For the longest time, I looked forward to college as a time when I could be fresh and new. I would decorate my dorm the way I wanted, drink my coffee, read good books and be who I wanted to be. I would be nice to everyone and let them use my coffee maker or borrow my cardigans. I would laugh a lot. No one would have to know that anything bad had happened to me. I wouldn’t be a notably sad girl, and that seemed really good.
In total honesty, I never know whether I should share too much about my life — in particular, the sad parts. They read like an unreleased Lemony Snicket novel. The bad things have been many, close together and largely out of my control. Even if I were to share, there’s no easy way to tell someone about your wildly sad past. Conversations go from casual to deeply intimate when you mention something dark. When someone asks why I wash my hands so much, I don’t tell them that my father had cancer three times and that for a while, a cold could have killed him and that when I was younger my mom made us sing songs while we washed our hands to be sure we did it long enough. Instead I just laugh a little and say I don’t want a cold. Telling a little, white lie is easier than a heavy, intense truth.
Yet there’s no growth or life in littleness, mildness and especially not in dishonesty. All my little lies are borne from the all-encompassing one that I’ve grow used to telling: that everything is fine, that there’s no past trauma and no scars, that my family is a normal one, that I don’t sometimes just get worried because nothing has gone wrong in a while. Not long ago I would have looked forward to nestling deeper into the comfort of that facade. Yale is exactly 1,001 miles away from my house, and that seemed like enough distance to put between myself and the sadness I’ve come from.
In the 11th hour, however, I changed my mind. I’m tired of my little lies, my larger, constant lie of omission and of never letting my guard down out of fear that people just won’t understand. Maybe someone has had a similar past, and maybe it would help them to know someone else has had hard things happen and is still happy and whole and functioning. (Maybe it would help them to know that sometimes I don’t feel happy and whole and that functioning continues only as a necessity.)
And even if being so honest all the time ends up being awkward, I’ll at least be honoring my own victories. I catch myself, and often see others, glossing over and minimizing the bad things I’ve lived through in an attempt to distance myself from them. I see now that that’s just another way I’m dishonest. It makes sadness seem like something that should be left at home, not taken out into the world. That’s not how things work, though. Our sadnesses come with us, like dogs on leashes, always affecting how we go about the world. The things we have overcome deserve recognition, and to ignore the realities of our hardships — the mental health impacts, the distractions from our passions, the sometimes-directionless anger — lessens the value of our triumphs over them.
I’m still looking forward to decorating my dorm and drinking my coffee in the mornings — and I’m sure that with all of the Yale libraries, I’ll read really good books. I’m going to lend out cardigans still, and yes, you can use the coffee maker. I’ll be fresh and new, 1,001 miles away from home—but this time, not trying to get away from anything. I’m going to be honest, with myself and with everyone else, and hopefully, other people can do the same. I know that I’m not the only one with a life like a Shakespearean tragedy and luck like a black cat. We can look our hardships in the faces, even call them by their names — out loud. We can help each other live with them. We have four years in Connecticut, at Yale, living with the motto “Light and Truth.” We have a lot of time to be honest, and a lot of time to laugh.
Abigail Grimes is a first year in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .