I remember the day I left for college. It was late-summer 1994, and I was headed to Ohio University with a suitcase, my other belongings to be delivered later via UPS (“It’s like Christmas!” my roommate Kristen would later rejoice when my sheets, essentials and not-so-essentials finally arrived at least a month after I had).
I was at Logan Airport with my mom, my dad, my brother, by boyfriend, and my friend Amanda. I remember the anxiety, and the extremely deep, strong emotion I felt as we all stood there, every one of us crying, as I recall, as I gave hug after hug.
I tried but failed, mostly, to pull myself together as I made my way to the gate. There, I ran into a family friend named Bob Kern, who was heading out on a business trip. I don’t remember what he said, but I do recall it was words of encouragement. He did the math and realized what was going on, and thankfully did not try to engage too much, but rather, gave me space.
Mom later told me that after saying goodbye to me, my parents took everyone out for eggs Benedict for breakfast to cheer everyone up, but they mostly “just pushed their food around on their plates” looking forlorn. Granted, this was my mom talking, so maybe she exaggerated to make me feel extra loved.
I flew from Boston to Columbus where I collected my bags and found the obscurely located Athens Shuttle van which would take to Athens an hour and a half away. At OU I was deposited at a corner shop where a member of the Marching 110 met me and took me to my temporary dorm, my home while I attended band camp for the university’s famed marching band (loud, obnoxious, zero musicality as it turned out).
The next week was unpleasant to say the least. Most of the other band members had been delivered by their parents (what babies!), and as a result, they had more handy, helpful belongings with them, like sheets! The nights were chilly, and I remember trying to keep warm by dumping every piece of clothing I had on top of me in place of blankets and sheets that I didn’t have and weren’t provided. This was a moot point since the upper classmen were playing their instruments as loudly as possible in the halls to keep new members sleep-deprived.
The hard work of band camp wasn’t an issue, it was the underlying feeling that something wasn’t right with this group. One night we were brought to a house somewhere, perhaps the marching band frat house, and shown a video while we ate pizza and drank soda. It was video of band members making mistakes, then asking that they be kicked by upper-classmen as punishment. They would also do push-ups as punishment for their error. There wasn’t blatant hazing – just “lessons” that you asked to be taught. Requested punishment to show your loyalty.
Coming from an accomplished marching band in high school which used none of these tactics to make good performances, none of this felt right to me. I did well in camp – I was complimented on my marching technique, I learned the music and drill fine, so I wasn’t given a hard time. But the culture – which I continued to see from the outside during my remaining years at OU – with the strange, obsessed nature of the band members, just wasn’t for me. I was game to be part of a team or a group, but I wasn’t drinking the Kool Aide for anyone.
I don’t know what was the final straw was that made me decide that I was escaping band camp, but leaving was tricky, which added to the feeling of being trapped. The phone system was complicated. I can’t remember, exactly, but calling out required a convoluted series of steps using a calling card that lacked clear instructions. I wonder now if a person could simply call 911 if they needed to (not to escape band camp, or course, just in case of a real emergency)
Through a series of telephone calls – me to my mom, mom (apparently hysterical) to my cousin Tim, Tim back to me, I was rescued that same day. Tim showed up and took me back to Columbus where he was living with his wife Teresa, and I stayed there for another week or so before my actual dorm opened and I could move back in. I remember literally recovering from the brutal physicality of the camp. My vision was blurry for a few days and my muscles were strained, particularly my leg muscles.
I was mostly pissed that I lost a few weeks that could have been spent at home hanging out with my boyfriend at the time.
What brought on this story was a video a colleague produced during move-in last week. It’s beautifully done, and made me think of my experience. Initially my plan was to just share the airport part of my story, but then I got away from myself, as i do sometimes. But this video is lovely and I recommend taking a look…