On a fantastically beautiful late-autumn day in 1985, I found myself completely and utterly alone. Fall had always been my favorite time of year, and that particular year the leaves had seemed spectacularly brilliant, mocking me, crunching underfoot and releasing their crisp tangy scent into the blustery autumn air. I kicked them as I walked, creating showers of fiery color.
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It was the last day of classes before leaving for Christmas break. I was a freshman in a large, southern university, and in the past few months I’d had to do a lot of growing up in a short amount of time.
Shortly before leaving for the university, in the wake of my father’s extramarital affair, my family had fallen apart before my eyes. Because we lived in a home owned by my father’s company, and because his affair resulted in his relocation to another area, my siblings and I found ourselves temporarily homeless and rootless, drifting between schools, friends, and even parents, belonging nowhere.
When the dust settled, my older brother had joined the army and my three younger siblings, shell-shocked, had settled into a new life with my angry parents, in a different house in a new town. And me? Well, I packed my things and left, riding shotgun to my boyfriend, Darren, in his raggedy old pea-green Ford Pinto, headed for college.
On that fall day in 1985, looking up at the old, red-brick buildings that made up the campus, I marveled that I had landed there at all. Sheltered and naïve, with no available parent to guide me through the college application process, I had simply followed my high school sweetheart to this place. I had won a full scholarship, which was a necessity, and, I had reasoned, at least I wouldn’t be alone. I’d have Darren.
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To give Darren his due, he did wait until I was unpacked and settling into my new dorm room before breaking up with me. “All set?” He had asked. When I nodded, he had said, “Good, then. By the way, I think we should see other people. I have to go now. I’m late for a date.