college

Crazy burnt the popcorn.

Remember that awesome FDR quote? You know? “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It was my favorite quote growing up.

But tell that to me when I am nearly writhing on the floor of my dorm hallway screaming, “I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT, I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT,” it won’t go over very well.

I want to make it clear that I do not condone my actions in this particular debacle. To say that this was a gross overreaction is the understatement of the century and I still get chills that this particular instance happened merely three years ago. People remember this. This was bad.

Sure, I can laugh at my emotions. But sometimes it’s a means to laugh first. Because my emotions aren’t always pretty.

My first semester of freshman year was a whirlwind. I came into Syracuse University as a tornado of ideals, emotions and the conviction that I was going to win an Oscar one day and this was my first step of getting there. I joined the SUMB and my time was filled with 18 credits of classes and practice, practice, practice. If I wasn’t marking time in the parade block I was marking off boxes on scantrons. I was also learning that, to my horror, I was way more of an emotional person than I ever realized.

Growing up, I had the hope that I would one day “get better.” But the older I got, the more that I realized that reactions weren’t going to taper off just because. When my mom and I first talked about puberty and the “emotions” associated with growing up, I bawled.

“But MOM,” I said, terrified, “this means that I’m going to be EVEN MORE EMOTIONAL?”

She did her normal consoling of hugging me and we laughed about it.

Unfortunately, my prepubescent self was correct. The peak of my emotions didn’t come during the breadth of high school, however; it was the end of my senior year of high school and my first year of college when it began to rear its ugly head.

Yes, Claire, I say to my younger self. You’ll become even more emotional.

I was going through an emotional rollercoaster like all freshmen, but I was letting my freak flag fly in front of everyone. My RA, the new people I met in band, my floormates. They all got a bit of raw, emotional, scared Claire. Everything was so new and practically no one knew me on campus and I hadn’t learned how to “reel it in” yet (something I’m still working on today).

Because I was so busy, I didn’t really make any connections on my first semester floor, and because I was in band and, well, let’s face it, a little hard to handle, I wasn’t exactly popular. My dysfunctional relationship with my floor was best represented when I burnt my popcorn in the microwave.

It was evening in the fall, so it wasn’t too cold outside. I was in my jammies. I didn’t have band practice that night. I had homework to do. I had set everything in its place and I was ready to get work done. I had prepared my workspace and my mind for a productive evening. I was feeling settled – whenever the world is a little too much, focusing on work is my go-to thing to calm myself down. So, for a lovely moment, I was at peace.

This didn’t last long.

Anyone who’s had to live with me knows that I live off of popcorn… no, correction: I exist off of popcorn. I always get it at the theater and it’s a perfect late night snack. So, as part of my homework ritual, I would prepare a bag of popcorn and do some work. I was going to do that on that very evening.

The microwave on the floor was right across the hall from my room, so I put the bag in for 2:30. Also, because I am the most impatient person on the planet, I went back to my room and fiddled around some more with my desk.

And then, the most horrifying sound started blaring throughout the dorm.

It was the fire alarm.

Everything in my being stopped and I could feel the prickly sensation of terror starting to settle in my mind. Footsteps came from outside of my door.

“Oh my god, who’s popcorn is that?”

“Oh man, are you SERIOUS?”

I don’t know why I did what I did next. I was in my room. No one knew. I could have played dumb. Damn it Claire, why didn’t you play dumb?

But the guilt was too vicious. I couldn’t live with a heavy conscious, albeit only weighed down with ashy popcorn kernels.

My mouth agape, I opened the door to the smoky, loud hallway with my RA looking concerned and two of the guy floormates looking pissed off.

There was no turning back now. My ability to moderate myself became null and void as soon as I stepped onto the scene.

“It… it was me,” I said quietly at first.

I stepped further into the hallway.

“Oh GOD IT WAS ME.”

Then I went full crazy.

I grabbed the popcorn bag and threw it on the floor.

“I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT. I’M SORRY. I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT.”

“Oh JESUS,” one of the guys said, backing away from me.

“I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT,” I yelled, crying, crouching down near the floor. “I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT.”

“Oh-okay, Claire,” my RA said, attempting to distract me from my meltdown. “We need to go outside, okay?”

I was so distraught that I only remember bits of the next five minutes. I somehow managed to get to the stairs before the rest of the floor came out of their rooms. I practically flew down the flights of stairs, my stomach churning at the thought of the consequences of my actions. I was going to be destroyed by everyone.

Outside, I heard the normal mutterings of people reacting to nighttime fire alarms. “God, who burnt soup?” “Ugh, how can people be so stupid?” “How hard is it to watch a microwave?” “Someone probably was toking up in the room, idiot.”

