Freshman Boy

Rafael Goldstein 

 Ginger Hutchinson

Ginger Hutchinson

 

“Nurse, I think I’d better tell you what happened to me. You seem like a nice guy and I’d like to tell you why I’m in all these bandages. Y’know, to clear things up.”

        “You should rest.”

“You really should know. I wouldn’t want you to think I was in the hospital for the wrong reason.”

        “I wouldn’t.”

“Please. Besides, I’ll be here for awhile. I’ll have plenty of time to rest. I’ll be quick.”

“Fine. Go on, then.”

“You know what it means to be self-conscious, right?”

        “Yeah.”

“When you’re inordinately preoccupied with how people perceive you.”

        “I said yes.”

“Right. So there’s self-conscious, and then there’s me. I am super self-conscious. I’m self-conscious to the moon and back—but further than that—maybe to Saturn, or Pluto, or something. Is Pluto even a planet anymore?”

       “...”

“Anyway, further than Pluto. In fact, the term ‘self-conscious’ does not really even describe me. There is no word to describe me.”

“...”

“Do you have any kids?”

        “Yeah. My boy’s a freshman at Yale.”

“Impressive. Me too. Well, not at Yale. I am a freshman, though, and a boy. Y’know, let’s just call what I have Freshman Boy, for the sake of my story. Freshman boy is what put me in this hospital bed.”

“Alright then.”

“Do you consider yourself a self-conscious person?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Well, do you ever find someone’s opinion to be overbearing?”

        “I guess once in a while I’ll walk down the stairs in the morning, wearing a new pair of shoes or shirt, and my wife will give me a real judgmental look. And I will know I have no other choice but to go right back up those stairs and change my outfit.”

“Gotcha. Well, imagine wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re at work, on the bus, speaking to a friend, or a stranger—y’know really everything—you feel how you feel when your wife gives you that look. But you don’t only get that feeling because of your outfit. You get it from what you say, because of who you are: your hair color, foot size, how you feel, how you think...things that aren’t as easy to change as your outfit, y’know?”

 “I guess.”

“Imagine going back upstairs to change, and every single time you come back down your wife still gives you that look. So you run right back up those stairs again and again. And y’know, this never stops. I think that’s getting closer to it. I think that’s kind of what Freshman Boy feels like.”

        “Alright.”

“So, anyway, one day after class I got back to my room and, let me tell you, Freshman Boy had really been kicking me in my ass that day. My outfit was terrible. I knew I shouldn’t have worn that shirt. I got hundreds of looks, I’m sure of it. But the worst part was I decided to raise my hand in history class that day. I knew I shouldn’t have raised my hand. But of course I did. Because I’m an idiot. And I said the dumbest thing ever. The worst part was that as the words were coming out, as my mouth continued to move, I knew everyone would think I was crazy, but I just kept going. Have you ever been stabbed by a needle?”

“Nope.”

“Well, that’s how it felt every time a word came out of my mouth. Like a tooth biting the skin under my nail. Anyway, once I finished, everyone was staring at me. Granted, my head was face down, staring at the ridiculous shoes I decided to wear. But I can be sure every single one of my classmates was staring at me in disbelief at how terrible of a comment my comment was. So, anyway, after class I’m back in my room and my roommate is talking to his girlfriend—or maybe his mom, it can be hard to tell—and I decide I need to be alone. So I walk over to the single use bathroom on the top floor of the library, where I know I won’t be disturbed. I’m sitting on my phone in the single use bathroom on the top floor of the library where I know I won’t be disturbed and it’s been this terrible day and I can’t stop thinking about all the terrible things I’ve done and I realize I’m hungry. So I take a bite of my bicep.”

        “Your bicep?”

“That was the first time. The second time I tried my forearm.  I was a tad disappointed, though.”

“Disappointed?”

“Well, my bicep just tasted much better. And the third time I tried my finger—that was the worst. People noticed a gash there, and I hated answering questions about it. A dog bit me, or something. Whatever. So for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh times I went back to eating my biceps. I tried my thigh out, too. I liked how my chest tasted.”

