Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Leaving home

Yesterday marks the 20th anniversary of when I packed up my dad’s truck and left Elkhart for Bloomington to start my freshman year at IU. Twenty years. Two decades. It’s a hard number for me to wrap my mind around. And this is the part where I’m supposed to say it just feels like yesterday, but truthfully, it feels like it wasn’t even my life, it was so long ago. And there have been so many stops between then and now, I don’t get as nostalgic about Bloomington. But it still pops in my head every now and then, especially when a nice round number comes up in the anniversary column.

I think I spent a good part of high school wishing for some kind of mulligan to let me start over socially, and hoped that college would be a clean break for me, to leave behind the people I’d known since grade school and junior high. I mean, it’s not like I killed a hooker and needed to start over with a new name and identity, or even that I did something horrible like shit my pants during speech class or date someone who later became a female to male transsexual. But I always felt like I needed to get out of Elkhart and around a different crowd of people. Even when I hung out with people not from my high school when I worked at Wards, I felt like I did better than I did at Concord.

And college was that clean break. I mean, I still had most of the same problems, the same social awkwardness and depression and other inner torture, and I didn’t suddenly transform into Brad Pitt (or whoever women like now – that dude from Twilight, whatever.) But it was a huge change of scenery for me, and the beginning of my first time away from home, my first time on my own, and the very beginning of the end of Indiana in my life.

I also broke up with someone, or rather they broke up with me, the night before I left for college. It was my first ‘real’ relationship, and although looking back, it was in general a pretty stupid situation, I seriously thought it would go on for longer than the summer. In reality, it couldn’t have been written more exactly as an only-for-a-summer type of fling, even if it was a script for an 80s movie. And it was one of those things where it was the end of the universe for me, but in retrospect, you don’t get much cleaner of a breakup than this one, unless you’re dating someone on a space station and they accidentally get sucked out of a broken airlock ten seconds after you split. I would never run into her again at the mall or at work or in the halls of school, because we were 250 miles apart. And I entered a much larger pool of potential dating scenarios, with thousands and thousands of other people away from home and their crappy small towns for the first time.

But yeah, 20 years ago. And I feel like I should have some heavy insight on the whole situation, but when I try to dig for any specific burst of memory about that era, I get a couple of things:

  • The smell of the powdered laundry detergent I used during my freshman year.
  • The smell of Collins when I first got there. I spent most of my life living in a prefab tri-level that was maybe five years old when we moved in, and this was a 65-year-old museum of a residence hall, with all wood everything. Like, when I wanted to make a private phone call, I would go to these wooden phone booths built into the wall of the downstairs lobby. They were little booths with heavy wood doors that looked like the confessional in a Catholic church, but instead of the little screen window and kneeler, they had a tiny bench and a pay phone. Anyway, the place was loaded with plenty of ornate darkwood trim, and the first time I went in, all I could smell was this wood smell. Same thing when I moved out and came back to visit the next year.
  • Some girl called my room in like the first week of classes trying to remember some dude’s number, and I ended up talking to her for like three hours, and after like 20 conversations, I hung out with her and her roommate at McNutt, and then kept running into her on campus for the next year. It was not a romantic thing – she was from South Bend, and for whatever reason, we became friends and used to talk a lot, although I have no idea what about, or even what her name was. But now I find it so random that a wrong number would turn into a marathon phone conversation about nothing.
  • One of the first times I went to the main library, I got overwhelmed with all of the books there, because in high school, I basically found a spot in nonfiction and one in fiction, and spent most of my study halls reading every book outward from those two positions that made any sense or was at all interesting to me. And I realized that with a ten-floor undergraduate stack, it would take me four years to even find anything, let alone read a tenth of the books on a single floor. So I randomly decided to read Slaughterhouse Five, because my school never had any Vonnegut and I was too cheap to buy any, and I heard he was from Indiana. And I stayed up almost all night reading it cover to cover, and loving it so much, that a couple of night later, I stayed up almost all night, writing (by hand), this giant science fiction story, because it somehow got stuck in my head, and I thought it would be great to be a writer like him. And then I promptly forgot the writing and the Vonnegut, until maybe four years later, when I became once again obsessed with both.
  • I used to take this bass guitar class that met at night in the basement of Read hall, and I would get there early and sit around one of the TV lounges until class started. Anyway, this was the tail of baseball season, and there was this kid in a wheelchair who was an obsessive Cubs fan and I always remember him planted in front of the big-screen TV, watching every Cubs game. I always perceived the Cubs as being a really bad team back then, but I knew nothing about baseball, and other than the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox, and Astros, probably could not have named any other baseball team. And that year the Cubs won the NL East by like six games, before losing the NLCS to the Cardinals. So maybe that’s why I half-remember watching the games.

Not much else. A lot of time is going into this new wiki, but it’s nowhere near enough started to open it up to the public yet. Soon…