Saturday, March 11, 2006

Girls and boys

[Some background information -- At the time this was written, I was in the last semester of my fourth year at Rutgers, a huge public university in New Jersey. When I began as a student there, it consisted of many colleges and universities which were separate in some ways, yet overlapped in others. For example, most classes were open to all university students, but each college had a separate Honors program, with different faculty and different requirements. During the 2005-2006 school year, there was a Task Force and their proposal was to revamp the structure of the large, unwieldy, red-tape-mummified university, which meant combining whichever colleges they could into one School of Arts and Sciences. The controversy that arose as a result included opposition to the dissolution of Douglass College, the largest public women's college in America. [a later edit - it was actually the ONLY public women's college.]  An active Save Douglass College campaign emerged that was consequently met with hostility. The most visible exhibition of this was the midnight vandalism of a SAVE DOUGLASS COLLEGE banner, in a prominent location on campus, with graffiti that read, "Get back in the kitchen!" The act and the words became a symbol of both sexism, anti-feminism, and dismissing the concerns of those wanting to Save Douglass College.
I was a student at Douglass College about to graduate with a BA in English at this time. I'd also taken biology and botany classes and had applied to Fall 2006 admission into Cook College, where I'd spend two years or so finishing a BS in Plant Science with a Research option. At least, that was the plan.]
I'd had a rough week.
It began with the Middle English reading marathon in preparation for an exam, after which I'd planned to relax. After I'd gotten home from my exam, my mother told me that my father was getting surgery and it was going to be during spring break and that I had to come home that weekend. Of course I was worried about the surgery. I was also worried about having to work on my thesis (which was my spring break plan) in my hometown, far away from the university library.
The next morning, I began to feel dizzy in the middle of my shower and, just briefly, I blacked out. On Friday, I saw a doctor, who informed me that the fainting spell might be indicative of a serious health problem. After my appointment, I went home to unwind and check my e-mail. A new message in my Inbox informed me that the Task Force Proposals have been voted on, which meant changes for Cook College, mind began to race. Does that mean changes for my major? I worried that I could be screwed over by this new decision! And Douglass College!!!!! Whyyyyyy??????
Between my dad's surgery, my impending thesis deadline, my own health, and changes to Rutgers that could affect my academic plans, I'd had a rough week.
At 11:30 that Friday night, a group of guys that TS and I were friends with called to invite themselves over. We were in our pajamas, but they said they'd be over at 12:30 and that gave us enough time to change back into our nice clothes and put on makeup afresh. But instead of coming to our apartment at 12:30, the guys went to Applebee's and then to another friend's house. Just as we were preparing to change back into our pajamas, the four of them waltzed into our apartment. It was 2:30 in the morning. By this time, TS and I had accomplished not only our costume change, but had also split a bottle of wine, listened to two entire Iggy Pop albums and two more Dolly albums, baked cookies from scratch, and made drawings of Men We Are Mad At. (Of course mildly censored scans will be posted eventually! Note that I have major issues drawing hands.)
Shortly after their arrival, our guests made themselves comfortable in front of our TV and ignored us. They continued to ignore us while they took turns playing TS's guitar. They even managed to ignore us while demanding to know where I hid the Street Fighter II cartridge for my Super Nintendo. They acknowledged us briefly, upon detecting the scent of cookies, to ask, "Did you guys bake? Where did you put the cookies?" When we refused to admit that there were cookies in the apartment, they left. Hearing music and voices, they'd gone upstairs to our neighbors' apartment to try to crash their party. After our neighbors refused to include these new guests, they returned to our apartment, finally deigning to socialize with their hostesses. Conversation over vodka tonics commenced.
It was not long before the Task Force vote came up. I explained my academic concerns about both Douglass and Cook College, how I worried that the decision might affect my plans. After all that had taken place both that week and that night, I just was not in the mood for what happened next.
One of our guests, who we'll call "Tom," broke into my explanation with, "Get back in the kitchen!"
There was a little bit of Sun Pop and raspberry Smirnoff, both clear liquids which would not stain, in my red party cup. Time seemed to stand still as my saturated brain absorbed the words and the insult and considered what to do next. There seemed only one option.
I raised my party cup in a graceful arc, flinging its contents onto Tom's shirt.
The reaction seemed to be in slow motion, cries of "Nooooooooooooo" and a huge collective gasp were released as the drink flew through the air, and its splash onto Tom's shirt was accompanied by a unison, "What did you DO?"
But I believed, or rather knew that I was not out of line and that every single person in the room was wrong to be annoyed with me. Tom had arrived at our apartment at 2:30AM, mooched off of us until 4:30 AM, and then insulted one of the hostesses!
In the confusion rose shouts of, "Get him a towel" and "He was obviously kidding!"
I was bewildered; no one seemed to be on my side.  But like Jane Eyre being dragged to the red room:

I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment's mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.

I refused to apologize, to assent that, "He was only joking." I shouted, "I'm going to BED!", stormed off into my room, and slammed and locked the door.
I wanted to cry and cry, for everyone hating me and for the loss of my beloved Douglass College. I felt like weeping for my school and for the loneliness of no one else feeling as one's self. Searching for understanding and company, I sent IMs to the Away message of two of my friends and considerered IMing the only person online with no Away message--an acquaintance from Victorian Lit seminar, because at 4 in the morning, I thought HE might understand. I sent my childhood best friend a long text message and my high school exchange partner an e-mail in German.
As soon as silence fell over the apartment, I felt it was safe to leave my bedroom and get some water from the kitchen. My planned tiptoes were in fact a stumble; my careful opening of cabinet doors yielded to slams. Above this clamor, I heard a faint, "Sarah?"
I ignored TS even when I could see her enter the room out of the corner of my eye.
She spoke up, "Sarah, I wanted to tell you that after you went to your room, pretty much everyone agreed that Tom was out of line."
At this, I turned to face her. Apparently, all but two of our guests had conceded that Tom had gotten what he deserved.
"They apologized for coming over so late and not really hanging out with us and they thanked us for letting us come over."
I was ecstatic. No one hated me! I opened the microwave door and extracted a plate of cookies, which I brought to the coffee table. TS and I shared them at the couch, recounting the evening's events and cackling over the image of the drink landing on Tom's shirt
In retrospect, I am glad we hid the cookies before the boys showed up.

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