My junior year in college, I applied to be a Resident Assistant. Seriously. The position had some clout at our school, y'all, and not only did it provide room and board, but the lucky RA received a small monetary stipend each month, as well as two entire classes paid for per semester. As a young woman struggling to pay for school with student loans and part-time jobs and partial scholarships, the gig would have been a dream come true.
So I studied my ass off. I actually sat down and read (and highlighted) the student handbook. I learned everything I possibly could. I updated my resume. I wrote eloquent essays expostulating on why I was a born leader and thus needed to guide young freshman through that first tumultuous year. I coaxed professors to write excellent recommendation letters. I charmed the pants off the hiring committee.
The spring day I opened my mailbox and tore open a letter of congratulations, I was ELATED. My heart was beating fast; my legs were wobbly with triumph. And yes, I know this is damning evidence that I am an Uber-Nerd, but shut up. It was a blissfully happy moment in the life of HomeValley. (Oh yes, and it also furthered my theory that I actually was Felicity, from the series? Yes, the similarities were a little too coincidental back then. Another post.)
Junior year ended. I spent the summer in Philadelphia, as an Editorial Assistant at the WB News at 10. (Read: intern). I did "stand-ups" and "field-produced" and learned "if it bleeds, it leads." Life was wonderful.
I returned to school in late August for a week of intense Resident Assistant boot camp. Each day we role-played, and participated in horrifying team-building exercises. And I rolled my eyes and groaned but I loved it just the same. And some of the people were insufferable but most of them were wonderful. On the last day of training, September 1st or 2nd, we were forced to complete a scavenger hunt that somehow led us to Windows of the World. It was my first and last time at the restaurant.
Finally, our apartment renovation was complete. It was a large suite on the 16th floor of an old building on William Street, downtown, and as an RA I got my very own bedroom, as well as the smaller bathroom for three, rather than the larger bathroom designed for six. I called my roommates and gleefully announced that we had the most amazing view: "You can see the World Trade Center as you're showering!"
And until one bright Tuesday morning, everything was as perfect as I imagined.
And then, several weeks later, we were back in school, and everything was wrong.
As RAs, we were in charge of everything it seemed. We carefully scrutinized lists of students, found housing for misplaced students, counseled students, all the while continuing to perform inane drug raids and break up parties in the wake of disaster. Nothing seemed real, yet we had a job to do. I don't remember how I handled it. I am not sure I did. But time passed and things seemed to get better. I had friends who were so blessedly kind and a boyfriend who so obviously (though not to me) wasn't, but through the entire ordeal, I had this gig. Some days, I resented the job intensely. How could they expect me to work this weekend? To sit in this apartment just blocks away from the disaster, alone with my own thoughts and fears? And to take care of other people? And to respond to emergencies? Like the time the building reeked of gas, and I had no fucking idea what they wanted me to do about it?
But maybe it saved me.
In fact, what if I hadn't had this job, and this responsibility? What would I have done? Started drinking more? Sink deeper into depression? Drop out of school?
Yes, it most definitely saved me.
In the years since, each September 11th, I've gotten a group email from the old RA boss. Thinking of you guys, she'd write. And I get it. Our experiences of the day and the ensuing weeks and months are eternally intertwined. This year, however, I got an e-vite. This year we'll get together on the anniversary, blocks from the old dorms, to catch up. We'll laugh and chat about the past and the present, and I know I'll speak hopefully about a future that at one time look bleak and tiresome, before I was reminded that life certainly does go on.
I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to it.