Ed.

The song "White Flag" by Dido was playing over the speakers at Carl's Jr. I started to associate it with that moment of sitting with my mom. For the rest of my camping experience, it would stay in my head and occasionally occur to me, reminding me of my mom and making me sob uncontrollably.

In essence, I wasn't stable enough to be leaving home. I was 11 years old and I still hadn't wrapped my head around the idea of calling up my friends on my own or making my own food. I was such a momma's (and dada's) girl that I had almost stunted my own natural progression into preteen-hood.

The experience once the bus had departed was unsurprisingly crazy and only moderately life-changing. If anything, it was valuable because it stuck in my memory. What I remember most now is not being in the same cabin as my best friend (now and then), Tori. We hadn't been as close when the year started and we requested roommates, so we didn't end up together.

The cabin I was in was exceedingly warm. In my fleece sleeping blag, I was burning up. My cabin counselor was so cold that she would get up in the middle of the night and hug the heater. I guess everyone else was comfortable with the temperature. But it kept me up almost every night, culminating in less than six hours of sleep over several evenings.

As a bonding experience, Outdoor Ed did little for me, but what it did do was give me an insight into a new experience - teaching me that I do enjoy living a lifestyle that is foreign to my own, even if that lifestyle is just a controlled cabin camping experience.

So why do I bring this up?

It may be weird to say, but living in my new dorm at university this quarter reminds me a lot of Outdoor Ed in sixth grade.

For one, I'm living in a new environment, separate from all my family who are back in California. Second, I can't control the temperature in my room the way I'd like to. Third, the food at my dining hall is not all that different from the food I ate at the camp - in fact, it was at that camp that I first discovered the concept of putting cereal on yogurt: a genius move that I still fondly recreate to this day.

But most of all, there's just something that feels a little "home-away-from-home" about this place. Not a dorm room in general, but my room in this new living quarters. It's barren in many ways (I haven't put my wall decorations up yet) and if not for my extensive collection of books and instant food items, it might entirely resemble a cabin in the woods.

And my general temperament seems to be akin to my childhood Outdoor Ed feelings. Open to new experiences and challenges, but fearful at having to do so with many of my fellow students who I've never quite befriended.

I'm sure that in time my Winter 2014 collegiate experience will stop feeling like an outdoor camping adventure and more of the typical mundane class-going, homework-doing existence that I've become so used to over the past couple of years. Until then, though, I feel this bittersweet sadness in comparing what I have now to what I had at eleven years old.

I guess the bitterest part about it is that I know that this too, like my Outdoor Ed experience, will end. And again like Outdoor Ed, it may not align exactly with the expectations I've set forth for it. I guess that's what college has been for me every year over the past three. But for some reason it feels like it's in a state of flux now, and I'm a bit scared. I guess as long as I don't hear "White Flag" anywhere, I should be okay.

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