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When I started studying at U-Mass as a sophomore in the fall of 1998, I spent about $170 on books. After having worked for a full year and taken classes part-time at Framingham State College, I was more than ready to join my age group in full-time studies at university. And I was eager. I joined the ski club, which offered trips I took – I remember one particularly lonely trip to Killington, VT, skiing the green trails by myself, until about 3pm, when they started closing mountain trails and I somehow ended up in a different spot than where I
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was supposed to be picked up. I also remember canoe trips with Hillel, and particularly DK, a Jewish guy from North Carolina with striking blue eyes, a small frame, and an intellectual way about him. I wanted to make him like me. I was secretly thankful to have gone to Boston University for a year once I told him that I’m from there and his eyes lit up. ‘Oh wow’, he said, ‘my parents met there’.

I bought an Israeli flag for my dorm room and Norman Mailer’s book ‘The Executioner’s Song’ – oh how I wished
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I could write like him. He turned the mundane and revolting into the magical.

I kept studying Spanish, preparing myself to go on a semester abroad, which I would eventually take in Mexico – studying a third language was top on my list. I also met a girl named K, whose roommate would later die, and whom I would write a column about in the paper. I wrote that the dead woman was not socially popular, and K got mad at me, and wrote a letter to the editor and stopped speaking to me. She was offended that I did not
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remember her roommate as kindly as she did; I later wondered if I should have written that article at all, if it was a sin to write something awkward about a dead person. I came to the conclusion that no it was not.

I regularly sent my mother flowers for my parents’ anniversary, but my dad sometimes did not. It was not always a happy household, but it was one that always tried to be happy, and I am thankful for that. I had wanted to go to Sicily on a photography trip, but gave that up, because there was
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no money. I did join the Golden Key National Honor Society.

When I look at my bank statements from that time – when I was a student at university – they seem so minute. I spent less than $10 on everything. Now I count dollars in the thousands, and even then, it’s not enough.

In the month of November 1998, I paid $33.98 for a purchase at Liquors 44 in Hadley, Massachusetts. I was never a drinker of alcohol, and during college I drank more than I was comfortable with. I wanted to be like the rest of my peers, to feel
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whatever happy feeling it was they were feeling. I do remember several episodes of myself drinking heavily. The first one was at Boston University, where as a freshman in the fall of 1995, I decided to go with a friend to a fraternity party down the street from our dorm. I drank 5 beers that night, but was not able to feel significantly happier or better than before. Therefore, I was not sure if I was drunk or not. That is, until I arrived back at the door of my dorm room and threw up right in front of my
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door. The entire floor was there to watch me do it, and one of my floor mates V, disgusted, said to me, ‘I swear, I would help you, but this is just so disgusting.’ I ended up cleaning the floor myself.

A second time was at U-Mass, where as a junior I drank one too many cocktails at a bar (this time legally), and ended up throwing up in the bathroom with a male friend of mine holding my hair back. However, I never had the ability to enjoy the drink in me, and eventually gave it up, with
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the occasional exception of a glass of wine in a social setting. I never had ‘the drinking gene’.

My first roommate at U-Mass, RW, was a sophomore from the town of Sandwich, MA, who like me, transferred from another university. She was a quiet, unassuming, mousy person; a good friend and a considerate roommate. We decided to request each other as roommates during orientation, where we met as roommates just for a few days then. I arrived at our room on the first day before her, and chose the better, more secluded part of the room. She did not
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complain when she got there. I had a big window with quite a spectacular sunset view, and one evening I witnessed probably one of the most breathtaking meteor showers one could ever hope to see. When I ran out to the hallway to announce it to the rest of the girls on the floor (I was in an all-girls dorm in Southwest Campus), they looked at me and one of them said, ‘we don’t take astronomy.’

RW was half-Jewish, but her family did not practice the religion. I was always sad at these types of Jews, who had lost that
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part of them, which was so dear and close to my heart. I never quite understood how a Jew could become un-Jewish. I had put a big flag of Israel on top of my bed in the dorm room; RW liked it, but later in life I learned not to be so outwardly proud.

