college try

DAY 26:

I wake up to the sounds of pans rustling in the kitchen, I’m still crumpled among the climbing mats and wonder if I’ll ever be able to sit up. Rag doll floppy, I decide that I need to take a rest day and although the cooperative and it’s members gives me undergraduate anxiety, it is a free bed and close to a grocery store.  When I finally stand up, I fill up my water bottle and chug the entire thing. I got used to rationing water when I was in Ontario and fresh water wasn’t available every day, but I need to get into the habit of hydrating again now that I have access to water and public bathrooms. It is probably one of the many reasons I feel like the bottom of a dirty sneaker. I pop a few ibuprofen and then gather my journal and the Barbara Ehrenreich book I’d been reading the night before and slip out of the house without saying more than a few words. The walk towards the lake is peaceful, it’s the middle of the week so students are busy rushing to classes and I’m excited to get some strong coffee.

I end up at Dead River Coffee, a tiny coffee roaster and cafe that features big windows, a roasting machine that sits regal in one corner and the well worn decor that makes me feel familiar. At home in Minneapolis, I would spend hours at my favorite coffee shop, chugging mug after mug of light roast and chatting with other regulars and reading books, a happy middle place for the introvert who likes to crack a joke every once in a while. The warm scent of roasted coffee settles on my shoulders and I wander up to the counter which has a pastry case full of pies. I decide on a spiced cranberry slice and a large coffee for starters. The first sip of the coffee almost brings tears to my eyes, for it is potent and REAL. REAL COFFEE. The instant Bustelo each morning keeps me going, the fast food and greasy spoons thick with sugar and creme are welcome fuel but this coffee tastes like home. I pour myself into “Living with a Wild God” by Barbara Ehrenreich who is a writer who I admire, I adore her book “Dancing in the Streets” and would honestly read her describing a street corner in Kansas City, she is always keenly observant and sneakily funny. This book is about her grappling with hallucinations she had as a young adult and how it affected her spiritual life. Raised with atheist values and a deep commitment to science, she lacks the personal vocabulary to process these slippages of time and space as she experiences them and the book explores her personal journals over the course of a decade. It is a book about youth and self-discovery and spirituality and the perfect thing for a person who has been swimming in the deepest of backwoods solitude.

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I am pondering hard about the young people I’m staying with and remembering the solitude of my college years. I was deeply critical and academic, buried in my single room watching films til 2 am or obsessively pouring over my favorite sections of the library and scribbling out quotes. It was a very lonely time and being in the house with all the mushy head hippies here in Marquette makes me ache for a camaraderie I didn’t feel often in my teenage years. Although Lauren both past and present has very little patience for half mumbled liberal politics, blonde dreadlocks and bluegrass covers of reggae. I try to hold some warmth for my hosts, it’s like what Iggy Pop said about MC5, “I can’t say how political the MC5 really were, but I certainly didn’t feel it. But on a basic level, would they share their peanut butter with me? Yeah.”

The spiced cranberry pie, however, bring me back to the pleasure of the present. It is tart and intriguing and the crust just melts into my tongue. I pause after the first few bites and wonder if this is a lard crust, as I can detect a slight piggy flavor (which works well with the fruit).  As I order another slice, I ask the barista if the crust of made of lard. “YES! How did you know?” Ma’am, lard has no equal. If a crust is this delicate yet sturdy, lard has been involved. Although my big city sensibilities show through when I’m a bit shocked that they don’t even note that it isn’t a vegetarian friendly pie, in addition to a deep religious violation for two of the Big Three. I swat away my thoughts and start asking her more about pie baking, as I am the descendant of Mennonites and learned from my grandmother the fine art of crumble topping apple pie. She tells me that she makes them all herself and I ask if she has ever made a savory pie and she tells me that once she created a REUBEN PIE with corned beef and sauerkraut, topped with Russian dressing. I positively swooned and told her she needs to write a zine about all her pie creations. She laughs and tells me she’ll think about it as she pours me another coffee and pulls a double espresso shot. I’m hoping this second round of coffee will allow me to feel something, anything, in my heavy limbs. I drain both coffees as I deeply read, enjoying the bustle of people around me and just sinking into my car. When I pay for my third coffee, I joke with the barista that they’ll have to upgrade to zapping me with a electric current or just giving me straight meth, as I still can’t feel even a meager caffeine buzz. Not wanting to leave but knowing that I couldn’t subject my body to any more stimulants, I drink the last coffee then walk to a local cafe to get a vegetarian mushroom sandwich and a plate of french fries. I’m still deep in my book and barely notice the flavor of the food or the families around me. I walk back to the house and notice rain clouds rolling in and grab my rain jacket before heading off to the drugstore for travel provisions.


