The first time I felt really alone was this past spring, when I spent my off-term in Paris. I went there to write a book, to get away from dregs of Hanover winter and — like any good English major/expat — to find myself. In the first few weeks what I found were chocolate croissants and tulips. I found antique stores and creperies and hundreds of tiny dogs walking the streets that I desperately wanted to pluck off their leashes and carry with me to complete my perfectly Parisian outfits.
Then, I found loneliness. I found myself wanting to go movies in English to feel like I had companions. I found sitting by myself at lunch to be the most humiliating part of my day. One Sunday, I took a trip to visit a woman who had attended both my high school and Dartmouth. She was in her 40s and lived alone, but she was one of the happiest people I had ever met. She introduced me to salted butter and flea market bartering, and for that I am eternally grateful. She also made me feel not so alone. For the next few weeks I made it my mission to see as many Americans as possible. I met with other alums from my high school, friends of my sisters’, friends of friends and anyone who could spend an hour or two over an espresso and a crepe. Toward the end of my trip, my parents came to visit. I took them to all of my favorite places, read them passages from the books I’d been devouring and, in doing so, discovered how valuable my loneliness had been.
This article, modeled off a similar piece from the University of Pennsylvania’s 34th Street Magazine, is about firsts and lasts and how they have impacted us for better or for worse.
Responses have been edited and condensed.
The first time I experienced Daylight Savings Time
Ellen Plane ’15
The first time I experienced Daylight Savings Time was during my freshman fall. I’m from Arizona, where we apparently don’t need to save daylight and steer clear of the whole phenomenon. Anyway, my friends told me that during “fall back,” there’s a huge party for the hour before, so that anything that happens at the party is erased when the clock turns back. I totally fell for it, stayed up late and was super confused when no one showed up to party. I’ve yet to attend a “fall back” party, but maybe next year will be the year.
The first time I found out where BagelBasement is
Alec Ring ’15
Freshman year I joined this club that doesn’t exist any more, Project Right Choice. It was a poorly named club because it makes you think we’re some kind of abortion group, which we’re not. It was a philanthropy-based club that did a lot of awesome work for the four years that it was around. It was started by some ’10s and ’11s. They raised upwards of $100,000 a year for a charity of choice. I had never heard of a group that was so far under the radar that did so much work.
So I went to the first meeting and was sitting around in one of those Baker 152 rooms. It was kind of stiff. Everyone on was on their computers. I was thinking, “This is kind of stuffy, but I guess they get stuff done,” and I was looking to change the world, so I decided to stick with it. I ended doing a lot with that club over the next year. I had a leadership position. Regardless of all that, the first meeting I’m sitting there, everyone’s talking and they’re in the middle of planning an event and they say that at the end of the day at Bagel Basement you could get the old bagels for free if you talked to the owner. I volunteer and say, “I’ll pick up the bagels, but where’s Bagel Basement?” I’m the only freshman. This one girl, she is typing and she looks up and she says, “You don’t know where Bagel Basement is? Oh my god. I go there every morning.” She was like, “how have you been there a month and you’ve never been to Bagel Basement?” Someone else was like, “Okay, do you know where EBA’s is?” and I said no and the whole group is like, “Oh my goodness, he doesn’t know where EBA’s is. Who is this clown?” And that’s how I learned where Bagel Basement is.
The first time I felt responsible for another person
Allison Chou ’17
While I feel responsible for my friends, I consider them on my same level, and I know it’s not my responsibility to educate them. It’s a mutual favor that friends do for each other. But in the trippee-trip leader relationship, it is a responsibility. I would say that I underestimated the protectiveness that I would feel over them and the self-imposed pressure I felt to inform them about the realities of Dartmouth, both positive and negative. The fear that I feel at even the thought of them getting hurt, whether it be physically or emotionally, is a deep one. I guess what makes it difficult is that these are 18-year-olds. They’re adults. They can make whatever decisions, make whatever mistakes they ultimately choose to make, and it’s difficult for me not to conflate my hopes for them with their reality. You can talk about responsibility as much as you want, but a lot of people won’t take those conversations seriously until something bad happens to them or one of their friends. That kind of barrier between those who have experienced or know someone who has experienced things and those to whom it’s just an idea is what complicates the trip leader role. At the same time, being a trip leader is something I really value, as is the opportunity to share my Dartmouth with these ’18s.
