​What I brought home from school

My clothes, bedding and a liberalized mind

It’s weird how much you take home from the University when you leave for the summer. By “you” I mean me and my stuff, of course, and my mom loves to throw most of it in the trash. She even threw out my bedspread! “Two years of dorm life is enough,” she said. As for someone who never lived in a dorm, I think her perception of “dorm life” relies on pop culture and my more interesting sister. Thus my bedspread, according to sources like “22 Jump Street,” must be soaked with bodily and alcoholic fluids. It’s not. I know — how wasteful to toss it then! I raised the same objection when she grabbed my sheets. Always the sympathetic listener, she placed them on top of the trash can instead of in it.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

“You put them on the trash can.”

“That means I’m almost done thinking about it.”

I also returned with some things she couldn’t throw away because I didn’t even realize I brought them home, like my new brainwashed liberal mind. It just overtakes me and spouts nonsense sometimes, like I’m a deep cover agent who just heard her trigger word. See how I used the female pronoun instead of the male in my example? There I go again!

Just listen to this example — it has the University written all over it. At my local newspaper internship gig my managing editor and I were doing features on graduating seniors from each of Loudoun’s public high schools. While typing one up, she asked the newsroom for an opinion.

“What do you think about this lead: At first glance, Srijan Bhasin* seems like the usual outstanding Loudoun high school student.”

My head swiveled around like an owl.

“Actually, I’ve found that normalizing excellence in a competitive atmosphere can silently marginalize a lot of kids who feel like they don’t live up to that standard.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t realize what I said until I heard the words leave my mouth. It’s like all the conversations I’ve had about the University’s competitive culture and my own late-night doubts of my adequacy channeled through me and spoke to her. I don’t recall packing that in my mental suitcase, but here it was in Loudoun County.

I kept on finding other U.Va.-isms popping out of my mind at the most random times. Like when my mom and I were reading in the living room and my sister left to go see her boyfriend. Well, they’re not boyfriend-girlfriend. It’s one of those no label deals. Like I said, she’s more interesting. This somehow led to me and my mom discussing me siring children.

“Are you looking forward to having grandkids one day?” I asked, expecting an ‘Of course. But don’t rush. Haha. Get married first. Haha.’

“Not really,” she said.

“Oh wow. Really?”

“Yeah. In fact, for the first years in our marriage, Dad and I talked about not having kids at all. I still think we would’ve been happy without any.”

This revelation gently bruised my feelings. I have what doctors call an “expressive face” which my mother is very literate in reading, so I didn’t have to convey my surprise in words.

“What? It’s nothing against you,” she said.

I mulled over our exchange that night trying to fall asleep. How could she live a happy life without me being a part of it? If her happiness was a cake recipe, I thought I was like, the sugar. Now she’s telling me she’d be fine with Splenda! I hope that metaphor makes sense, I’ve never baked a cake. Anyway, this woman is one of the six people who think I’m cool. How could she drop this “I don’t need you in my life” truth bomb on me?

Then this late night, prophetic thought wades into my stream of consciousness — “You know what, I shouldn’t assume my mother’s happiness could only come from having children and doting on grandchildren.”

That’s when I realized I had caught a case of the feminism back at school. Granted, my revelation is a miniscule victory for the cause, but I wouldn’t have noticed my patriarchal assumption back in high school. I started catching myself having these moments all the time. My unexpected vigor when I explained why saying “Grab her by the pussy” is, indeed, a bad thing to say. That “Way to forward society!” feeling I got when my bank manager was a woman. This sense of unease I felt at my neighbor’s barbeque when my dad and I spoke to Mr. Neighbor about Comey’s testimony while my mom, sister and Mrs. Neighbor left to chat about the garden. I’m not disparaging gardening or conversations about it, but back at school I got used to U.Va. girls, or, um… “young women” usually chiming in on most topics without hesitation. I guess after finals I just took that expectation and drove it two hours north.

I’ve been making progress in other areas too. One day I was chatting with my friend — I forget exactly what we were talking about — but I mentioned one of the minority groups at the University, which annoyed my friend.

“Why don’t we make a club for white males,” he said, annoyed, “How do you think that would go?”

“I don’t know man. The whole ‘white male empowerment’ shtick is kind of a ‘been there, done that’ type of deal. You know? Like, for centuries?”

Yes, behold, I am the most ferocious of the social justice warriors. I’m not even trying to be one. It’s just the University’s “Connect with People Different than You” message sunk into me. And I’m the guy who two years ago blamed affirmative action for my deferral from the University. It’s a good thing I got in — I’ve been learning a lot.

*I changed this senior’s name for his privacy and because I don’t remember it. Srijan is my close friend at William & Mary and a dedicated reader of my columns. We’re going to the National Gallery of Art today!

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