Still working to boost my random blog postings this month, and rather than address the big issue on my mind today, I’m dipping into the past to talk about places I’ve lived before. Today, I discuss the shortest residence I ever had: Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
After getting my bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Delaware, I decided to hit the snooze button of life and attend grad school. Unfortunately, I decided this a little late. By the time I’d taken the GRE, gotten my plans together, and sent in applications, the only school to accept me in time for Fall matriculation was Central Michigan University. After the summer, I packed up my Ford Escort, drove the 12 hours out, and moved into my on-campus apartment in Mount Pleasant.
Immediately, I felt out of place. Mount Pleasant is pretty much dead center in the Michigan mitten, and it felt to me like I may as well have been plunked into the middle of the Australian Outback. Other than the university, there was… basically… nothing.
It’s not that Mount Pleasant isn’t a pleasant place (though “mount”? is 771 feet a mountain?), it’s just that I’d always been used to residing in a large suburb of a large city. Mount Pleasant has a population of about 25,000 and is a full hour away from the bustling metropolis of Saginaw (about 200,000 in the entire metro area).
I recall having to drive an hour to get to the closest airport: The Midland–Bay City–Saginaw International Airport. It took three cities to support. “International” meant one flight to Canada daily. It had three gates. “Excuse me, can you direct me to which gate my flight leaves from?” “Sure, it’s the one in the middle.”
Anyway, this turned out to be a very difficult time in my life. I’ve never been great at making new friends, and the whole “stranger in a strange land” thing didn’t suit me. I withdrew. My main source of human interaction was online, and I didn’t care. I drank (alone) more than I should have. I missed classes. (I also had a GPA of I think 3.75, but I won’t get into Central Michigan’s academics.) I knew I’d hit bottom when I started watching NASCAR, regularly, and with interest. I was miserable, didn’t belong, and knew I had to get out. One semester later, I moved back in with my parents and worked for a few months, then started anew at Old Dominion University.
Now, almost two decades removed, I kind of want to go back to visit central Michigan. I’ve always had a few good memories from my time there, and I’ve come to appreciate “middle of nowhere” towns (at least to visit). There was after picking up my university ID, getting caught in a bad rain storm, and having a professor randomly give me a ride back to my apartment. There’s the fact that I made some lasting real-life friendships from my online interactions those few months. There’s the knowledge that I’m smart enough to miss many classes and still maintain a high GPA. There was the (since lost, sadly) mead recipe from my Old English course (not to mention the beauty of Beowulf in its original language, also gleaned from that course). Truth is, it wasn’t all bad. It was a culmination of things at the wrong time in my life, and it was the way I handled it, that made it difficult for me.
The biggest problem may have been my choice of school. At Central Michigan, the vast majority of grad students were continuing undergrads. They already knew each other, which reinforced the “new kid in town” feel. They had no need for me. When another student finally did engage me in class one day, she asked where I was from. When I told her, she asked in all seriousness, “what are you doing here?”
What was I doing there, indeed.