I am beginning to find myself looking back on my time in Winona and focusing on the good memories: Climbing buildings with Geoff, my intramural basketball team that was absolutely terrible, my Jim-Carey-esque professor who was the first person to believe in me as a writer, being a part of Second Page's improv show, Paul, the bench.
I never though I would spend so much time fondly reminiscing about Winona. In reality, I was miserable during my one semester at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. The happy memories are clouded over by the awful ones. I was so unhappy there that any small setback was enough to render me incapable of doing anything productive. I wonder what sort of financial setback Winona's A&W Restaurant suffered after I left. It seems I quite often found myself fleeing off campus, in order to escape and forget how much I hated 700 Terrace Heights.
I spent most of my time on campus sitting at my desk, watching Netflix or playing my PS3. Quite often, I did both simultaneously. Near my feet stack of to-go containers piled up. My tiny garbage can was barely big enough to hold just one.
By the end of my time there, I was eating all of my meals out of a to-go container in my dorm room. I did not want to be the guy eating alone in the cafeteria, so I took my meal back to my room and ate alone there. We were not allowed to carry our backpacks past Alice, the kind lady who ran the card-swiping station at the entrance to the cafeteria, so I could not have eaten my meals with my friend Netflix.
Other than Geoff, I did not have any friends at the end of that semester. I was trying not to get too attached to Geoff; he was joining the Marines at the end of the semester. At the beginning of the semester, I had friends. We ate meals together, played intramural sports together, and occasionally ventured off campus for a movie. Then after awhile, those activities slowed down. I figured my "friends" were just busy, and it was getting hard to connect at the same time to eat together. However, one day, I got up from my desk to use the restroom, and after relieving myself, I saw the people I thought were my friends gathering to go eat. I thought after weeks of eating alone, I could finally sit down with my friends in the cafeteria and eat. No one said anything to me, but as the evening progressed, it became clear that I was not welcome. While we ate, no one talked to me until after everyone had finished. One question about how I had been was all the attention they gave me during that meal. Suddenly, the knocks on my door for my roommate and the hushed tones with which he talked to our neighbor made sense. They did not want me around. I will probably never learn if they had a conversation where it was decided that they would exclude me from their social gatherings or whether they all individually stopped caring to include me.
By the time I had realized they had moved on, everyone was safely tucked away in their own little niches, and it was near impossible to find new friends. To Geoff's credit, he made friends with me late in the semester and included me in a social venture. Yet, with the knowledge he would be leaving at the end of the semester, it was hard for me to find reasons to pursue a deeper friendship with him. Furthermore, none of the other people to whom he introduced me seemed interested in adding me to their circle of friends. So, I trudged on my way, friendless and praying the semester would end soon.
When the semester ended, I took off and giddily sped up Highway 14 en route to I-90 West. I made record time getting home. I was ready to leave Winona forever. It would be strange to go back, and I would fear getting recognized.
Do I have regrets about my time at SMU? Sure. I regret not taking logic with Fr. Fabian. I regret not asking out that girl who, in retrospect, would have totally agreed to go out with me. I regret not trying out for a play. I regret not being more adventurous when it came to making friends and not simply sticking with my roommate or the guy across the hall when it came to the social activities the school had planned for that first week.
But, my regrets do not dampen my pessimism towards that place. If I would have stayed and had been more adventurous with my social life, I do not believe the outcome would have varied. A second semester there would have been more disastrous than the first. I needed something better than Winona had to offer.
I look at the friends I have now, and I truly cherish them more than I have ever cherished a group of friends before in my life. If I had not transferred after one semester, I would not have met them and my life would be radically different. Is my life perfect now? No. In fact, it is quite stressful, but I am content. I like where I am. I may endure radical changes to my life someday, but for now, I know I am right where I need to be.