The single strongest memory I have of my freshman year at Ball State University is of the song “Jack & Diane.” The lyrics of pre-Mellencamp John Cougar’s “little ditty” about “two American kids growin’ up in the heartland” are etched in acid upon my cerebral cortex. It was the soundtrack to move-in day at Wagoner Hall, and in the weeks that followed it played OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and oh yeah life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone
My first roommate was a classmate from Hobart High. I didn’t know Tim that well, even though we’d worked on several theater productions. I was cast and he was crew, and that seemed like enough of a relationship to make sharing a dorm room a good idea.
It didn’t work out. As a first-year architecture student, he was rarely around. And when he was, we found that we didn’t mesh very well. Soon he announced that he would be leaving me for another architecture major.
I was lonely in those initial months. My best “friend” was a Tron arcade machine in the basement of the Student Union. I became very, very good at Tron.
That’s not to say I didn’t meet people, it’s just that for me social situations were like visiting a foreign country. I would go to dances and stand awkwardly still.
I think that I might’ve gone mad for a couple of days. I swore that I was hearing a phone constantly ringing in the distance. Thankfully, someone eventually answered it.
The biggest shock was learning that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought. As you may recall, I skated through high school in the top 10 percent of my class. But at Ball State, I quickly realized that I was rather average. A couple of guys down the hall played speed chess for fun, and even the one I took for a jock mercilessly crushed my king underfoot.
Things got better. I got a new roommate, Brian, who would be my BFF all the way through senior year. I began to make friends who didn’t require quarters.
And soon I found myself making a decision that would alter my life goes on long after the thrill of livin’ is gone oh my god it won’t stop