TTLG: A Requiem for My Dead Pet Snail
My biggest success at Dartmouth was simply surviving.
About midway through my senior spring term, I took a trip to the PetSmart in West Lebanon to pick up a pet snail. I had deemed snails, due to their low-maintenance nature, the perfect animal companion for whatever transition from college to actual adulthood awaited me, and my sights settled quickly upon a yellow, nickel-sized, relatively active specimen. I named him Snoople — Snoople the Snail.
“Ah, yep,” I thought to myself as I decorated Snoople’s fishbowl with a single plastic plant and prodded his shell toward the bit of algae I was trying to feed him, “taking care of another living thing will remind me to take care of myself.”
Two weeks later, Snoople was dead.
I made the discovery during one of my Zoom classes, and I proceeded to turn my camera off so that I could give him a water burial down the toilet. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this was an odd reaction. My pet had just died, and here I was, still listening to my professor as I sent it into the Upper Valley sewer system.
Perhaps the tragedy of Snoople can serve as an apt metaphor for my time at Dartmouth, particularly over the past year or so (bear with me). I couldn’t take care of something important, and I dealt with the consequences poorly while trying to continue on normally as a student. Or, more specifically, I felt the expectation not to look back while absurdly awful things happened around me.
I still don’t feel that I have adequate words to process the past year. On one hand, I was incredibly privileged to have served as the news executive editor of The Dartmouth’s 177th directorate. The pandemic fueled a constant stream of stories to cover, and my work at the paper gave me a sense of purpose even as I often failed to keep up with my other responsibilities.
At the same time, this period — as my fellow executive editor rightly noted — coincided with a slew of deeply upsetting news, much of it emanating from the College’s choices and the callousness with which students were treated. I am haunted by Dean of the College Kathryn Lively’s insistence at the beginning of the winter that “no matter what tragedies or disappointments you may have faced, the academic term starts now.” Just a few weeks before her message to us, we had to put out an obituary for a fellow student. I spoke with the Hanover Police on the day that Beau DuBray ’24 died. Despite a new term starting, I could not shake that conversation, the words of Beau’s grieving friends or the thought of the pain he was in out of my brain. I still can’t.
The past year also, on a more personal level, overlapped with my mental health plummeting to new lows. Sure, while I mustered up enough energy to commit about 50 hours each week to running this paper, I did so almost exclusively from bed, and certainly to the detriment of my well-being. My failures began to pile up. I barely scraped by in my classes, taking an Incomplete for each term that I was an editor. I dropped my thesis project. I stopped talking to friends for no good reason. I consistently missed deadlines, failed to respond to emails and spent the majority of my time outside of my work for this newspaper forcing myself to sleep or staring blankly at the ceiling. I let my pet snail die, for God’s sake.
Needless to say, my path through college did not pan out as I had planned. Coming into Dartmouth, failure terrified me. In high school, I worked to the cusp of breaking my body. I filled my schedule with work and slept an average of four hours a night — something I actually deluded myself into thinking I should be proud of. I carried these habits to campus and quickly beat myself up as I found myself no longer able to pull all-nighters, purge all the free time from my schedule or put in all the effort needed to get an A in a class.
Now, just under two weeks after graduating, I find myself reflecting on my heap of shortcomings. Back in the comfort of my childhood bedroom, with no more pressure to muscle my way through the waves of depression that still wash over me even on my best days, I have begun to see them in a new light.
How strange of me to conflate my self-worth with the creative writing pieces I fought and failed to complete. How weird of me to have hated myself for not being able to write an essay on German expressionist film while an election dragged on, while a pandemic claimed lives, while I could barely bring myself to shower or eat.
My greatest success at Dartmouth, I now believe, was simply that I made it through. The perfectionist in me has died — or at least taken a back seat. While I am certainly not proud of the times I disappointed myself and those I cared about, I believe I am a more resilient person because I was able to keep going in spite of my often overwhelming feelings of worthlessness.
To this end, I am endlessly grateful for the patience of the professors who dealt with me at my worst. Thank you for every generous extension, for working with me and for reaching out when I truly felt unfit to be a student at this school. Thank you, too, to my friends who stuck around, and my family, who really had no choice but to stick around. But more importantly, I’m so sorry you had to see me this way. I can and will do better.
I write this TTLG — which I feel obliged to inform our readers stands for “Through the Looking Glass,” since I don’t believe our paper properly indicates that anywhere — not only for my own desire for closure on my time with The Dartmouth, but also in the hopes that other Dartmouth students who struggled during their time here know that they did enough.
My thoughts go out to my classmates who fought against near-insurmountable odds to get their degrees, my classmates who did not get to graduate this year and those who continue to grieve and process what we’ve been through. We’re making it through, day by day, and I’m proud of us for it.
Elizabeth Janowski is the former News Executive Editor of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2021.