We had a good semester together, but decided both to leave the dorm after the first semester. I went to H and she went to live with friends outside of campus. Before I had a beat-up car, I transported my bike to U-Mass in the belly
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of the Greyhound bus I once took. For a while, I used the Greyhound to get home, but my parents finally broke and helped my brother and I get a car. It was a used Nissan. How I loved the drives back and forth from home to U-Mass. Once you take exit 8 off the Mass Pike, the scenic route is one that is hard to beat. Depending on the season, I would pick up fresh bread, strawberries or corn from rural roadside stands. I would pass lonely farm houses, small New England towns, the occasional covered bridge, classic America
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at its best. I would pop in a cassette with my favorite music or listen to the radio. Once, the song Mon Cheri Amor came on the radio while I was driving. I will always associate that song with my university drives.

There was one time when I got quite close to killing myself; driving the beat-up car during a wet blizzard, I was rushing to get home on the Mass Pike with my hood flipping up and down. An off-duty cop flagged me down with a flashing light he put up on top of his roof, and slammed the
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hood shut once I was stopped. ‘Do you want to get killed?’ he said, and walked back to his car and drove off.

My first time was at a college dorm room, on W’s single bed, done with the knowledge that W’s roommate, who was cuter than him, might come back at any moment. It was thrilling and scary at the same time, and it wasn’t HIS first time, which made me think again for a moment. Thoughts were racing in my mind about whether I should do this and whether he really is the
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the one to do this with, and whether I would get hurt at the end of it all. After all, I only knew this guy for over a month.

Finally, I had argued myself into having sex with him, because after all, I was already 21, and I felt ready. Even if things don’t work out with this guy, I said to myself, I would still be thrilled with the experience.

The experience was, in fact, amazing. Slightly painful for the first few second, but after that it felt completely natural and intoxicating, and I
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finally understood why people loved it. Here was this giant, erect, warm thing inside of me, and it filled up these walls of my vagina which curved right around it and held it firm.

As things turned out later on in life, he became the heart-broken one, while I moved on fairly quickly. Perhaps I wasn’t his ‘first one’, but I believe I was the first one he ever fell in love with, and possibly the last; he still sends me birthday wishes every year.

I at first had been interested in the roommate, but as he didn’t seem interested
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in return, I accepted W’s solicitations because he, too, was cute, although less so. There was a realistic side to me, which said, you’re not going to get the cutest guy in the world.

I first felt it like a thrill in my stomach when he one day came by my room while I was sitting at my desk and casually caressed the back on my neck while asking me how my day was.

He took me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Up until then I had disliked Chinese food, and he taught me the pleasures of sweet and
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sour chicken. Often it was just the two of us in the dark and tidy restaurant, sitting at a table by the window, and speculating how the place might be run by the mafia.

Despite a rough and tumble appearance and an abrasive manner which made others uncomfortable around him, he was warm-hearted and had a gentleman-like conduct around me. Although we were both in college, he always insisted on paying the bill when we went out, and flatly refused my attempts at contributing. He eventually opened up to me like he did to no one else.

His mother had
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died when he was 13 of breast cancer; he mentioned only in passing one day that she was in constant and agonizing pain until her death. After her passing, he was raised by a benevolent wealthy aunt, a widow with no kids. She cared for him like a son. I noticed slash marks on his wrists; he waived it off, but told me later on about his several suicide attempts. Before our acquintance, he had been a goth. He still had strange shirts and a spiky necklace around his neck, although he mostly shed that image by that time.
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died when he was 13 of breast cancer; he mentioned only in passing one day that she was in constant and agonizing pain until her death. After her passing, he was raised by a benevolent wealthy aunt, a widow with no kids. She cared for him like a son. I noticed slash marks on his wrists; he waived it off, but told me later on about his several suicide attempts. Before our acquaintance, he had been a goth. He still had strange shirts and a spiky necklace around his neck, although he mostly shed that image by that time.
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My first job after college entailed 100% travel. This means that every Monday morning or Sunday night I would get up, catch the express bus to the airport, and fly to my destination. Then, I would return on Thursday night or Friday night, to sleep, exhaustively, until morning, run my weekend errands and find myself on the plane again.

I had been a consultant for almost 2 years when I was finally given a lead job as the person responsible for a certain area of a project. I was thrilled but petrified at the same time. I still remember the
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moment they told me. I was ‘on the bench’ (meaning currently out of a project), sitting at the Boston office, planning to go to Chicago for about 3 weeks. Then a phone call from my Managing Director changed the course of events. He briefly informed me that I would not be going to Chicago, and instead to pack up my bags and get ready to be in Kentucky on Monday morning. They wanted me there as fast as possible. At the time, I was about to attend a good friend’s wedding in Israel, and planned on taking several days off.
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I joined a project in Louisville, Kentucky, as the third and last consultant in a string of leads who had all quit the company before me. I was scared of the daunting aspect of the job before me, a bit disheartened to learn that people before me had quit, but also eager to prove myself and do the best job I possible could.

