Combat Zone

It happened to me: I got swept up by a campus tour and had to start college over

By Bean McQueen

I’ve always prided myself on being an adaptable team player who knows how to go with the flow: I look out for the group, I don’t step on anyone’s toes, and I’m always up for anything. Little did I know that this quality would end up costing me three years of my life and over $150,000 in wasted tuition fees when I accidentally joined a tour of prospective students and had to start college over.

It started as an ordinary day in spring of my junior year. It was a busy day, and when I wasn’t hustling, I was bustling. I bustled so hard between classes that I ran right into a tour of high-school students visiting campus. They were walking the same way I was, so rather than making a scene by slightly increasing or decreasing my pace, I decided to just walk amongst them for a spell. A wide-eyed mom on my right quietly asked me how I was enjoying my visit, and not wanting to be rude, I replied, “It’s cool — can’t wait to eat in the dining hall.” I should have bolted across the lawn right then and there, but I was in too deep, and was too polite to to stop playing my part.

Just as we were nearing the point at which I planned to break off from the group, our tour guide asked, “So, what’s everyone thinking of studying?” and I accidentally said, “Plants” really loudly. It got a big laugh from the dads, and at this point there was no leaving the group, so I resolved to miss my 2 p.m. class in order to see this charade through.

I began enjoying the fantasy. I started chatting with one of the dads, Doug — really cool guy — about how it rains a lot in Tacoma, and how hilarious that would be for me because I was visiting from the Mojave Desert. I started to forget where I ended and the guise began … who had I been before?

Suddenly, someone from my past appeared on the pathway, giving me a curious look. “Craig, why are you taking a tour?” he asked. I looked straight into his eyes and knew Craig was gone.

“I don’t know you. I’m not Craig, and I’ve never met a Craig in my life,” I replied. He shrugged and walked away, and I knew a part of myself was walking away with him. I turned to Doug and raised my eyebrows. “Weird — hope that guy graduates before I start here. My name is Otis, by the way, not Craig. Otis Buttonstronk.”

When the tour ended, I knew I had burned too many bridges, and my life here as Craig Cudson had come to an end. Not knowing what to do but not wanting to get caught in a lie, I lived in the Mojave Desert for five months, until returning to campus for first-year orientation. Scarred, weathered and silent from my time alone in the desert, I finally felt like I fit in on this campus.

My name is Otis Buttonstronk, I use he/him pronouns, I’m a first-year, undeclared (but leaning toward bio — plants!), and a fun fact about me is that I’m a 48-year-old man who keeps slipping into tour groups and college is the nightmare from which I’ll never wake up.

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