“Misery and youthful delusion abound! On the verge of a fateful life decision, florid, out-of-state college sophomore, Anelechuku “Blue” Okoye attempts to dizzily conceptualize life in the dorms.”
(Iowa City, 1994)
You think you know what you want. Right? You move through life, and the idea feels so pressed upon you that freedom is the important, most crucial thing. Soaring eagles, like freed slaves. Like dawn, glowing across the mountains. This is how I end up going to college. Being constantly told, reminded, how free I am, of each next stage; childhood, high school to college, as the bold pursuit of some elusive, greater freedom. Maybe that’s the way I sell it to myself . . .
But there are no mountains in Iowa City, no vistas. Teams of white girls, the IMU. Study groups. All smiles. Behind tables with banners. Debate club, for the crew team. To sign you up for zero APR, low-interest rate credit cards. White girls throwing snowballs, frolicking. White girls in the pedmall, laughing their heads off, lighting each other’s cigarettes. White girls with huge, open mouths, chicklet teeth, you need a scene to represent freedom, so cast these multitudes of euphoric, white girls, herd them together, bombard them with the idea that they’re young, so uniquely, irresistibly young, and white, and that certainly, surely, these must be the most limitless days of their lives . . . Night shift. The Airliner, the Union Bar, any of these spots. The Fieldhouse. This two, three block, downtown clusterfuck. And in between, less of a parade, but stumbling, jumping out of cabs in heels, they’ve got on their black stretch pants, tube shirts, it’s freezing out, but that’s the uniform and they gotta go in packs, on Washington Street, hands in the air, or not even. More of a delicate, keenly acted theatre piece, on South Dubuque, 3am, bars close, and the pedmall’s flooded, with girls and dudes in puffy Hilfiger jackets, shouting and laughing, that one guy with sunglasses on, someone’s looking for Amy, the mingling, shuffling groups, and piggyback rides, and back and forth, spilling soda, waiting in line in Hardees, and where the fuck is Amy, yo?! The truth is, apart from the post-bar spillout, I don’t even know what’s going on, night after night, in these spots. Riding the free campus bus, my walkman, listening to music. Or lost in the woods. Literally. Go by to see Abdul, and without fail I try to shortcut, and then I’m out there for hours, getting back to the dorm. Yet another Saturday night, scratched by brambles, I’m falling, from the woods into the parking lot, then finally, sitting there in the snow. Can’t tell you what I’m thinking. Getting numb. Going nowhere, but searching, both inside and out . . .
First of all, to separate reality from the way I see it in my mind . . . From the interstate, the looming thing you lock onto, driving south to Iowa City. High on the hill, and then, later, the internet, seeing it from above, with reinforced flood breaks, a sprawling letter “h” in lowercase. Compared to what I begin to see, over time, after semesters, that gloomy, massive, concrete wing, grey on grey, chipped, beaten by wind. Cloudy, dark glass, greenly lit. The architectural largesse of Communism, and Gulags. Not just me. Dustin. Also Abdul, off campus now but he lived here long enough to coin it the so-called, House of Hunger. Not just us. Swarming, in and out. Piling off the Campus bus. Fake-laughing, loitering. Gobbling, crunching snacks, pizza. Guzzling, rivers of soda, and earth-friendly, five-dollar bottled water. Lounging, staring, studying, mostly starving, that’s what it feels like. Life settles on you, a fog of confusion. And from there, everything feels shameless. Cheesy. Everyone staring, then looking away, hoping for someone to notice. Some hi-caloric food item, some unattainable picture or idea from some magazine. But mainly ogling ourselves, staring, longingly, in the glass, the floor-to-ceiling front lounge windows facing west. Grey carpet. Cigarette burn on the siding. Along the wall, and there’s my shadow, leading, hungry . . . Grey stairs, grey hallways, onto cloudy, grey decades of days somehow resigned to fate. Dudes with ripped jeans on, that gel in their hair. Cheerleader types. Muscleguys, bulging in sweats. Girls with leather jackets, crowds of types, that crew with the eyeliner on, like vampires, black coats and jewelry, little chains hanging off their boots. To indict myself, I’ll say, even now, I know most of what I do and think about is also ludicrous, misguided, how could it not be? And yet, all around, when I look, it’s as if the people I encounter are cattle, uncomfortably shuffling in roles that have been somehow chosen for them. Geeks in the computer lab, huddled together, giggling, and what are we doing? Porn? Swords and wizards? You fuckers. Is this a game, or are we really trying to find a way out? Or worse, youth itself as some potion, as if one has to be drunk on it, to pretend, around the clock, regurgitating slogans and anthems for jeans and popular clothing lines, and by the way, I wear jeans too, and I’ll fuck that white girl, absolutely, from the commercial, the camera trails her on the beach, she’s smiling, now she’s hiding behind her hands . . . Like everyone else, I’m soaked in that nonsense. But then also, what’s left without hopes to live for? And from there, I guess, why wouldn’t you attach a mythology to it, to beauty and life? I don’t know who to blame. The way the hallways and these spare, grey rooms seem themselves to respirate and thrive off thwarted dreams. Eight stories. Four hundred and three thousand square feet. Two thousand and seven beds. The Mayflower residence hall is just a turnstile, through which we’re all inducted into that adult realm of pointless, perpetual longing without borders, beyond reason. Plotting, maybe. Biding time. But like inmates, all of us, shuffling, farting, jerking off, crying ourselves to sleep, then padding in socks and slippers through vendoland, around the laundry room in the basement. By now, I’ve begun spending entire nights downstairs, the lounge, playing Virtua Cop, alternating back and forth to the computer lab where I sit, typing, re-writing drafts of the same email to Inez, all the usual lies I can think up to say, but also, trying to break through, leaping up with a flourish to rip the sheets off those dot matrix grinders . . . Because your experience is different. Inez. Be honest! You've got dudes waiting, calling your phone, a thousand social engagements, and so on. You pick and choose. Right? I live on the other side. I walk around hungry all day, and it’s not food, not just a sex thing either. A kind of unquenchable feeling, if that means anything. I don’t want to offend you. But I’m not interested in your friends, not at all. If I could maybe spend some time with just you. I want to see you sweat. Even if that means we gotta take an yoga class together. Why does it have to be complicated? I’d love to see your breasts. Am I being a jerk? If so, then I’m sorry.