Essay:Of CTY (Wendeth)
It’s the summer. I’m sitting in an old classroom, its strong smell evoking memories of museums and aging buildings… not much of my favor. I sit in a desk, with a tabletop barely large enough to hold my lavender binder. Papers and packets protrude out of its edges. “Reject” by Green Day is booming in my headphones as hurriedly, the pencil in my hand is running across the paper, steady to the music. I must get every detail down until I feel accomplished and satisfied. All around me, fellow students are writing away. I take a deep breath, look up, across the room, and stare out the window at the darkening sky, my sight traveling the dark shadow of trees that look so familiar, blowing in the steady summer wind, and the neighboring classroom with silhouettes of students in the window. “Ten minutes left,” my TA says at the desk in front of the powdery, dusty chalkboard. I look back at the current sheet of paper. My quick scrawl, small and slanted, is my heart, spilled out on paper. It is my emotion, my thought, my mind at work. Proud of another essay finished, I gently tear each page of my essay from my notebook.
The blinking light of my cell phone temporarily mesmerizes me for two seconds while I lay in bed. It’s dark, with only the dim moonlight shining through the blinds and the sliver of light from the crack under the door. I hear my roommate breathing steadily, possibly trying to sleep. Like a blink, the cell phone light changes. 10:45. Finally. Quietly, with my pillow and blanket under one arm and flip-flops in another, I open the door to my room. The loud squeak emitted from the door quickly follows. Shit. Hurriedly, I run through the lighted hallway, to the end, the last room. Knock. Knock. Knock. Hurry up Whitney, I don’t want Willie to come out and see me, hurr- The door opens. A girl is standing in the door as I rush in. At first look, she is African American, with tanner skin and a large amount of curls. But a closer look at her face, and her features show she is a mix of ethnicities, some definite and some buried deep in her expression. I throw my things on the floor, and whisper, “Hi”. This is Whitney’s room, and only hers. Another hallmate, Christine, is already there. She’s sitting on the rickety wood chair at a dimly lighted desk, eating crackers or something out of a box. “Let’s go hang out in the bathroom.” “I don’t give a damn if anybody catches us. We can say we had to go.” I laugh at Christine’s suggestion and place my hand on the cold doorknob. I don’t flinch at any cursing. Without any authorities, little things like curse words and breaking rules slip out. Hanging out after lights out, one of my favorite things to do. Okay, yeah, so we’re not supposed to go out of our rooms. Oh well.
We’re all sitting in a circle of plastic chairs, gulping down ice cream while chatting incessantly. I eat my chocolate ice cream between bursts of laughter. It’s just us, just Willie’s hall. Just us and good old sugar. Sugar does something with my mind. It’s not the sugar that suddenly gets me hyper. It’s the prospect, the idea of having sugar that excites me. It has the same effect on me as it does my fellow Tree Huggers. Before long, we’re doing Arnold Schwartzenegger impressions and being “gangsta”. “I am Aww-nold Schworrtzeneggaw, ze guh-va-nataw of California…” Grace says, with amazing likeness to the real accent. Suddenly, all twelve of us burst out laughing, and Lena quickly follows. “Oh oh oh!” she says, “I am B-Dawg. You all suck. Prepare to die!” she says in a Spanish accent, an imitation from a movie we had watched the other week. We all laugh. Willie cracks up again, for no reason, “I love this, you guys! Just us talking, you guys are awesome!” she says, a grin wide on her face. “Ugh, I love you guys! It’s not fair how we only have a week left. I’m going to miss you guys so much…” Paula says. We all agreed. We will always agree.
It’s the second dance, the second Friday of CTY. Everybody is introduced and familiar with other people. We are all eager for the dance to start. We, the tree huggers, have vowed to stay upstairs, at the actual dance, unlike the last time, where we decided to go downstairs and watch a movie. We are all packed in a dimly lighted room, only one window in which the light can shine through. The light seems to glow through the windows and stop there. Most people are sitting on the sides, watching the clumsy, awkward circles of dancing, or upbeat, carefree movement. We are the awkward circle- half of us are sitting against the wall, talking, while the other half is standing up, some moving around slightly to the music or some randomly jumping up and down, some talking to the people sitting down. Through the dim lighting, I see slight features of each face. A shadow of a nose, a corner of an eye. We are all smiling, in our version of a circle. Sitting down, standing up, dancing, leaning, whatever we are doing, we are together.
The ramen is ready. It’s a Friday afternoon, and Daphne, Christine, and I are in the basement of AMR I. It’s a small basement, old, not too modern, equipped with a laundry room, a computer lab, and a small common kitchen. We are in the latter, making our version of a dinner. It’s ramen- the ultimate college food. Easy to make, easy to eat. Except for one thing. We don’t have utensils. As we are eating with our hands, other CTYers stare curiously. We don’t mind. Instead, our giggles and laughter ring throughout the small basement corridor, a sound expressing content. We pass a small group of friends at the top of the stairs. They are our hallmates, our friends. “Why are you eating ramen with your hands?” “Because we’re cool like that.” “I have spoons in my pocket.”
