Falling Through Freshman Year

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I’m a big fan of marked beginnings: the start of a school year, calendar year, class, job. Beginnings hold promise, an incredible sense of hope and the thought that now things will be better. In this sense, I was thrilled with the idea of starting college. A place to be different. A place to be better. A way to leave things in the past and forget, or at the very least not be so affected by them anymore.

And my time at Boston College started like that, but you can’t outrun some things forever.

I have a history of knee problems, but on a new campus I didn’t want anyone to know or have a reason to pity me. So I stowed my knee brace under some T-shirts in my closet and complained about the heat while walking up the Duchesne hill, rather than the fact that I could feel some odd crackling going on in my knee.

But overall freshman year was going just fine. Everything was going according to plan. I had a core group of friends, was doing well in my classes and had become involved with one of the theatre productions. Then came the night of the first hockey game. I went with a few girls from my floor, and, bored out of our minds, we decided to leave before the final buzzer.

The journey back to our dorm was a long one, involving an inconvenient bus sojourn and typically a lot of waiting. But that night, the blessed transit-tracking app, Transloc, told us that we were about to miss our last chance to catch the bus. If we ran up the Million Dollar Stairs and across campus, we might reach the stop in time. Though my knee protested in anticipation, I decided to give it a shot. I’d have to ice my knee tomorrow, but what was the worst that could happen?

We took off, and I was keeping up fairly well—hopping up the cold gray steps—until suddenly I wasn’t anymore. Maybe I slipped on a stone, or my shoe caught on the side or my laces undid themselves. I wasn’t sure, but I knew for certain that I wasn’t running alongside my friends anymore. I landed on my knee right on the edge of a step, and a sharp pain rushed up my leg. A few minutes passed and I still couldn’t move until a random passing stranger carried me up the rest of those stairs. I could hardly walk on level ground with the help of my friends; I was embarrassed, they were confused and I was cursing my stupidity.

By the next day, my knee was bruised and painful, but fine to walk on. Weeks passed and I began to put the mishap behind me. But then after one late night rehearsal, walking in the dark to get on the bus, I tripped and fell right on my knee. My cheeks were burning—and not just because my face had skimmed the pavement. I sat alone at the bus stop for a while before limping onto one of the last busses of the night.

I was confused why I was falling so much, and afraid to fall again.

But like a tragic season of celebrity deaths, my freshman falls, of course, were fated to occur in threes. I lived on the third floor of my dorm, and walking down the freshly-mopped stairs one morning to make my way to the bus stop for class, I slipped. The fall wasn’t far, but when I tried to stand up and discovered that my knee could only bend 90 degrees, I knew the damage was done.

I was alone in a stairwell with an empty dorm above me, could hardly walk and had screwed up my knee more than I ever expected. Limping (again) to the bus stop, I wondered, what would happen now? My freshman year of college seemed ruined. This isn’t how this was supposed to happen. I was supposed to leave my problems in the past, start over and begin again. But that no longer seemed possible. My problems had finally caught up with me.

In a sense, I did overcome my problems and manage to finish out my freshman year, but it certainly wasn’t what I had expected. I had to go to knee doctor appointments. I couldn’t take the bus with the other freshmen, forced instead to use the campus car escort and then finally my own car. I couldn’t walk up the massive hill separating my dorm and the dining hall, and resorted to microwaved Easy Mac for dinner. Sometimes my knee hurt too much to go to parties, shows or other events. I couldn’t even stand and cheer at football and hockey games. There were a lot of times when I felt alone and miserable.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry some nights and think about how unfair it all was. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that my freshman year, ultimately, was not destroyed. Friends I’d only known for a few months stepped up to help me more than I ever could have anticipated, factoring my mobility problem into their plans or carrying me up rickety sets of stairs to get to parties. One of my friends even drove me to the hospital when I re-injured myself in class.

I had never expected people to be so understanding when, in the grand scheme of things, they hardly knew me. But people surprise you, sometimes in really wonderful ways. Many of the people who helped me out so much my freshman year have become some of my closest friends, today. And if I think of it like that, it makes my knee injury kind of worth it.

Caitlin is a senior English and Theatre major at Boston College. She likes books, theatre, and inspirational quotes, and knows way too much about cheese.

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