My expenses were offset through a work study job at the information desk, located in the Campus Center building. It was difficult at first, being forced to interact constantly with so many people. But I learned the facts and figures quickly and was soon able to spit out answers to questions ranging from: “Where is the nearest rest room?” to “How many cobblestones are in the front entry to the campus?” I learned to recall dozens of phone numbers without referencing the index, and led group tours – churning out statistics and history along with more personal information about dorms and life on campus. By the third or fourth tour my voice began to grow in volume and animation. A sense of command started to emerge and I eagerly volunteered for any tour others didn’t want. My ability to meet people eye to eye, to participate in and even initiate interactions, unfolded like a crocus pushing its head through a long winter’s snow. There was power in knowing the answers and I thrived on it. Work shifts were regular, often with the same people. Casual chatting, joking, and playful teasing expanded with my ease. I became part of a crew for the first time and learned about respect and camaraderie in a job.
Sophomore year ended and I found a full time summer position as an Orientation Assistant (OA) for incoming freshmen. Room and board were included with the job. I was amazed that I had been chosen from the numerous applicants, and assumed my work at the information desk had been a major deciding factor. But old insecurities bubbled to the surface – new unfamiliar tasks, new unfamiliar people. The positive side was that I would not have to go home for the summer; not to mention I could stay close to the man I loved.
Tremors of unease rattled inside as I met the other OA’s. They all seemed to walk and talk with an air of confidence, seemed to offer something special. Some played guitar and sang, others had experience from the summer before, many were from big cities or had traveled to other countries. How did I fit here? What did I have to offer? Confidence that had slowly blossomed behind the information desk seemed to wilt, and threatened to collapse all together.
Group after group of new students arrived for three day introductions to their future. I answered questions and attempted to calm some of doubts and fears I not only understood, but still grappled with on a regular basis. I gave tours – the easiest task – and directed them where they needed to go. It went smoothly until the structure of the day sank with the sun. Dusk lengthened like the shadows in the woods as small talk and more personal exchanges took the place of routines and facts. I reverted to smiling and laughing when I could, and watched the clock as it ticked towards the day’s end. But as the summer progressed glances at my watch became less frequent, my posture relaxed as I chatted, and laughter erupted in response to genuine humor rather than nerves. A growing ease trickled in as I allowed the wall of insecurity to soften towards belief in myself.
Days between orientation sessions were spent at my boyfriend’s apartment. Outside distractions seemed to be fewer. We took frequent trips on his motorcycle and he came to visit at some of evening orientation functions, often chatting and joking with the soon to be students. I did not notice his return during daytime activities, did not observe his pursuit of new innocent prey ready for his personal orientation into the college world.
The summer flew by and I returned back to my parent’s house in the woods briefly, with only a few clothes in my small suitcase, before returning for junior year. I felt more certain than ever that my relationship with my boyfriend had grown, that our love had become more grounded, shone on by the summer sun.