I managed to park my car close to my allocated room in the hall of residence. All around me were hoards of new students with their parents in tow. But I was determined not to get upset so I unloaded the car by myself: making a total of about 6 journeys backwards and forwards before everything was safely in my room. I kept wondering if people noticed I was doing everything on my own but of course they didn't.
Gradually the parents started to disappear and my feelings of being different from everybody else started to fade. I was “Sally the new student” rather than “Sally the orphan” and I was pleased to have moved on. Doing the social and academic activities without any back story was an important step for me but it still felt strange when the other students talked about phoning home or getting money from their parents. I just looked interested but keep my dark secret to myself. I knew that eventually somebody was bound to ask a difficult question and that I would just have to improvise an answer. I think the girl living opposite me was in a similar situation. She never mentioned any family and seemed a bit more weary/sad/cautious than the rest but she only lasted a few days before she left, never to be seen again, so I will never know if my suspicions were correct.
It wasn’t long before I realised I was making a problem for myself. I found it difficult to know what, when and how to tell my new friends about my situation. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable about talking about their parents, which some of them seemed to do rather a lot, but I felt a bit of a fraud saying nothing when the others talked about their families or going home for the weekend. I seemed to have been told quite a lot about them and they must have wondered why I never talked about my own Mum and Dad.
In the end I told my next door neighbour and the person three doors down who was on my course. I didn't make a great emotional scene out of it. I just told them in the canteen that my Mum and Dad died when I was in the sixth form and I that I don't find it easy to talk about them. I told them that I don't want them to treat me any differently and of course that they shouldn’t feel awkward about talking about their own parents in front of me.
The second weekend was a bit of a crisis point for me. Most of my new university friends seemed to have gone home for the weekend which was nice for them but which made me feel rather left out. Curiously my sadness at Mum and Dad’s death seemed to fade a bit each day but the feeling of being different seemed unchanging. At 9PM I got so bored sitting on my own that I went outside to look to see how many lights were on in the student rooms. Not many but I went back in and knocked on the doors that matched the lights and I managed to get 3 other people to go with me to a local pub for a drink and a chat. It did me good and I hope it did them good as well!