I arrived in Louisville after several hours’ delay, and spent the next several weeks working on analysis and design documents. The Kentucky summer spat out what seemed like steam showers and oppressive heat, from which
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I could only escape in the office or in the dark coolness or my hotel room at the Marriott Courtyard. I remember being excited about staying at a different part of the country that I had never been to before. I was memorizing maps, obtaining guide books from AAA, and learning everything I could about the region. I was determined to get the best possible experience out of Louisville. Inevitably, I did.

My job was located off a long and desolate highway, full of Burger Kings, cheap Chinese Restaurants, several adult bookstores and a couple of giant churches under construction.
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I tried to get away from the office as much as I could, but it was hard to do so without getting depressed about the surroundings around me.

Not everything went smoothly at first. I invited friends over to Kentucky, luring them by having my company pay for their flights. My friend H remained largely unimpressed by Kentucky. We drove to My Old Kentucky Home and to Bardstown, during which I had a bad attack of heartburn. Later on Sunday afternoon, we looked for a nice restaurant on Bardstown Road, a main stretch that includes quite a few well-known restaurants.
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It took me a few weeks to get down my Kentucky routine. The best way from Kentucky to Boston was Cincinnati, with Delta airlines. I LOVED Cinci. Compared to Chicago or Atlanta, it was heaven for a commuter like me. I would ‘jump the puddle’ on a tiny commuter plane to the Cincinnati airport. Driving from Louisville to Cinci was about 2 hours, so flying was just about 40 minutes. From there, I would catch a longer flight to Boston.

I had decided that it wasn’t going to be a good idea to commute to Boston frequently. My previous stint
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stint in Kansas City has taught me that. While in KC, I felt that I was really neither in Boston nor there. I would fly back to Boston almost every weekend, after a hard week’s work. It had affected my love life, my health, and everything in general. While in KC, I never knew when I was going to end the project – they kept on extending me every 2 weeks. In Kentucky, I knew it was for the long term – at least 6 months, but probably longer. So I had decided to make it my ‘home’. I would only fly
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back to Boston once a month. I would spend most of my weekends here, either flying friends in or exploring the city by myself. Inevitably, I got to know the city fairly well – probably better than the natives, in some respects.

Kentucky is a beautiful state. A place that I never thought I would end up in, at least not for a whole year. It is technically a mid-western state, but it has Southern manners and mentality. Everybody had a Southern accent. When I asked co-workers what they were going to do for the weekend, they talked of sitting by
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the poolside sipping iced tea. Although Kentucky never got involved in the Civil War, it had mansions with slaves – I had been to some of them. Kentucky boasted a breathtaking horse country, bourbon distilleries and the longest cave in the world. It also had the U of L Cardinals, a successful basketball team, and a sleepy downtown that comprised of a mix of eclectic shops, dilapidated warehouses and a baseball bat museum. It was an unexpected heaven to explore.

I didn’t want to view the city only as a tourist – I had actually set my mind on ‘living’ there, as
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much as the word could mean for a commuter from 1,000 miles away. I almost brought down my car, but ended up renting cars throughout my stay.

I met L in a strange way. He was a ‘second choice’ suitor. My first choice had been A, who had acquired a thick southern accent, despite having been born and bred in Boston. I found it to be quite strange, and couldn’t get myself to decide whether it was a charming or an annoying detail of his personality. His mom lived in the same town as my parents.
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While on a trip to North Carolina in September 2003, I asked DK, my long time university friend, for advice. He said, ‘don’t push him, N. He’s supposed to be chasing you, not you chasing him.’ I left North Carolina just as a hurricane was about to hit D’s house, with the resolve that he gave me. I watched the storm punish the North Carolina coast, leaving Cape Hatteras almost completely submerged under water, with people screaming for help. The cape seemed to cease to be a cape at all, and almost became an island, slowly drifting
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away from land. Similarly, A and I drifted away from each other, much to my disappointment.

So I went on to my ‘second choice’ L, a 30-year old man who had posted an awful photo on the internet. I had been in touch with him, writing several emails back and forth. I wasn’t sure about him – he was sort of a ‘second choice’.

Upon seeing his picture, DK remarked, ‘N, I’m really jealous of you’.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because you have the ability to view people beyond their looks,’ he said, implying how badly L actually looked.