Hi. My name is Olivia. I like to tell people I go out of my way to avoid meeting people, or that I only know three people on campus. It's not true. New people just make me a bit nervous and I’m a bit shy. (Shut up everyone who knows me well enough and is laughing at that.) I want to write about my story and my time at Green Mountain College. I would like to share the experiences I have had here. I do not want sympathy, I do not want anger, but I sure as hell don’t want apathy. Most of my dear friends from freshman year have graduated. With a rotating student body, I have watched in awe as things passed into distant memory… but damn, dude. I’m only 22.
I came to Green Mountain College as a young, innocent lil me. (Yah, more obnoxious too, if you could believe it.) I lived in a dorm room with Amelia, a girl selected for me since I didn't know anyone. “You’re going to hate your roommate,” my two older sisters told me before I left. “No I’m not!” I argued, “I can get along with almost anyone!” They were right. Amelia and I did not get along. We lived on the second floor of Lyman. Zach Peterson lived on our left and Tangerine So and Libby Harding lived in the room to the right. Late one night, we sat on the floor of Libby and Tangie’s room. It smelled like mold. There were lots of piles of sketchy looking clothes, but the tapestries were beautiful. Tangie shared mooncakes with us that she’d brought from home.
I made new friends. I fought. I questioned beliefs that I held near and dear to myself. I lived away from home for the first time. I struggled with diagnosed depression. Every bad thought I had I shoved deep down until I couldn’t see it anymore. I was distracted and distant and focused on things minute in detail. I can remember sitting on the ground in the spring and petting a calf, its face close to mine while we observed each other. I remember walking with Tangie and Libby and Amelia through a thick layer of crunchy snow down the rail trail.
At the end of my freshman year, I was living with a new roommate on Bogue 1st. Two weeks before finals, while drunk and tripping on LSD, a student threw them self out the fourth floor window of Ames. While they survived, the attempt shook me to the core. Then, during finals week, Tangie committed suicide in her room directly above mine on Bogue 2nd. I floated through everything. I held my friend. I collected my friends and put them to bed in various rooms, as Bogue had been emptied out. To this day, I cannot describe to you exactly what it meant and does mean to me. I have a huge amount of judgement and loathing for myself. ‘You didn’t even know her that well.’ ‘Imagine how much pain her close friends and family must be in, you shouldn’t feel this way.’ I would like to say that over time I have come closer to finding peace with this, but in all honesty, I still have a long way to go.
The day after, the email went out. “Student Olivia So,” was how they addressed her. Tangie. She always preferred Tangie, short for Tangerine. I was loud, on the obnoxious side, she was more reclusive. So many people who did not know her by name came up to me, hugging me, saying, ‘thank goodness it wasn’t you.’ This was the first day of finals. I left without completing them.
I came back for my sophomore year but I did not complete it. I saw her everywhere. I thought about her every day. I turned the same thought over and over again in my head… how is it fair? Who decides? How is it fair that college… fucking college kills some of us, and is just the beginning for the rest? A dear friend asked me, ‘why’d you leave so early last semester? We got soooo drunk for senior week.’
For a campus of only 450 students that uses the word “community” in every other sentence, we are pretty damn bad at it. A very dear friend of mine, Violet Neff, one of the last of the group of friends who still attends GMC from my freshman year, said, “vulnerability and communication are two of the most important skills in healing and growth and also, two of the things we seem to be the worst at collectively.” I love lots of people on campus. I feel genuine compassion and care. But I’m a sappy fuck. Why can’t people make eye contact? Why is it so hard to smile, or to ask for people’s names? We are all stuck here for goodness sake. People have judgement about the wook, the druggie, the straight edge. You focus too much on work or you focus too little. Your clothes are too clean or too dingy. You smell like perfume or you smell like body odor, but either way, you are doing it wrong and everyone is judging. There is such a heavy sense of judgment and apathy on this campus. Please do not mistake me, I see good and beauty everywhere as well. But I cannot fathom why there is such division among students, among faculty and staff, among the administration and across all those groups.
When I came back to this school after two years off, last spring (2017), one of the classes I enrolled in was ‘A Delicate Balance.’ My thoughts raced with ideas. I wanted to help. I wanted to bridge this apathy gap. I wanted to discover why in the hell this tiny slice of paradise was so paralyzingly lonely and how we could better hold each other together while we are stuck here. Communication. That was something to which I kept coming back to. If only these groups were communicating. If only we could begin to foster the conversation, maybe, just maybe then we could discover the actual problem. So, with hardly any digging, I met Emma Rozell. Together, we created a website and put the wheels in motion to start printing editions of the Mountaineer, a student-run, student-written news source. Yes, we have the GMC Journal. We have social media sites and platforms. But those are only partially for us -- the student body. The GMC Journal is a marketing tool for parents and potential students. I wanted -- we wanted -- a source created by students, for students. About events and controversies and jokes on campus, around campus, around the world, wherever, but a paper that would spark conversation and share verified, legitimate and trustworthy news. Maybe we could discover the root of why I do not always feel the oft-mentioned ‘community,’ of GMC. Maybe we could work towards fixing that.
Sometimes, I still find myself asking, what if I had reached out to her? What if I had been more a part of her life? Tangie rarely went to classes. What if the school had been more stringent about their attendance policies? I know this isn’t high school anymore, but there’s so damn few of us. What if, as a better community, we could have saved her?
Some pieces of this article are bulls---. I call it now. I know it's true. But I am trying to be vulnerable. I am trying to communicate. I left school after fall of 2014 because of my depression and increasing suicidal thoughts. I did not communicate that with even my closest friends. I only told my parents a brief explanation as to why I was leaving college. But it's not enough to save myself. I want to save others. It may be ambitious, but I know we can. I’m graduating after this semester, but I want to try to leave this place better than I found it. I don’t want to shove the past under the rug because it is painful. I want to process and be vulnerable and communicate and learn and grow. And if, in any small way, I can share that growth with the rest of the student body, I want to.
If only in the smallest ways, this paper can be a creative outlet. Dean Garcia-Torres and Dominic Royster-Wright have written shaking and powerful pieces. But in order for this to be what it has the potential to be, it needs more. This campus needs more. Hold open doors. Smile. Say excuse me. If you can, write articles. Take pictures. Write about things that make you shake in anger. Write to me and tell me what I did wrong in this article. Write about Donald Trump and climate change and puppies and kittens and Jim Graves. Write about your friends and pee in trash cans and draw comics. Goodness, I do not care what it is, but write! If you cannot write, share! Talk about difficult topics. Keep your mind open and learn about other people and the way they live their only wonderful life. Because I have to use a Charles Bukowski quote:, “We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” Listen, this is corny and ridiculous, I get it. But I want to learn from her and I want to try and save us.