They’re all talking about me, I thought in crazed distress. They all HATE ME. They all think I’M STUPID. No one MUST KNOW IT WAS ME.

Why I thought that people would know by just looking at me, I don’t know. In fact, the more I worried, the more I started wandering around frantically, looking for my RA. So it was probably obvious that it was me.

I found the RDs and cried and explained that I burnt popcorn and that I was sorry. They led me to my RA and she consoled me, telling me that this sort of thing was normal and that I should just be more attentive next time. I started to calm down and everyone went up to the rooms.

Back in the room, I got what I had predicted: being teased behind my back. I spent doing homework listening to some of my floormates recreating my outbursts in the hallway.

“I’M SORRY OH MY GOD,” a girl shrieked.

“IT’S MY FAULT,” one of the guys shouted.

“God, she’s so crazy,” another guy said, the rest laughing in agreement.

I didn’t confront them about it. It hurt but honestly, I would’ve probably done the same thing if I saw someone have a conniption about burning popcorn. In that moment, I vowed to never go through that ordeal again.

The next semester, I burnt popcorn in my new dorm room. I had moved to do a different dorm and had two new roommates. We had a microwave in the room and the fire alarm went off.

“God DAMN it,” I said.

Fortunately, only the room’s smoke detector went off and the dorm fire alarm remained silent. My roommates came to where I was standing. When they me asked about why I got so angry, I explained to them my sordid tale. This time, though, the three of us laughed about it and I didn’t feel so bad. I made a new bag and went to my desk, ready to study the night away.

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My professor’s dog ate my muffin. I cried.

Did you ever have a rough start to your morning?

Did a dog ever eat your muffin in class?

Did you cry about it?

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about something. This is the story that I use to truly test people, usually people who don’t know me very well. I tell this as an icebreaker with acquaintance-potential-friend types. Will this person handle being my friend? I think to myself, as they say, “yeah, sure, let me hear it!”

I also tell this to guys that I’m interested in – you know, when you go on those pre-dates and you tell each other stories to give off that I’m-uber-datable impression. Luckily, I have the art of giving off the wrong impression boiled down to a science and this story is merely just part of the experimentation. I look at his soft eyes and slight smirk and I know what he’s thinking, but I think to myself, Yeah… but will you want to handle me?

And, as a sick sort of challenge for myself, I think, I bet not.

This horrifies my mom.

“Claire, it’s funnier when they know you,” she pleads. “Let them get to know you first… Please.”

But I can’t help it. It’s almost as if I feel like I owe them the truth, you know? It’s not just because weird things like this happen to me a lot… it’s also because of my reaction to these sorts of situations.

The date was nondescript and the morning dew on the grass was average. It was just a normal day; I was getting ready to go to a normal 9:30 am class and, surprisingly, I was not running late. I strutted confidently into the dining hall. Nary a soul was near the pastries.

This kingdom is mine, I thought, drinking in the possibilities.

I looked at the shelves and the potential breakfast delicacies bathing in fluorescent light, their sweet smells pulling me in. I wanted it all.

But then I saw it. It was a blueberry muffin with some clear sugar sprinkles placed haphazardly on a glazed top. A black paper muffin cup hugged its gooey core.

My precious, I thought, channeling my inner Gollum.

As I put the one to rule all muffins in my outer backpack pouch and walked into class, I would soon come to find that I had gambled too heavily. Too succulent of a treat was not destined in my stomach.

It would be in the stomach of a Rottweiler.

“Isn’t she just the cutest??” my professor gushed. I sat down in my seat, stiff, and placed my backpack on the table.

“Yeah,” I said.

I lamented that the day that I was early to class was the day that my professor brought in the type of dog that ran over me while I was a kid. The memory still persists as one of true abject horror. I was standing innocently in a soccer field, not even a tween, and then all of a sudden a sleek bear-like figure stampeded over my small body.

And now one of them was sniffing my bag.

I pulled it closer to me. I had to protect my breakfast treasure.

Minutes passed and the rest of the class filed in, muffin-less and dark circles glowing under their eyes.

I am queen, I thought.

Until the pop quiz.

Why would she give a pop quiz on my day of muffin triumph? A perfectly good morning was now soured as I apathetically looked at the questions. I had… glazed… over the chapter.

Glazed, heh heh, I thought. Stupid jokes would pull me through.

But I was wrong. By the end of the quiz, I was drained and I overwhelmed. It was MUFFIN DAY. I thought. I couldn’t just have one day of muffin-y bliss?

And so I did what I had started doing in first grade whenever I felt like crying over bewildering circumstances. I went to the bathroom.

I didn’t cry this time, though, but it did help calm me down. The quiz wasn’t worth that many points and I would just actually read the chapter the next time. It would be okay.

If only I could have guessed what the next two minutes of my life had in store for me.

