It only took a semester and a half before I dropped out of Michigan State University. First, I wanted to move out of the Abbott Hall, the dormitory reserved for students in the Arts and Letter's, by mid-semester. "An apartment. Like a campus apartment." I explained to my RA after an aptly performed monologue about how dorm life was a hazard to my mental health, that I was even having thoughts of suicide. "It's this place!" The advanced-acting class I'd taken in high school seemed to have paid off--she ate it up and bought me dessert to boot. Unfolding a map of campus, she circled a building labeled "Campus Living" and instructed I go to start the process for next semester. I thanked her, folding the map and handing it back. "No, honey. You keep it. I'll pray for you." What an ordeal. And all over a boy.
Things weren't so bad in the beginning. I made friends quickly during "frosh week"--the week before classes began--most of them dudes who shared my love for marijuana and hoppy beer. I quickly adopted the nickname "Sassy" for my cynical witticisms and general pessimistic worldview --a demeanor unique to mid western sincerity and kindness. Strangers at parties guessed sometimes asked if I was a New Yorker based on the 'tude and my appearance: I wore trousers and black shirts--loose on my thin, angular body--slicked my short blonde hair back like a 50's greaser, and colored my fat, slug-like lips with Chanel "Merlot Red" lip liner I'd borrow from some Chandra girl's cubby in the bathroom.
Sometimes I was honest about being from Northern Michigan, which was doubly surprising to them: not only was I instate, I was upstate. A good two thirds of the undergrad population came from the 'burbs of Detroit, where folks who resided anywhere north of Mouth Pleasant--all commerce-free state forest--were often viewed as small-town hicks huddled around wood-burning stoves, fatties in double-wide trailers brimming with kids, farmers who deified their tractors, hippies poopin' out wild berry messes into buckets. The generalizations were neither unfounded or founded. We were, we are, a diverse people on all fronts. Except race or ethnicity. If you could look Northern Michigan's human population under a microscope, you'd guess shard of porcelain? Spilled milk?
When I told people I was from Traverse City, specifically, this excited many of my sloshed and frothed acquaintances. One guy, Dave from Novi (a Detroit suburb), dropping his jaw and raising his eyebrows--as if stretching his face to create head space for this revelatory information--frantically searched for a surface to set his plastic red cup of keg juice, settling on a wet phone book in the basement of who-knows-where. Squatting, he held up his hands as if under arrest, a stance I'd seen African tribesmen, barefoot and beaded, assume for ritual. "Dude! No fucking way! My family has a vacation home up there. We spend one full week up there. Man. Hey, do you know Jenny Kroin? Do you, like, just eat cherries all the time?! My family? We jet-ski. I bet you jet-ski, like, every day. Dude. Man. CRAZY!"
One weeknight, a few weeks after school began, the two of us got lost on campus while high on LSD. Autumn hummed for the first time that night, the preamble of Fall's epic lullaby, eventually whispering the earth to sleep. He put his hoodie over my shoulders and called me "so fucking precious." Something inside me died in that moment, overdosed on oxytocin. As the LSD wore off, we found ourselves back on the steps of Abbott Hall. I crooked my head up to his, wrapping my hands around his neck, shut my eyes--felt him jerk away. "No, Sassy, no, no, no, no, no. Not you. I need you. We can't mess this up." I nodded, trance-like. "Sassy!" He'd been trying to get my attention. "Liz! Elizabeth! Are you coming in?" I shook my head and told him I needed the air. "Fall's comin'!" I faked an elation, yelling this premonition at him though he was already crossing the lobby toward his room.