I take the 2-4-1 Haribo gummi special as a Sign From Above that the last leg of my trip is meant to be. Nothing says “divine approval” like discount candy. I snag more ibuprofen (this can’t be good for my liver), a bottle of juice and a jar of Nutella. On the walk back, the cloud open up and sheets of rain begin to pour as I just laugh like the half crazed road dog I’ve become. I’m not one to wince at a little bit of wet anymore. I roll into the co-op and get some turmeric and black pepper from the bulk bins and find powdered coconut milk (WUT). I plan to mix all these to make a medicinal golden milk, as I’m taking the maximum amount of ibuprofen and need to fight inflammation from another angle. I also get a few tins of my favorite Portuguese sardines, knowing that the fish oils are good for the joints and damn tasty.  I decide against getting any beer or wine, worried about my liver from the ibuprofen and lack of water and I doubt that my body could withstand even a slight hangover at this point. Heavy with bags, I waddle back to the student house.


I make a box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese, which I eat out of the pan I make it in, just stuffing forkfuls into my face while sitting on the couch. One of the housemates arrives home in a huff and I am in the perfect spot for the show. She whines about how her yoga students don’t take her instruction seriously and are chatting with each other during class and how they really need to be learning how to be still with themselves. I wonder if she wants actual feedback but once she picks up a ukulele to sing a twee song that she wrote about environmental destruction, I realize she just wants an audience. I finish the pasta and then start eating Nutella from the jar, as I need something to buffer this obnoxious woman. She eventually rambles off to complain in another corner of the house and I’m left to finish my book. I keep eating spoon after spoon of Nutella to the small horror of another one of the housemates (these people hate calories that don’t directly come from vegetables) and I pick out another book to read, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a book of essays about indigenous knowledge, plants, motherhood, life…oh, there is so much good stuff in here.

Soon the house fills with the other roommates and their friends and the place is full and I choose the quietest corner near the aquaponics, where a Magic The Gathering game is in full swing amongst a group of pale dread heads. Seriously, it is 2016 and how are there still white people wearing dreadlocks? I feel like that is a real quick Google to realize that it in incredibly inappropriate and if they want to piss off their parents, couldn’t they just dye their hair a nice shade of green or just wear the rainbow vomit tie dye and call it a day? ANYWAYS. I’m trying to keep it light. Keep my nose in the book and just smile and nod. Soon, the dudes remove their shirts (it is quite cool in the house) and move into the climbing cave, grunting and tumbling on the mats. I’m numb in the face of attractive youth. I decide to use this now empty room and call my best friend, who is driving solo to New Orleans on her own personal quest. I reach her while she’s driving on a winding country road in Arkansas. We laugh and I joke about how awful things are and tell her how much I miss my ex (one of the young men has similar knobby feet and it fills me with a stupid nostalgia) and this is the first time I’ve heard a friendly voice the entire trip. I haven’t talked to anyone from home the entire trip and our conversation has the dorm room confessional feel. I blink away tears as we say goodbye.

After my phone call, I’m absolutely exhausted and although it is 9 pm on a school night, the house is in full party mode. I position myself half underneath a table in the aquaponics room, hoping to block some of the light and one of the dude (the one with the feet) notices that I’m tired and asks kindly if I’m trying to sleep and if they should move outside. I nod and he kindly starts to usher the party away from me and I feel grateful that he understands I’m just trying to crash. I fall into a deep sleep in the climbing mats and a few hours later my brain rumbles awake from the shouts of the yoga brat in the middle of the kitchen, in the middle of a drunken fit. I’m half awake, my body is completely numb and not responsive so I can’t turn over. I hear her talking to the young dude from earlier, telling him “you can totally crash here, feel free to just sleep next to her” and I feel my chest well up with fear. I am totally frozen and cannot cry out my objections or even move. I feel very unsafe and when I feel this way out in the woods, I have my bear spray and knife tucked next to my right hand. I have nothing near me now. He responds quietly “hey, it is not okay for me to sleep next to her, I am just going to go home” and she sulks about him leaving and I feel a small relief. I try to get back to sleep but I am caught in the rush of anxiety and the inability to move, splayed out on these mats in a house full of strangers. I fall back into the deep panicked sleep.


SONG OF THE DAY: Charles Bradley “Changes”