Outside of my orientation group, almost all of whose members I never saw again after that first week and six follow-up evening classes, the first person I encountered at Calvin College was Will Montei. Will made me feel infinitely better about moving to college and leaving everyone behind, simply because no matter how sad and alone I felt, at least I wasn’t him.
“Well, we moved all my stuff into my room and I said goodbye to my dad—”
“Describe your dad.”
“I mean, he’s not just bald. He’s… I don’t know.”
The audience laughed harder, egged on by the reactions of the improv team. The dozen or so performers looked so much cooler and unapproachable than I could ever be.
“He’s not really bald, but he’s… I guess he’s bald.”
“You said goodbye to your bald dad. What did you do next?”
“That’s not… I don’t know why I said he’s bald. I can’t… I can’t think of any other words to describe my dad.”
Will had looked cool and unapproachable, too. One of the popular kids in his high school, I was sure, funny and outgoing and good-looking, and confident enough to volunteer for an improv skit in front of our entire incoming freshman class. And yet, he fulfilled the fantasy of every high school nerd: designer clothes and magazine-cover hair concealed an idiot.
“So after my dad left, I sat in my room and watched some people playing volleyball.”
“No, through my window.”
“Did you join them?”
“No, I just watched. They didn’t know I was watching.” The audience laughed, and when Will tried to fix it—“No, that sounds bad!”—we laughed harder. “They couldn’t see me because I was on the second floor, and I just—I just liked watching them and being alone… God, I’m making this worse.”
“How long did you watch them?
“Like an hour?” Will cringed. “Then I went to dinner—no! My dad left after dinner!”
The improv team re-created Will’s first day of freshman orientation. He spied on volleyball players with imaginary binoculars, ate dinner alone, and played video games with his friend Beth, who—“I’m serious!”—he did not have a crush on. True to Will’s telling, a bald dad reappeared to say goodbye five times throughout the performance.
My laughter felt vulturish. But Will had volunteered for this, after all, and everyone I loved was either back in Washington or driving there now. My parents, my brother, and my girlfriend had made it out of Michigan by now, and probably even out of Illinois. After our first goodbye, I had sat in my dorm room, alone, with no volleyball pit outside my window to distract me, the minutes a preview of the three-month depression that would consume my first semester, and then I had sprinted across campus to hug them again and tell them I loved them. Why would anyone, even a moron, share these feelings with their peers of the next four years?
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.