Lately I’ve become really disillusioned with the college experience because I failed to achieve – or even pursue – certain social niches in my first few semesters here. Now I’ve completed my fourth-to-last pre-enroll. Fourth-to-last! Out of eight! That means I’m more than halfway done and I have to start pretending to miss rituals like these much sooner than I expected! I have to wonder where the time went. How could I have let it slip by so quickly that I didn’t even get the chance to establish myself as That Person Who Eats Really Pungent Food During Lecture?
That person – whoever they may be in a given lecture hall – is the luckiest bastard alive. That person is the only one who took the initiative to bring spicy/umami-y/whatever-the-hell-y food into class from day one. And look where they are now. Sure, some people may have gagged at first, and Pungent Food Person probably had to suffer a few pointed glances and someone passive-aggressively sighing and moving their stuff exactly three seats to the left, but all of these trials would have ended within the first few weeks, if not the first few days. After that, everyone just sort of accepts and even admires the tenacity of this individual, this crusader who chose to stand up for his or her right to sit down and enjoy a thermos full of curried egg salad soup without caring what anybody else thought.
And where am I? Well, I’ve adapted to the smell. Sometimes Pungent Food Person will bring in a new dish and I’ll experience a fresh pang of regret – that could have been me – but the most putrid stench I’ve ever encountered is by far the smell of missing out. And it smells like a diet Pepsi and a pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It smells like nothing.
I don’t even particularly care for pungent foods. It’s not so much the desire to eat pungent foods in lecture as the knowledge that I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It’s knowing that I’ll never be truly free to express myself because I was too concerned about fitting in when I arrived on campus almost two years ago. And now it’s too late. I’ve already become Innocuous Notetaker and Occasional Contributor of Non Sequiturs. There’s no way I could ever rise through the ranks and become Pungent Food Person. Now that slot is filled, in every lecture, not necessarily by a physical person but by an idea. An idea of something I will never be. Pungent Food Person is synonymous with the unattainable, and try as I might, I am no longer free to forge an identity in this place.
Because I failed to become Pungent Food Person, to embrace the freedom that comes with quasi-adulthood, a part of me has become broken. Afraid. People have probably begun sitting closer and closer to Pungent Food Person as their noses grow accustomed to the smell and their minds become desensitized to the injury of PFP’s commandeering of an entire lecture hall as his or her olfactory domain. Maybe one day someone asks them, “What are you eating today? It smells [pauses for air] good.” PFP has made more strides and connections than I have. Because I am terrified of staking out an empire for my identity. Terrified of becoming something.
Bringing pungent food to lecture wasn’t just a social role I wanted to fill; it was a symbol for social confidence. For identity. For myself.
It’s time to wake up and smell the garlic and bleu cheese: You don’t have all the time in the world to make something of yourself.