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by Vanessa Milne 

Man, you should have been there last night.

We had like, nine drinks, got smashed, wound up at this bar called the Dance Cave – I still have the stamp on my hand. I’ve been there before, but I don’t remember it like this.

I was talking to strangers, explaining to them that I’d just started journalism and that I was new to the city. Everyone was so friendly! They all wished me luck and said this was a great bar and that I should be so, so happy I was in school. One guy even told me that he had just graduated. The grad life sucks, he said, adding I should appreciate my time as a student.

I couldn’t imagine the look on my face. Truth is I, too, have graduated.

I’ve moved back into my parents’ house, I’m trying to make a living fact-checking, I’m hanging out with people for lunch, and my friends have gone to their respective jobs.

Still, I feel like I’ll realize soon that I haven’t paid tuition yet and don’t have a place to live, so I’ll run back to Neill Wycik, beg money off my parents, screech into the Rogers Communication Centre and sit down in class, where I’m supposed to be.

But apparently this is my real life now. It would be depressing if it wasn’t so disorienting.

And so last Friday, fellow grad Laura Salvas and I decided we’d face our realities by dressing up and going out, just like old times.

We would be fresh-faced frosh for one night. Surely we would clarify our feelings about school if we were pretending to be on the other side of it, going in instead of clinging on. Maybe by facing our fears head-on, we’d even knock it in our heads that we’d graduated months earlier.

We met, pre-drank, applied our black eyeliner and changed into little tanktops. We downed strawberry daiquiris and reminisced about being in first year.

I miss it; I can’t help it. I wish I was just starting my life, scared and overwhelmed and incompetent. I wish I was still impressed by the city, the fact that I had moved out of my house, with myself for doing journalism, and with Ryerson for being so huge. (Note to frosh: The Quad is a square. That’s the secret.)

We finally set out, trying our best to feel the childlike wonderment we felt in first year. Some girls at the ATM even wished me luck with school, which was adorable.

“Are you students?” we asked, stopping a group of second-year U of T students on the street. We told them we were first years and they suggested we head to the Dance Cave to find frosh. “What college do you go to?” the man asked, eyeing us suspiciously. “Oh, we go to Ryerson,” I said. “Oh,” he said, running ahead to join his friends.

The Dance Cave was empty, but the frosh were surely coming. We put our coats behind a few men sitting at a table, telling them that we were frosh and didn’t really know what to do with them. “I just graduated,” the man on the left said. “It’s not nearly as much fun as school. Have fun tonight, though.”

We decided to pass the time by playing pool, much to the pleasure of the creepy guy behind me. “I have a friend who’s a journalist,” he told me later. “You should talk to him. Give me your number and I’ll tell him to talk to you. He knows all sorts of people. He knows Peter Worthington at the Star.”

I tried to look impressed. After all, being impressed was part of the frosh experience. I would be thrilled to be here among these hip, faux-hawked Torontonians and a guy buying three pitchers. I would get drunk, feel amazingly grown up, dance with strangers, and talk about being connected with this city.

Then, somehow, it stopped being a funny story — a crazy thing we decided to do because we like to think we’re fun like that (Laura’s like that; I just pretend).

I did miss this, and if the only way I could do it again was to pretend to think it was funny, that was okay. For tonight, I could be the youngest girl at the bar, the one that was way too drunk, that people looked at and smiled, the Oakvillian impressed with the lights at this ghetto bar that I really detested.

So I got into it. We danced even though we can’t dance, in an awkward little way, and took stupid pictures, including one of me “acting drunk” by pouring beer down my shirt.

I told everyone who would listen my story: “I just moved here. From Oakville. I love Toronto! No, actually, I go to Ryerson. It’s kinda scary. Yeah, I hope it’ll be good.”

I had a shot of Jager and wound up doing a tequila shot with a nice man who oddly resembled Elvis, before leaving him to go on a picture-taking spree.

It was just past 1:30 a.m., so the men got grabby and drunk. I went looking for my friends, and for a moment considered leaving them. I had decided earlier to get out of the bar as late as possible, staying with the stragglers.

Somehow, though, this had gotten sad. I had lost my friends and I remembered this from first year, going out with people and inevitably leaving some behind because really, they were strangers too. I remember talking to everyone because we were equal that way. That’s why we drank so much — the fale intimacy was immensely consoling.

I found Laura, who agreed we had to leave. We’d had enough and I was tired (granted, like an old person). Perhaps, in retrospect, this wasn’t actually the best experiment.

I seemed to forget that when I was a frosh, I wasn’t really a student yet. I was a high-school grad who’d just moved into res. I hadn’t yet missed deadlines, discovered a hatred for history, or crammed for exams. I was just happy because I liked the thought of what was to come.

Maybe I should go to bars and tell strangers I love the city and I am doing some crazy job and am scared and don’t really feel ready. Those things are as true now as they were when I was 18, but they’re things that I never say because now they seem sad instead of na?ve, because now I feel old and exposed instead of young and protected, like I’ve fallen behind and somehow should be turning 50 instead of 23.

Next week, my friends from Oakville and I are going out to celebrate the fact that it’s Saturday. We won’t discuss our course outlines or hunt for used books. We’ll talk about our jobs and we won’t go drink together and I’ll discover talking to strangers is awkward. I think, maybe, I’ll capitalize on the fact that I’ve finally figured out that no, I’m not a student, and I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about how I just moved here from the ghetto, how I love my job, and I’m a journalist, and I just started, so it’s kinda scary.

That’s okay, though. Residence was a chance for me to push a happy framework on my life, so I’m sure I can handle this, too.

Hi, my name’s Vanessa. I just started my life. Yeah, I’m super excited — a little nervous, though.

Wish me luck.

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