College Orientation was a nightmare.
I arrived on campus in August 2012 full of self-doubt, my stomach doing backflips. I had never been away from home for more than a few days at a time, and sleepovers with my friends didn't really count.
I knew nobody, and yet it seemed like everyone else had found a best friend within ten minutes of arrival.
It was easy to feel inadequate. We had to follow an orientation schedule designed specifically to help us feel more comfortable with our new surroundings, but I couldn't have felt any more alone.
First. Pavement everywhere. A nightmare for someone with CP. I was terrified that I was going to fall.
Second. Going from place to place was like a giant game of "Follow the Leader." Except the leader walked REALLY fast. Really, really fast. I felt like I had to jog to keep up, and yet even though I felt as though I was running, I was still much slower than everyone else.
At one point, I got caught in the middle of the group, and someone behind me piped up, "Why are we going so SLOW?"
I shut my eyes and willed myself to keep it together, but inside I was breaking.
Third. My sense of direction is pretty much non-existent. Despite my best efforts, I was occasionally unable to keep pace with the group, and then I would get lost. Let me tell you, friends...there's nothing quite like being literally lost and metaphorically lost at the same time.
Fourth. Dances. I looked at the Orientation program and saw that a dance was scheduled for 10pm. And next to the time was a word that made my heart sink: MANDATORY. The current-day me would have totally disregarded that damn word. I would have stayed in my room for those two hours and I would have watched a movie and stuffed my face with popcorn, secretly rejoicing over the fact that I was skipping the stupid "mandatory" dance.
Dances are a form of slow torture. My entire body aches and my legs seem to turn into wood planks because I'm deathly afraid of being trampled. And I can hardly hear anything over the earsplitting music. But I went anyway. I shouted a few introductions over the music, clung for dear life to the wall, and prayed to God that it would end.
Eventually I found a group of people who seemed almost as miserable as I was to be there. We looked at each other and it dawned on us that we could just go back to our dorms and nobody would care. So we did. (Best decision of Orientation so far)
The next night was "Group games" -- mandatory AGAIN. They brought us all out into a field and had us all sit down while they discussed the instructions. But I was distracted.
There was girl in the middle of the crowd with forearm crutches literally standing alone. I watched her for a minute as she stood there by herself, and I wondered if anyone would stand with her. No one did.
The metaphor struck me hard.
Rapidly losing faith in humanity, I got to my feet and stumbled my way over to her. I just couldn't let her stand there alone.
"It's too much effort to sit with my crutches," she explained, and I nodded. I understood. I had the very same crutches just a few years earlier.
"Well, I'll stand with you," I said, and together we towered over our classmates.
We were the only two people with visible disabilities, and we were the only people standing up in a crowd of more than 500 students. We stood out, quite literally, but for the first time all week, I didn't feel alone.