“And you did this every day?”

“No. You see, with Freshman Boy, some days are better. They’re definitely not great. And they’re probably not good, either. But they’re better. And besides, I paid for my meal plan before school started. I’d hate to see the money go to waste.”

“And what did your doctor think of this when you told her?”

“Oh, my doctor had seen this before. Plenty of times. She told me about all the patients she treats for Freshman Boy. Just last week she had a 40-year-old engineer in here who ate her entire foot. Y’know, it’s pretty admirable she could get her mouth to her foot. Or maybe it was her foot to her mouth. Anyway, I had tried to do the same, but I was only able to reach my knee. My knee was good, but my foot would have tasted better. She must have been a gymnast before she was an engineer, or something. She definitely won’t be going back to that, though, because her foot is gone forever.”

“Could you be quiet for a second? I need to put in your IV.”


 

“My doctor said I was lucky to still have all my limbs. Most people get it a lot worse, I think. She’s treated professors, hair stylists, bus drivers, politicians. She told me she treats a ton of college students, too. Not just boys, and not just freshmen, either. It’s funny, though, because I have not once heard of anyone on campus talk about it.”

“So let me get this straight. You have this problem...uh...Freshman Boy. You just eat yourself? Don’t you think there are better solutions?”

“See, the problem with Freshman Boy is there are too many thoughts going on in your head. Nothing you do makes sense. Like, there’s the kid in your math class who sits next to you. Not out of choice, of course. He’s a lefty and there’s only one lefty desk and you sit next to the one lefty desk so he sits next to you. He seems nice, but he only says hi to you on the days you wear your nice sweater. So you wear that sweater every Tuesday. Not every Thursday, though, because then people might think you were dirty. There’s the really cute girl with glasses who lives in your dorm, and on some days she will smile at you with a smile you could stare at for hours, days maybe, and you’d still be amazed. Now, to be clear, you probably couldn’t stare at just her smile for days, because you’d most likely grow a bit bored just looking at her teeth. But her face. Really, the whole thing: hair, eyebrows, cheek bones and all, you could look at for days, years maybe. But other times she passes by you and doesn’t even look up to say hello. ”

“When was the last time your bandages were changed?”

“About a day ago.”

“Make sure the nurse on duty changes them tonight.”

“Then there’s also your history professor who takes six points off your paper but doesn’t leave a single comment, like your natural state is just minus six, or something. There’s the new pair of pants you ordered that you saw on some fashion blog you like. You got them for a good price, too, because they were on sale for Black Friday. But, when you wear them for the first time ,a few people look at you funny, so now the pants never leave your dresser. There’s the guy with a ton of friends you met at a party but he was definitely really drunk, so there’s no way he remembers you, so when you’re in line for food together it’s best to just keep your headphones in and avoid an awkward encounter. Besides, it’s always more worthwhile to just listen to your own music than to ask someone you’ll likely never get close to something random like where they’re from. What a useless question to ask, anyway. Because you ask them where they live and they don’t know whether you’re referring to where they live on campus or where they live in the world, and then it’s this whole big thing and in the end, no matter what they say, it doesn’t really matter and you just nod your head in acknowledgement. Or maybe, if you really want to look popular, you tell them your friend lives there. You just tell them your friend is named Sophie. There’s always a Sophie.”

         “I just treated a girl named Sophie earlier today.”

“Right. There’s always a Sophie. And then there’s the person you met briefly during orientation, and when you see them they only say hello to the people you’re with, and not you, so you must have said something weird when you first met. You probably told the story of when you accidentally threw up all over your classmates in third grade. You know it’s not a funny story, but for some reason you just always tell it. You’re not even good at telling stories. It’s probably your way of accepting the fact that you did it, because you still can’t accept it.. In fact, most things you’ve done you can’t accept. Most things you’ve done you can’t understand your reasoning for doing them in the first place. And so—”

“And so, what? You just eat yourself alive?”

“It’s better than eating other people.”