Lost in Collis

by Abbye Meyer | 4/2/02 5:00am

I lost my identity last week. I had thought it was just a stupid Dartmouth College ID card, but then I lost it. As my life spun out of control and I disappeared into a nameless and identity-less being, I caught a glimpse of an empty vastness and learned a little bit about why we cover it up with little things like IDs.

Collis is where it happened. It was destined to happen there, as I still enter that building with a sense of fear, approaching the looming chaos gently and timidly, and often leave it needing a long nap. The fan was blowing, shaking meals from trays. And the crowds were even more raucous and mobile than usual, as classes were just beginning and first lunches of the term were being had.

I was there for two hours, talking and eating and letting my time get sucked into that Collis vacuum. While I sprawled on the couch, at least 17 people captured me as an audience for stressful travel stories, involving lots of trains and buses and planes and foreign languages and lack of sleep. They had me so upset and flustered that I did the unmentionable. I got up to run to class so fast that I forgot to clean up my table, forgot to throw away my garbage and forgot to grab my ID.

I felt its absence before I opened my wallet. I knew it was gone. That first ID, made on my first day in Hanover, a mark of how I've changed in three and a half years, evidence of my responsibility, material for thinking I'm better than everyone else for never having lost my card, for having the old one with a photo that sticks out a little. So much of me was gone.

I didn't eat for days (the fact that this "food co-op" in which I live decided to go foodless for the first week of this term didn't help much either), I didn't read any books because the librarians wouldn't let me check them out and I barely talked to anyone, for my head was hung in shame.

I had lost my point of reference, a permanent moment in time at which I could glance whenever I needed to judge the paths I've taken. A friend of mine -- who hadn't even lost her ID, just freaked out on her own -- was talking to me last week about how we're always running from something old to something new. Every time we change, we lose something of what we were.

Without my terrified little first-year (first-day) face in my pocket, I think I began to lose grasp of the old, the past. And how can we figure out where we're going if we can no longer see what we're leaving behind?

Lost in the nameless void, I have spent the week swimming in the folds of so many different places and categories. When I went to a Passover seder, I couldn't raise my hand as one of the "actual Jews" at the table. Whenever my assumed Jewish identity gets thrown aside, I'm assumed Christian. But considering I've been to more bar mitzvahs than I have church services, I don't know if that works much better. I'm just a nothing.

Then a friend came up to me this weekend with a story of how she'd run up to someone yelling my name to say hello. But it wasn't me. It was just some girl.

So I tried to create an identity for myself at a pancake breakfast my house hosted this weekend. I told everyone immediately upon entering the kitchen that I was going to be the one with the bad attitude; someone has to do it, and I thought I'd save everyone the worry of wondering who it would be. Turns out I smiled anyway and watched someone else offend with greater negativity than I could muster.

Perhaps this spiraling loss of my college identification card is a precursory loss of my college identity. It's happening all the time in this temporary community in which we live; we're flying towards graduation, eventually chucked into a world without security, structure and comfort. Eventually, if not immediately, we'll have to redefine that easy "student" identity. But with what?

Or maybe my unexpected loss this week just shocked me into realizing something everyone else already knew. That this whole time, perhaps these whole lifetimes, are without concrete moments, without fixed historical reference points. Like that friend told me, we're always running and changing. But more than that, we're always re-evaluating our pasts and trying to figure out who we were, are and will be.

So with that unsteady realization, it's time for to me to ask -- to beg -- everyone to scavenge for my ID. Last seen in Collis, it could be anywhere. Certainly, I offer a reward for its return: dinner for the finder and up to ten friends at Food Court (or a $100 shopping spree at Topside). Courtesy of my original ID, of course.

Until that happens (and it must), I'll use this new, cold, fancy ID card that I finally got (showcasing my fixed look of anger and panic as a new reference point perhaps). It's totally replaceable, printable at any time, cloning possible, for my identity is now kept snugly in Dartmouth's computer forever. And I have no idea what the hell that means.