The first time I was a big in my sorority
Kaila Cauthorn ’15
This term, I was a big to a ’17. I really wanted to have that experience that I didn’t have last year because I was off in the fall and too busy in the winter. It really brought me back to when I was a little. It made me constantly think that I needed to live up to the level of being a role model that my big had exemplified. But at the same time, I realized that I didn’t have to go down the same path. There’s no wrong or right way to be a mentor. I think I was a little bit scared because I know that not necessarily my big but other ’13s in the house were always there for me when I was upset or breaking down. I was scared that I wouldn’t know what to do or say if my little ever needed me. She hasn’t had a crisis so far, but I feel a little more prepared now toward the end of the term than at the beginning because the feedback from her has been positive because of the fun bonding stuff we’ve been doing. It seems like the benefit that she’s getting from me is just from me being myself. If she ever asks me for minor advice, giving what’s directly on the top of my head and speaking honestly have been enough. Generally it’s come a lot more naturally than I thought it would.
The first time I rode a horse
David Cordero ’16
I told Morgan I was the least athletic person I knew. I was somewhat appalled by the thought of riding a horse, let alone joining a varsity team, but she told me she was serious. I left her to go back to my work, only to hear from her again three days later in an email aggressively urging me, “If you for real want to try out for the riding team you should come up! Nothing to lose!” So I did. I emailed the equestrian coach, met with her a week later and six months down the road competed for the first time. Sure, I skipped all the details of mounting a horse for the first time, learning how to keep a horse from bucking me, wearing pants that make me look like Peter Pan (or so my friends joke), and even taking a selfie on a horse to send to my mom, but all of these things are collectively a part of an experience I would have never imagined to have. Riding horses, competing as a part of the equestrian team and driving to the Morton Farm four or five times a week have all been firsts at Dartmouth, distinctly marked by a sense of pride, self-fulfillment and gratitude for a world I would have never stumbled upon unless by chance.
The first time I said I had a best friend (and had a fleeting substantial conversation in a fraternity)
Michael Riordan ’15
It was sophomore Green Key. The night was young. Naturally, I was wandering frat row with friends. We found ourselves at Zete. As we climbed the stairs, searching for something, she turned to me. The words came quick — “You’re my best friend.” I smiled and said that she was mine, too. We kept climbing.
The last day I spent in Buenos Aires
Luke McCann ’16
I sat browsing airline tickets for my upcoming study abroad program in Buenos Aires. I remember feeling oddly anxious that day, eager for some grand adventure far away from the wintry hell that lurked outside my window. My then-boyfriend listened absentmindedly beside me as I marveled at the possibilities of what I would find in Argentina. Three months, I decided, would not be enough. I needed more. I booked my airline ticket for two weeks after the end of my program, not knowing where I would sleep or how I would survive.
Fast forward to my last 24 hours in Buenos Aires, my term-long journey of self-discovery coming to a close. My wallet was empty, and had been for several weeks. I met a guy in a bar a week or so before, a film student from Colombia. Unable to afford staying in a hostel and with no friends in the country, I had essentially been living with him for the last few weeks.
It was his turn to pick where we went for a date, and he chose the usual craft beer pub a few blocks away. I swallowed a few dark brews after scanning the menu for a red wine, which they sadly did not carry. We drifted back to his apartment, slightly buzzed by the mix of alcohol and a final night in the city. We’re both film students, and we returned to watch various indie films until morning rush hour told us it was time for bed. That last night, we laid together on his bed, a nest of thrown-about blankets, clothing and iPhone chargers. We watched “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and giggled as the sounds of sex on screen mixed with our own.
In the morning, he walked me to a close coffee shop and we split a drink with the last five pesos he had in his pocket. We hesitated when it was time for me to leave for the airport, not really sure if we were supposed to kiss, hug or just walk dramatically into the sunset without ever looking back. We made some promises about keeping in touch, about me coming back to Buenos Aires when I got a chance. Two hours later, I sat on a plane headed for Santa Cruz, Bolivia with a cup of vino tinto in my hand and the pride in knowing I had found a way to survive in the city with nothing but a half pack of cigarettes and my boyish charm. For all the gay clubs, political rallies and drunken nights lost in Buenos Aires, my trip to South America ended with a boy, a cup of coffee and absolutely nothing else.