First off, I was already a little shaken with the dog and the quiz and all. But walking into a room of laptops simultaneously playing George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words stand-up bit was pure disorientation. Later and after the madness, I would be told that it was because the projector wasn’t working.

The echo-y shouts of profanity paled, however, in comparison to the bizarreness of my professor just losing it at the sight of me. I mean it – she was practically in tears watching me tip toe to my seat.

“Claire… Claire I am so sorry,” she said, gasping for breath between laughter.

I had been so focused on the laptops that I had failed to notice the carnage on my table. Crumbs… crumbs were everywhere. My backpack askew, the dog was nuzzling her nose into…

Oh no.

My tablemates witnessed my reaction and started to laugh too, bemused at my look of genuine disappointment, surprise and anger. I knew that they weren’t really laughing at me, but it didn’t help. I’ve had to learn over the years that there’s a reason why my peers can pick on me easily (I react and I am sometimes – if not most times – very weird) and that I shouldn’t always blame them, but in this moment, that logic went out the door.

In that moment, I was back in elementary school.

My adult consciousness shut down and before I could process what was going on I was bawling. This made the room dead silent except for the weird echoes of George Carlin bouncing around in the room. With everyone dumbstruck and staring at me, I hightailed it out of there.

I felt like I was coming back down to Earth from wherever the hell I go whenever I get like that while I was crying in a stall in the bathroom and calling my mom. With the phone ringing, my first sane thoughts came through my mind.

What do I even tell Mom? Why am I even calling her? What just happened?

“Hi Claire!” she said, sunny and blissfully unaware of my current state of mind.

“Hi Mom,” I said, garbled.

“Claire… Claire what’s wrong?”

My mom has told me that she can tell within the first two seconds of a phone conversation if I am fine or not. “I usually listen for an echo,” is what she says. “That’s how I know you’re in the bathroom.”

“Mom… I was in class, and it was the professor’s dog, and I went to the bathroom, and it ate my muffin.”

I wish I could actually type the true iterations of words that came out of my mouth because it did not sound like that.

“Wait, what? Did the dog eat a muffin? Did it die?”

“No… it ate my muffin.”

“It… what?” Her voice was becoming less concerned and more incredulous.

“Yeah… it ate my muffin. I got it from the dining hall.”

“What?!” she practically shouted, holding back her laughter.

I started to giggle. “Um, yeah, I guess it’s kind of weird.”

She didn’t hold back this time.

“Oh my gosh Claire… I thought the dog had died or something! Oh my gosh! So what did you do?”

“I ran out of the room crying.”

“Oh my gosh!” It was the sort of voice she used only when she was laughing so hard that she was crying. After a few minutes of bewildered laughing, we both calmed down.

“Okay, well, you should go back to class then. Maybe they’ll know not to bring dogs in the school anymore!” she said.

Feeling better, I hung up. I washed my hands and dried off my tears. And then the pit of my stomach dropped.

I have to go back in there.

I am no stranger to public crying and to public humiliation. Again, another art form I have mastered. But this… this was different. My reaction hadn’t just been weird; it had been jarring.

As I walked back in the class, everyone, and I mean everyone, turned to look at me. The dog was back at my backpack and my tablemates in stunned silence shooed the dog away as quickly as they could, afraid of another outburst from me. I sat down. The class continued in awkward, muffin-less silence.

My world was salvaged when the class finally was over. I tried to scoot out as fast I could but my professor got to me first.

“Claire… I am so, so sorry.”

“Really, you don’t need to feel bad about it,” I said, nearly crying again. Why am I crying NOW?

I thought I could save just a tiny bit of dignity by playing up the fact that a Rottweiler really did run me over as a kid.

“Oh my gosh… I should have known,” she said.

“It’s really fine, really,” I said, one foot out of the door already.

“Take this,” she said, and she stuffed a five-dollar bill into my hand.

Before I could say, “oh no, you shouldn’t have to do that,” she was out the door as quickly as the Roadrunner darts out of frame.

Stunned, I walked out into the late morning day and made my way to the library like a zombie. I was going to attempt to get work done before my next class, but deep down I knew that any attempt of brain functionality would be futile.

Until I saw the café counter.

Next to the deli line was a pastry basket. It didn’t have a blueberry muffin, but it had something better. A coffee cake muffin.

It was like I was making the connection in my mind for the first time that money could buy food.

I… could still have… a muffin.

I beamed at the cashier who exchanged my cash for muffin and I didn’t mind the odd look she gave me.

“Thank you… Thank you so much,” I whispered to her.

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said.

I walked away and found a perfect study spot. The chair was comfortable and books and windows surrounded me.

And, gingerly… respectfully… I started to eat my muffin, never feeling as happy as I did in that moment.