When I landed in Denver, I had exactly two and a half hours to travel to my residence hall at the University of Denver. The taxi cost me almost $100 and 45 minutes of grueling small talk; I wrongfully presumed the driver might provide a measure for what I could expect on my first solo excursion.
“What's there to do in the area?” -- “Hiking is big.”
He knew where the campus was, but the address I gave him didn't show up on his GPS. I peeled myself from the black leather seats. His tires squealed on the asphalt as he left me behind a building near a line of dumpsters.
With two book-heavy suitcases, I climbed mountain after mountain (“Mountains? These aren't even hills,” I learned) through a labyrinth of brick buildings. The driver wasn't wrong about hiking, at least.
I asked some people loading their car for directions, but they were also out of state folks at the campus for an event. I dragged my bags up another incline.
Staff members I encountered were also unhelpful, though far less apologetic. It took 30 minutes of wandering, my Floridian calves cramped tight, before I found a student, his lanyard like a brand.
“Do you know where where Nagal Hall is?”
He pointed to the building behind him. But I realized, adjusting my sliding glasses, the door required an access key.
“Can you let me in?”
He did. Shame doesn't cover how my fingers tingled and my eyes watered; thousands of miles from home without much help and without much hope. When a student staffer offered to carry my bags, my pride made me decline. I was already a visible mess, and the elevator was right there.
Out of breath and sweat-sticky, I reached my dorm with a meager 20 minutes before orientation. Winded as I was, I could hardly greet my roommates, but I managed to drop my bags in my room and have a shower before they left. I followed.
It was quintessential of my month in Denver--oppressive dry heat, aching legs, getting lost. Embarrassing myself with my worry and stuttering through questions. It grew my confidence in the most brutal way possible, and I developed a knack for note-taking.
Two weeks later, I was asked by a panting, wide-eyed newcomer for directions. Now I was the student with the lanyard brand, so I shouldered one of her many bags and walked her to her residence hall. My legs no longer ached, and conversation while walking no longer winded me. Though lessons must be learned on your own, not all lessons must be endured.
I gave her my soft-edged, pencil-marked campus map as a parting gift.