Spoons. Our ultimate card game, involving the rapid grabbing of spoons.
“I wouldn’t want to use those spoons. They’re dirty. Jackson and Patrick have touched them, you know.” “Oh well.” “See you upstairs.”
The slow, calming tones of Don McLean have a dramatic effect on me. Everytime, everytime the introduction plays, for a split second, I am thrown into the three weeks of freedom and friendship. Back to the large room, the fish tank, with walls of glass and floors of tile. Kids are out on the large balcony-type structure, while some are sitting on the sidelines, or hanging out in the middle of dance floor. It’s dark outside. The stars twinkle, perfect for a night like this. A night like this, the most important night of our summer, the last night of dorm rooms, of hall meetings, of sleepovers. Of CTY. We know what’s coming up. The traditional American Pie, ending our time here. Yet, we know what will happen afterwards. We don’t want that. “Long, long time ago…” Noise. Incessant noise, a mixture of cries, shrieks, whines, and yelps. Expressing sadness or eagerness, I don’t know. A combination, I guess. I take a look at everybody. We’re all in one large circle, swaying to the slow music, arms around each other. We’re all connected. It didn’t matter if we were between two strangers, friends, or classmates. We were all celebrating an unforgettable three weeks. All impressions, dislikes, and grudges were instantly forgotten in our circle. The piano speeds up. We all run, screaming, into the center of the circle, jumping, yelling, shouting, doing anything, as loud as we can. I shout the lyrics, waving a fist in the air, even though I can’t hear the music at all. I can feel it. I can feel the rhythm in the floor and the beat in my heart. It’s the CTY tradition- nothing can overpass it. “Bye, bye Miss American Pie, from the chevy to the levy but the levy was dry. And good ol’ boys, drinking whiskey and rye, singing this will be the day that I-“ An explosion. An explosion of sound, of cheers, of voices. “DIE DIE DIE DIE, LIVE LIVE LIVE LIVE, SEX SEX SEX SEX, MORE MORE MORE MORE!!” we all yell. Ironically, the staff also does so. We’re all dancing, jumping, celebrating.
At last, the end comes. The music slows, and a wave of solemness spreads. We are all smiling, crying, swaying, holding hands. The music gets slower, slower, slower. We are all singing in unison, and then, gently, slowly final chord is struck.
Silence. Then, all hell breaks loose.
Crying, hugging, embracing, everywhere. Crying openly, I rush to my friends, and hug every one of them, even the guys. I cry unashamed. There is no embarrassment to my tears, every one of us feels this way, feels the end of a great three weeks. Feels the reluctance to leave. I feel an emotion, one that I have never felt before. It is the feeling of true freedom- the feeling of doing anything without major advice from anybody, the feeling of knowing that what you do is your choice, and only yours. So, along with my friends, I spill tears. Each one of those tears represents happiness, sorrow, and realization. Realization that we are each our own person, that we can do whatever we feel, that we are all the same, and yet different. Realization that I have found a place where I truly fit, instead of a school where I fit with some and at the same time, with none. A world where I can do anything without embarrassment, where I can reveal secrets that nobody else would know. A place where we are all united, no matter what course we take, no matter our background. We are all together.
It is December. Just about five months after CTY, my mind is still connected to it. Every action with the least bit of resemblance to CTY forms a smile on my face, each person I come across who is CTY alumni or CTY-“eventuals” throw me back into those magical three weeks. Registration for next summer starts soon. I wonder, in my mind, whether I should relive those days back where it all started, or get some other CTY flavor. I know that nothing will ever live up to my first experience, yet, I am willing to try. I can hardly wait.
I am checking my email, the letters so reminiscent of those three weeks. I smile to myself, drawing back memories. My mind tells me that I must let go of those high expectations of perfection. CTY has done that. It drew me in, showing me the best time of my life. It is a vortex, sucking in teenagers and rejecting you the moment you turn seventeen, the one summer you are unqualified for CTY. And then, the vortex finds other ways of crawling into your mind— applying for RA, TA, or even instructor. I am stuck in that vortex, ready to be stuck even more, the next summer. It eats away your mind, or rather, your thoughts, until every other action in front of you reminds you of CTY, so much that you continue to talk, think, and even write about CTY incessantly. Friends listen to you patiently, even though in their mind they are bored of your stories. Stories that all have the same theme to it, but not the same content. They are all stories of craziness, of freedom, and of (slight) insanity.
I cannot find a single word to describe CTY. I can’t even write something that will embody the wholeness of CTY. It’s physically impossible, yet, I am still trying.
“Bye, bye, Miss American Pie…
…from the chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry…
and good ol’ boys, drinking whiskey and rye…
..singing this’ll be the day that I…