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|Who Do You Think You Are? - Page 10|
When I did land, at a midwestern university of 6,000 students, I joined a prominent sorority and awaited metamorphosis. What I got were freshman mixers, where fraternity boys would bring me paper cups of beer and await captivating conversation, preferably about them. I can still remember holding a foaming cup in my hand while casting about frantically for something entertaining to say, so discombobulated by this internal imperative that I failed to make even the simplest conversation. I didn't understand why I couldn't get the hang of mixing with strangers. When my sorority sisters noticed that I dated infrequently and began to treat me coolly, I felt myself falling into a familiar darkness.
At the time, I never considered that college, for me, might be a particularly harrowing transition. It didn't occur to me that during my previous moves around the country, I'd lived in the well-feathered nest of my family and that, more fundamentally, I was a shy, high-reactive person who found many new situations a frightening trial. Instead, in mid-sophomore year, I believed I'd hit on the source of my troubles: I'd chosen the wrong school! A new college would give me a new chance to become the vibrant, charming, confident person I really was. The year was 1968, and I transferred to Berkeley, where the student body was 27,000, the mood was tumultuous, and I knew not a soul.
In the fall, especially, the Berkeley campus is a magical place, lit by soft sunlight and framed by sage and honey-colored hills. On my first day of class, I picked up a copy of the student newspaper, The Daily Californian, and read an editorial that encouraged me to "make love to someone." If that didn't appeal, I could listen to Country Joe and the Fish jamming on the steps of Sproul Hall or join a campus political rally, pumping my fist toward the sky with the likes of Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver. The campus fairly vibrated with students, all hair and bright, raggedy clothes; the air around me crackled with the promise of fun, meaning, and experience without borders. By turns, I felt giddy with possibility and stalked by dread.
I can see now, with perfect hindsight, that I was doing just fine at Berkeley. Over the next six months, I made friends, did well in classes, and reported for The Daily Cal, for which I covered everything from campus belly dancing to the emergent "Women's Liberation Front." But while my persona was operating competently, my insides were raw with misery. I could see only what I considered the return of my unacceptable shyness, nervousness, and awkwardness. I seized on small things: how I stammered when introducing myself to the editor of The Daily Cal; how I froze, unable to respond, when the activist I'd begun to date sneered at what he called "my bourgeois essence." Where was the bold, self-assured flower girl who was supposed to blossom here?