I am a cup and so are you — a first year’s search for fulfillment
Friday and Saturday nights were the highlights of my first year—and not for the reason you’d think.
There’s this Ray Bradbury quote I like, though I find it oddly optimistic for a guy who wrote about burning books in “Fahrenheit 451.” Regardless, here it is —
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
I arrived in Charlottesville feeling not quite like an empty cup, but more like an abandoned mug with a few sips of cold coffee left. I was in search of fulfillment, and went in thinking I knew exactly what my involvements would be. I joined the band, an activity I had spent half my life pouring my heart into. And yet, for the first time in my life, I didn’t enjoy it.
One day I gave up. I was practicing percussion in my dorm room when I heard a knock, so I put my mallets down and opened the door.
“Yes?” I said.
Three unhappy-looking girls stood outside my door.
“We came here because we were wondering where all the sound was coming from,” one said. “Our RA, Beth*, said to check the fourth floor and ask the person to stop.”
“Oh okay, sorry. I’ll stop,” I said, closing the door quickly to avoid further confrontation.
I no longer played in my room and, unable to find open practice rooms, lost my motivation to continue percussion.
One day, I knocked on this RA chick Beth’s door.
“Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m Kate,” I rattled off. “I was the one who was really loudly playing percussion in my room about a month ago, and you sent those girls up. Sorry.”
Beth was incredibly kind about the whole affair, inviting me into her open room and offering me a cup of vanilla chai tea. We chatted for much longer than I had anticipated, discovering that we had mutual friends and were both interested in public policy, music and mental health.
The visits to Beth became frequent. We’d talk for hours, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m., about everything from cheesy science videos to religion. Her room felt like home.
I became close to the other RAs in my building, too, and for the first time in my life, I opened up. Here were people I could trust, people who would listen to me. I always got excited when I saw that their door was ajar or that the light was on — a sign that I was welcome inside. The RAs made me feel included, something that I — the girl who checked multiple boxes for ethnicity and religion on questionnaires, who never fit into a social group and who flirted with loneliness but not boys — wasn’t used to.
Friday and Saturday nights were the highlights of my first year — and not for the reason you’d think. On those nights, the RAs would be on “coverage,” checking to make sure everyone was safe on party-heavy evenings. While my friends were doing their own thing, I would spend the night hanging out in the RA on coverage’s room. It was so wonderful to have a place to go where you always knew you were invited. The previously nearly-empty mug I was when I entered U.Va. now teemed with hot tea.
One night in early April, the mug crashed, spilling all of its boiling tea and planting ceramic shards into the earth. I grieved as a heavy loss hit me and my family.
But I never carried that weight alone. The RAs helped me carry it. Their doors were open to me, always, and if I needed to talk, they would be there. When I walked in, no words needed to be said. They simply wrapped their arms around me, and when I crumpled, they held me up. More than anything else, their being there, ready to listen, made the difference in my healing. It was with the RAs that I first talked about the pain, and it is with the RAs that I still talk about the pain. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude to them for allowing me into their space.
I should note, however, that I’m wholeheartedly biased. I’m going to be an RA next year. The impact the RAs left on me led me to want to help the next generation of first-years find fulfillment where I once had. I hope to do for my residents what my RAs did for me — to fill their cups with warmth, inclusion and, if they’d like, vanilla chai tea.
*Name has been changed