Student days, Schmudent Days
No Julia commentary from me - there's so much already out there that's expressed better than anything I could excrete out. No, I'm going to go all navel-gazing on you and talk about a time in my life that most people would consider their best time. For me, it was one of the worst times.
University. I know I've mentioned that I hated university before, but most of my unhappiness was actually to do with where I lived. Dare I mention the residential college by name? Perhaps not; but it was located in North Adelaide in some beautiful old Victorian buildings and some shocking 1960s high-rise jobs, all done to accommodate country kids recently matriculated from high school but without the culinary or housekeeping skills to fend for themselves in the big smoke.
By the end of school, I was a fairly confident girl. Reasonably intelligent, nice boyfriend and destined for university. Any specific career goals were beyond me and studying for an 'Arts' degree was considered a safe choice, one that would give me time to think about what I'd like to be when I finished (I had to stop myself from saying 'grew up' even when struggling to make small talk with other uni students). The main point was to just go to uni, get out of the small country town I grew up in and make something of myself.
Lincoln College - there, I've said it now - was almost the unmaking of me. Even twenty four years after first staying there I feel no fondness for the place. Instead, the two years I spent there were ones of confusion, low self-esteem and barely-hidden disgust.
Yep, at nearly forty two, I feel like I can finally admit that I hated it there. It seems like I might be in the minority though, because I keep getting invited to 'Back to the Eighties' events - mostly by people who studiously ignored me when I was there. A Facebook friend request even turned up from someone I played one match of inter-college doubles with and she stalked off the court immediately following our loss and never acknowledged me again for the next two years: why the phark would I 'accept'?
However, I place 90% of the blame on my own weak shoulders. The atmosphere of the place terrified me. Within an hour I was in the President's room, drunk on sherry: my first ever taste of the drink after only daring to sip WestCoast coolers over the summer holidays as a just-turned seventeen year old. Everyone around me seemed better able to handle their drink, their studies, their nightlife, sex lives, dance skills, cultural references, social groups.....
The rest of the week continued in a haze of chicken-and-champagne, Fruity Lexia, Blackberry Nip and Southern Comfort-and-coke with just the vaguest attempts to attend any O-week introductory lectures. All of this was done with the security of Sean, my faithful sweet boyfriend who was never more than a metre from my side. If I wasn't known as 'Sean's Girlfriend,' I was known as 'Rob's Sister'.
Any fool knows the best way to make friends is to be on your own and not with a lover stapled to your hip, but my shyness meant that I relied on him for everything and avoided everyone else. I could not even walk into the college dining room on my own without Sean or my best girl friend Jo by my side.
Once there, it was back to the dreaded cliques of school again. The 'top' table, furthest from the door, was where the self-annointed Cool Group sat. The Katherine Read of 1986 meekly accepted this and did not dare approach or make eye contact with any of those illustrious beings. How I wish the Kath Lockett of 2010 could walk in, plonk herself down right in the middle of that table and chat away......
How I wish I could tell young and awkward Katherine Read that feeling trapped and bored in a relationship two years later at nineteen was not good; that at that age things should still be exciting and be worth looking forward to. I wish I could have told her that spending her hard-earned holiday pay on ridiculous labels, bad perms and uncomfortable shoes would all be for nought: she'd still feel 'out of it' amongst the large, unfriendly arts student crowds and still be snobbed off by fellow collegians she occasionally dared smile at whilst passing on the footbridge.
I'd tell her that these were not the halcyon days or the times when she was having the most fun. No, I'd tell her that it was okay to feel disgusted at how much drunkenness, sexism and disregard for the privacy of others was openly celebrated as accepted college culture and that she should try to make friends with some of the Malaysian students. Yes, they kept to themselves, but wouldn't you, in a new country with horrible food and even more horribly-behaved neanderthal students?
As she hid in the library, struggling often to even understand the meaning of the essay questions set by disinterested and dysfunctional lecturers, I'd give her a quick hug and assure her that a Pass mark would be fine; no-one outside of North Terrace and Victoria Drive would give a Fat Rat's Clacker about the Prehistoric World View or Roman Art and Archaeology as interpreted by an eighteen year old and that sex would be infinitely better than anything furtively done in a single bed in the KMB building with shouting and laughing students on the other side of the door....
Katherine Read would no doubt be a bit perturbed to see the wrinklier, daggier and less-repressed version of herself offering advice, but I'd also assure her that most of the Lincoln students that she thought didn't like her or weren't interested in her had their own issues of inferiority, nervousness and ineptitudes to worry about and would mostly mature into decent and generous people worth knowing.
I'd tell her that she too needed to take risks. To start smiling or talking first; put a silly comment out there and see if it catches. To go to a party on her own; travel overseas on her own; find her strengths on her own.
Katherine wouldn't be given a look into a crystal ball, but she might have got a hint that her happiest times would be sitting across from Love Chunks on their first date; seeing the tears in his eyes when their baby was born and feeling the warm of his back against hers on a winter's night. Glimpsing Sapphire at the school gate, hearing her chatter and kissing her forehead before going to bed. Laughing with the physio just this morning as one of the roof tiles was removed and a tradie's head popped into view: "Oh, sorry ladies. Good thing it wasn't a pap smear, eh?"
Still, a year after Miss Read finished uni and was finding her way in the corporate world, she accompanied a friend to The Waite Ball; a fairly raucous event frequented by rowdy B&S and agriculture students. Dressed in her finest, she heard - and then saw - one of the Lincoln Cool Group Guys. "HEY! Rob's sister!"
Quick as a whip she yelled back, "HEY! DICKHEAD!"
She was finally on her way.