A brief synopsis of my decision to head west for college (I now understand why “heading west” is often a euphemism for dying): The four years I planned to, the four years I spent regretting this plan, and what I’ve walked away with.
“I’m going to go to college in California” – James Freitas, any date between 2008-2011.
And so I did. And then they asked:
“How do you like California?” – any of my relatives on any date between 2011-2015.
And so I replied through a contrived smile:
“I love it, it’s great. Weather’s great.” – James Freitas, lying, on any date between 2011-2015
In summary, I lied to everybody in my family from the years 2011-2015. I did not like California. I despised it. It was not great. The weather really was not that exceptional in the South Bay. I knew that I was not going to San Diego, so this underwhelming weather, the necessity of a pullover during the walk to winter classes, came as no surprise. I knew that Santa Clara was not on the beach, as most people assumed it would be, being in California and all. I never learned how to surf, though I was asked more about surfing than I was about my studies. There were three different Californias: the California people believed in, the California I signed up for and the California I ended up with. I knew about the first two going in. And I was introduced to the third one after one semester of school. I did not like California–the people, the lifestyle, the culture, the concrete, the Bay Area–any of it.
But as my father told me I couldn’t quit little league no matter how much I hated it (because I’d made a commitment), I told myself I’d graduate from Santa Clara University, because transferring to a school anywhere other than California would’ve meant that I’d failed (I’d been voted most excited to leave my hometown, after all. I had a name to live up to). Better to grit my teeth and “suck it up,” because the worst thing in my eighteen year old mind (and still the worst thing, in my twenty-three year old mind) was to be a failure. To talk up some grand westward collegiate journey only to realize that California ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and then go running home. No way. Out of the question.
I had, for four years spent at a small-tri-town high school, been zoned in on college in California. As I travelled the same five mile stretch of Route 113, listening to the same songs, I saw California much as it was seen back in the early and mid 19th century. It was my ticket out. The idyllic place where all the “gold” was. The ghost of the frontier spirit lingered on. A new beginning was there, filled with palm trees and sunshine and beautiful women and flip flops and tee shirts and smiles. The golden dream. So I zoned in, as I tend to do.
I applied to fourteen colleges. Seven in California and seven along the east coast. Middle America did not exist on my map. I flew out and visited campuses multiple times. It all seemed great–just in the way that a place can seem great when you’re just driving through or stopping by. Living there is a whole different animal. I found this out later.
There was no way I’d get rejected by all seven Californian colleges. I was bright. I did extracurriculars. I wrote a good essay and did well on the SAT. And so the acceptances and rejections rolled into the mailbox, and off to Santa Clara I went.
I will not detail my grievances with California. I will do that another time, as it will require more words than I have the energy to produce right now, and it will require more preparation. More outlining than this sort of effusively recollective anti-nostalgic journaling I’m doing right now.
What I will say is that while my four years in California were not fun–I would not say I enjoyed them, and most days I went to bed hoping to either wake up somewhere else or not at all–I am glad I remained in a place that I did not like. I made friends who also did not like it there. Together, we began to understand who we were, who they were, why we didn’t mesh. I find it interesting that I flew 3,000 miles to go to school, but the closest friend I made in Santa Clara, CA 95050 lives 45 minutes down 95 South from my house in North Shore MA. He used to come wrestle at the tournament hosted at my high school. I do not see this as coincidence. I learned that it’s possible to endure something for four years, even when every day spent there feels awful and leaves you bitter and on edge. I learned to lie in the bed which I made, for better or for worse.
And like my father forced me to see little-league through, I’m glad I forced myself to see Santa Clara through. Because I’m proud of it, now, in a strange way. That I didn’t quit on it even though I knew, immediately, that I’d gotten myself into something I shouldn’t have. Spending four years among people not at all like me taught me patience, tolerance, but also reaffirmed my sense of self. I was eighteen. I knew fuck-all about who I was. And as people say you need to know the bad to know the good, I spent four years around what I’m not and came out knowing what I am. Better equipped to soldier on in pursuit of whatever I deem worth pursuing.
There’s no real motive in me writing this. This is not well-written. I will not edit it. This is not written for views, or for the blog, really. Just something that came to mind over coffee and felt like flowing out of my fingertips.
But I guess if I had to identify and articulate the ever-sought and ever-neccesary “moral” of the story, it’d be that just because there’s a viable way out–an appealing one–doesn’t mean it’s always the best to take. Sometimes it’s better to grit your teeth. Suck it up. Just shoulder the shit-storm for a while. I could’ve transferred to some other school in some other state and made some other friends and ended up some other me. I would’ve been fine. But, to say the very least, I’m incredibly glad I didn’t.