POSTCARD FROM CHATTANOOGA, TENN.: Living Alone
So it is with this summer, the first time I’ve had an apartment to call my own, my first time living somewhere besides Cambridge. Most of my experiences have revolved around my job as a news intern at the Times Free Press here in Chattanooga, Tenn. That’s where most of my friends—and excitement—have come from. My only tough week was the first week, when I wrote a few hard-hitting stories about a student who had died in Alabama. When I finally got school officials on the phone, more than a day after I began, I managed to spark their wrath. “Are you a bloodthirsty vampire?” one of them asked. “No, I am not a bloodthirsty vampire,” I replied.
Otherwise, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. I’m a general assignment reporter, writing just under four stories a week. Many of them have been soft stories, so I’ve tried to sharpen my writing and work on my ability to describe people and situations in detail. I think I’m getting better, though it’s still a story-by-story debate with my editors, who often want to chop my longer sentences in two—sentences I use to try and tell stories more fluidly. I’ve really enjoyed working on a new subject almost every day, and it’s always fun to interview people from various walks of life.
My 21st birthday, as I wrote in my journal, was a “raucous mess.” I went to dinner with some friends—including Dorie, my best friend here—followed by an appearence at the Tortilla Factory’s rooftop bar, where we met about 15 other people. Some anonymous guy was paying the whole bar’s tab, and the drinks kept coming. I thought I was counting vigorously how many drinks I had had, but at some point I apparently lost count—probably after the $46 shot of tequila. I didn’t feel too well the next day. Uch, a sportswriter, had taken me back to his place to sleep, dropping me off shortly before 11:30 a.m. at my apartment. I soaked in the bathtub for awhile and lay motionless on my bed, feeling so sick I didn’t even think to call the paper and tell them I was okay. When my editor called a short time later—after calling the hospital looking for me and after threatening my friend Lindsay that if was her fault if I was dead—I had already thrown up for the fifth and final time. She wanted me to take the day off, but I had a telephone interview scheduled with the local university chancellor that afternoon, so I came in. He called, and after a few minutes I felt really nauseous again. “Oh God, please don’t let me throw up while I’m interviewing him,” I thought. I didn’t, but it was close. I’ve been somewhat averse to drinking since then.
Another piece of news for the office rumor mill erupted a few days later, when Uch, Candice, Cathy and a few other friends and I gathered for a poolside toga party. Near the end I stupidly agreed to put a pair of handcuffs on with Uch for a silly picture. Candice pushed me in the pool, but Cathy failed to push Uch in the pool with me—and the handcuffs bent and broke against my skin. After I barely avoided getting hit by Cathy as Uch threw her in the pool, I looked down and saw a deep gash carved out of the center of my hand. It’s basically healed now, but it remains to be seen what scar I will bear in the end. (Mom, you will not be pleased when you read this.) Needless to say, I’ve also stayed away from handcuffs.
There have been other memorable moments too. When I went whitewater rafting, I fell off the raft and into a hydraulic for the first time. I was scared out of my mind—“Get into a ball!” was all I could think as I slipped out of the raft—but it was also really peaceful. I went down a good eight feet or so, before popping to the surface about four seconds later. My mom was relieved to see that I was alive, and that her son’s Harvard education had not literally been washed down the drain. Another time, a frantic-looking white teenager tried to break into my apartment just as I pulled up to the curb. He didn’t get in, but I was freaked out. There have also been a few tendencies of living alone, in the South, that have stuck out. I’ve learned how to cook, at least minimally. (When I got here, I didn’t even know how to use a can opener.) I’ve been thinking about perceptions a lot: about being white (young black men here tend to call me “Sir”), being Northern, and, particularly, about going to Harvard. Only around the elderly do I generally offer that I am a Harvard student, because they eat that stuff up.
Chattanooga has been relaxing, different, and somewhat of an adventure, which is just what I was looking for. But in terms of love, it’s been as equally unfulfilling as the dreary Harvard dating scene. I’ve met someone who’s smart, independent, funny and beautiful—but also someone who, I found out really is a little too traditional to rush into dating an out-of-town guy for three weeks before he heads back to another city, another school, another life. In that respect, Chattanooga reminds me only too much of home.
Edward B. Colby ’02, a History concentrator in Winthrop House, is an executive news editor of The Crimson. This summer, he is eating lipsmacking country food to his heart’s content. He still sounds like a Yankee on the phone.