What I Bought in College

Yesterday, as the Great Purge of 2011 continued, I found several boxes of old files and proceeded to go through them to see what needed keeping (tax documents) and what didn’t (bills for a land line–remember those?–I had in college). Jesse’s entire college filing system was discovered completely intact. Basically, it’s a box with a couple folders inside that contain every bill or statement he received in four years, in no particular order. I smiled and left it as-is, an artifact. I imagined myself a kind of anthropologist, preserving the way of life of a particular people group whose belongings I had uncovered.

(Suffice it to say, as soon as we got married Jesse gleefully handed over all the filing and bill paying to yours truly, and this arrangement has worked impeccably well for both of us.)

I also found some receipts from my own college days. You can learn a lot about your former self, and the time period you once inhabited, from receipts. The early 2000s don’t seem that long ago, but here’s a receipt for Hollywood Video–an actual store where I rented movies. And I’m pretty sure I rented them on VHS. On October 3rd, 2001, I rented A Knight’s Tale for $4.02 (it was due back by Monday 10/08/01). Another Wal-Mart receipt listed “developing” as an item, and it took me a moment to remember that I used to pay money to have film developed. Remember that? When you didn’t even know what the pictures looked like? And you couldn’t wait to see them?

I learned to cook in college, but I was working my way up to it and didn’t attempt much from-scratch cooking until my second and third year. Here’s a Publix receipt from June 9, 2002: Toilet paper, turkey hotdogs, hotdog buns, two Boston Market frozen meals, milk, Gatorade citrus cooler (the best flavor ever), a Velveeta mac and cheese with broccoli, and Prego mushroom sauce. I remember that summer. I was working at the Writing Center a lot for the first summer session, and all my friends had left after the spring semester ended. Jesse was back in Merritt Island, working a summer job at Lockheed Martin. We only saw one another a couple times a week. One night, he drove over to Orlando after work and we bought Publix subs for a picnic by Lake Eola. Only it started pouring rain, so we had the picnic on my apartment floor instead.

After the first summer session, I flew out to Oregon and joined my Aunt Nicki and my cousin Katie on my dad’s side for a cross-country trip back to West Virginia. That trip was a month long–a week in Oregon, two weeks across country with stops at Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and other scenic spots along the way, and then another week in West Virginia with family.

On June 14th of that year, I went to Wal-Mart and bought supplies for that trip, including the Dramamine that didn’t work at all when I went whale watching.

The day before that, I filled up my gas tank for $18.31. I paid $1.33 a gallon, and I remember thinking that was expensive.

So, the times have changed. I pay $3.50 a gallon for gas and think that’s expensive. I rent movies from Redbox or Netflix, I shop at Harris Teeter and miss Publix, I have long given up on Dramamine, I no longer buy frozen dinners if I can help it. But some things haven’t changed. I still like citrus cooler Gatorade, though I can’t remember the last time I drank it, or if they even still make that flavor. Jesse and I are still together, though now there are no summers apart (except when I’m traipsing off to California).

I think I might save some receipts this year in a box somewhere, to discover in another decade. I wonder what I will think then of myself now, what judgments I will pass on my food choices, or what I will remember fondly, or what I’ll be paying for gas then (or will we all be driving electric cars by then?). Will I look back on now and think my life much simpler, as I do when I look back at what I had to worry about in college? Will I mentally gloss over the difficulties of today, knowing exactly how things turned out?

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